We all say that leadership development is important but does it really have impact?
This is particularly important when you are aiming to invest in the development of a key section of your leadership team.
Some of the short-term (just after the program) indicators of impact can include:
- People are talking about it positively – both participants and their managers – (there may be some pockets of negative talk and this is useful to investigate)
- Participants are behaving differently and taking action, and this is being seen by their managers
- You are seeing more “informal” connections happening across the organisation.
Research evidence suggests leadership development should deliver long-term impact for:
- Improved individual, team and organisational performance
- Improved organisational reputation with external and internal stakeholders
- Increased agility and ability to lead in complex business environments
- Strengthened employee engagement and organisational culture
- Increased attraction and retention of talented people
- Reducing leader derailment and replacement costs
- Which all support sustained and sustainable performance
While of course there are many contextual issues that impact upon these type of organisational results, leadership development is a contributor. Some useful research is provided below.
CONTRIBUTING TO THE DIALOGUE ABOUT LEADERSHIP IMPACT AND ITS DEVELOPMENT
While there is a lot written and researched about leadership development, particularly in relation to the “capabilities/competencies” that need to be delivered and about the “how to” or methods of development, much less is available help us explore what we should seeking through leadership development.
- Improved individual, team and organisational performance
- Organisations with the highest quality leaders were 13 times more likely to out-perform their competition in key bottom-line metrics such as financial performance, quality of products and services, employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
- High-performing workplaces – characterised by leadership that supports innovation, employee engagement, fairness and customer focus – have profit margins nearly three times higher than low-performing workplaces.
- These workplaces are better at achieving their financial goals, are stronger at building customer relationships, are more innovative and recognise that leadership capability is fundamental to their success. 
- The recent Study of Australian Leadership (2016) noted that leadership is also foundational to the performance of organisations in more complex business environments.
- Improved organisational reputation with stakeholders
Research indicates that the effectiveness of the senior leadership team is regarded as the second most important factor (after financial results) in determining business success  and the evidence includes: the quality and reputation of leadership make a significant difference to stakeholder and shareholder support for organisations (research indicates that investment analysts place a premium of 15.75% on effective leadership).
- Greater agility and decision-making in a complex operating environment
A recent IBM study, of 1,500 CEOs worldwide, identified complexity as a factor increasingly affecting the leadership capabilities required across organisations  and some interesting data includes:
- While leaders being are being given more responsibility, being asked to achieve more and broader objectives and to deliver results faster, studies suggest that only 7.3% of leaders are considered to have the full skill set of capabilities that are required to work in this complex and emergent environment.
- Research indicates that some of these new capabilities include:
- a global cultural perspective;
- a mindset of growth and openness to understand the environment;
- an ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances;
- a capability to engage people across the business in change; and
- an ability to identify and respond to complex operating environments.
- Improved culture and employee engagement in organisational performance
Leadership quality affects much more than the financial bottom-line; it also affects employee retention and engagement:
- a recent study has identified organisations with higher-quality leadership as being up to three times more likely to retain more employees than their competition.
- another study indicates that high performing workplaces have higher levels of commitment and engagement than in other workplaces.
- High-performing workplaces with effective leaders have better results in attracting and retaining good quality people as well as in building employee engagement and job satisfaction.
- Greater organisational ability to attract and retain talented employees
Where talent management in organisations once focused on recruitment, the focus is now broader. Development and support during transition are the keys and the research  In this way, organisations can create a culture in which talented individuals can thrive.
- Reduction of leadership derailment
Leaders in transition – including moving functional areas or being promoted from individual contributor to management – are particularly vulnerable to disillusionment and derailment.
‘Leadership derailment’ can include behaviours such as poor performance or lack of delivery; not updating leadership style; lacking core skills for new challenges; and poor focus on people development, is expensive for organisations.
Organisations can support transition, and reduce derailment, through: being clear about the capabilities required at each leadership level; establishing mentors for individuals taking up new roles; and requiring that individuals take up leadership development (such as executive coaching) to support transitions.
|© Amanda Martin 2016|
 Boatman, J. & Wellings, R.S. (2011) Global Leadership Forecast. DDI.
 Boedker, C., Vidgen, R., Meagher, K., Cogin, A., Mouritsen, J., & Runnalls, J. M., (2011) Leadership, culture and management practices of high performing workplaces in Australia: the high performing workplaces index, Society for Knowledge Economics.
 Study of Australian Leadership (SAL) 201, p.23.
 Holland, S. & Thom, M. (2012). The leadership premium: How Companies win the confidence of investors. Deloitte.
 Ancona, D. (2005). Leadership in an Age of Uncertainty. MIT Leadership Centre.
 CEB. The rise of the network leader: reframing leadership in the new work environment. Executive Guidance for 2014.
 Boatman, J. & Wellings, R.S., op.cit.
 Study of Australian Leadership (SAL) 201, p.26.
 Deloitte 2013 Human Capital Trends 2013 Leading Indicators. Deloitte: U.S. edition.
 Deloitte 2013 Human Capital Trends 2013 Leading Indicators. Deloitte: U.S. edition.
 Bumker, Kram, & Ting, 2002; Hughes, Ginnett & Curphy, 2008.
 Watkins, M. (2003). The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
What’s important in leadership development
Last year Jeffery Pfeffer challenged those working on the development of leaders to move beyond simple recipes for great leaders because the recipes aren’t working[i]
He says they aren’t working because the list of capabilities required of leaders aren’t real. They focus on an idealised world where, for example, leaders don’t lie and are always authentic.
The pressure on leaders
The need to aim for an unattainable ideal of behaviour, emotional stability and vision may be decreasing leaders’ interest in developing capability as a leader.
And as Pfeffer says, it’s likely that an idealised view of leadership is ignoring what it really takes to lead our organisations today.
What does this mean for the development of leadership capability?
My PhD research examines the practice of leadership development. I’ve also been establishing, facilitating, and designing leadership development programs for more than 20 years and more than 10,000 people (I know it sounds a lot but I’ve developed programs for large organisations, education, health and also for the state public sector system in Queensland Australia). I have also evaluated the impact of leadership development for organisations from the Cape York (Australia) Indigenous Leadership Program to global companies like Nestle Malaysia and Singapore.
There are some fundamentals that I’ve learnt – based on my experience and impact measurement evidence, and also based on leadership development academic research.
Developing real, impactful, leaders
- Leadership can be learnt but it requires time and space and program designs need to provide time for sensemaking, for exploring personal perceptions, practicing change, seeking feedback on behavioural patterns and leadership impact, facilitated by experts in experiential and group learning, and supplemented by other expertise, generally including coaching
- Leadership in context – for leaders to get engaged, development has be crafted to recognise and relate to their organisational context and their lives – this will mean the program is much more likely to be embedded in post-program behaviours
- Development recognises strengths leaders bring. And this is incredibly energizing and different from their experience of many leadership development activities that are focused on gaps or how far they are from the ideal – for more see the work of Kim Cameron, Jane E Dutton and Robert (Bob) E Quinn
- Integrated learning includes exploring leadership through academic models and theories; along with stories of leaders and organisations; active reflection; promoting the practice of new behaviours; receiving feedback that is about them – which together ramps up the impact results
- Learning and unlearning takes time, so programs need to be designed to recognise that leaders take time to build awareness of changes they need/want to make and then to actually undertake the change, modular programs held over time – edutainment it isn’t
- Focus on what can be taken back to work – working with participants to understand how they can take what they have learnt back and embed it in the complexity and chaos of the real world of work. See Nita Cherry’s book on Energising Leadership for some great tips
- Help to understand impact – new changes in behaviour are often subtle and leaders may not notice that they have changed, so providing methods of reflection, for example interviewing them some time after the program has ended, can help them recognise what has changed and celebrate success.
Great leadership development has a flow on effect, it’s not only good for leadership at work but it’s good for life at home – this is one of my ways of informally measuring the impact of a program.
What’s real about this approach is that it focuses on where people are at and provides them with many ways to move to where they want to be, and where they need to be to lead organisations.
I’d been alerted to Jeffery Pfeffer’s book through a presentation by Bob Quinn at the Academy of Management in Anaheim in August and was intrigued to learn more about the leadership industry critiquing the leadership industry.
I’d like to acknowledge the work of my colleague Professor Michael Fischer, whose article on transforming leadership development I found recently, after I’d developed my “list” above. Michael and I work together on the Leadership and Change in Healthcare Program for Melbourne Business School and it’s great working with colleagues who have similar thinking about leadership and its development.
For those of us focused on developing leaders, there are a huge number of theories, books, blogs and opinions out there.
Leadership development experts read extensively and are continually seeking to learn more about what helps people and organisations to improve.
While there were many responses to my recent questions about this, here are some of the books most often intriguing leadership developers.
Top 5 Reading List
Most of the books here reflect a deep interest in how organisations work, and how leadership and leaders contribute to organizational change, relationships and performance.
- Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations is seen as one of the most significant contributions to thinking about organisations for some time – for more details see http://www.reinventingorganizations.com.
- Edgar H Schein’s Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. If you’re interested in this wonderful author’s work, also see his book on Organizational Culture and Leadership
- Otto Scharmer and Theory U, http://www.ottoscharmer.com is informing thinking about leadership development, the future of organisations, organisational systems, and the world.
- Patrick Lencioni http://www.tablegroup.com/books has created a number of books, but leadership developers are particularly attracted to: The five dysfunctions of a team
- Kim S. Cameron, Robert E. Quinn, Jeff Degraff, Anjan V. Thakor Competing Values Leadership, see http://positiveorgs.bus.umich.edu/related-people/kim-s-cameron/
Note that I’m not affiliated with these authors.
But I do have a personal favourite and I am associated with the author:
Nita Cherry, Energising Leadership https://global.oup.com/academic/product/energising-leadership-9780195596328?cc=au&lang=en&
Having just returned from the premier academic conference on management, the Academy of Management in the USA – around 7,000 people attend, here are some thoughts about leadership development coming from the conference.
And while those of us who work in leadership development practice will recognize all of these elements of impactful leadership development programs, it’s always useful to test against the research.
Missing focus on leadership development
There were a lot of sessions (around 350) on leadership covering topics like:
- Ethical Leadership
- Responsible Leadership
- Transformational Leadership
- Authentic Leadership
- Positive Organisational Leadership
- Relational Leadership
- Meaningful Leadership
- Complexity Leadership
- The Dark Side of Leadership
There was a missing focus on leadership development – only a few sessions focused on this billion dollar topic.
So what were the “hot topics” for leadership development?
A number of sessions presented the results of impact analyses across leadership development programs reported in academic journals. The results from a number of these presentations can be encapsulated as:
- A needs analysis is critical if you want to ensure that learning is transferred
- Specifying the type of theory that underpins the program design has an impact on results, so this should be identified as part of the program design
- Leadership development does make a difference to performance on the job and to organisational results both in the short-term and long-term
- Where mixed methods of development (instruction, practice, group work) are used, there is increased learning transfer back to work
- Where experiential learning methods are used, there are increased organisational results
- Sessions that are spaced out over time deliver better organisational results
- Sessions that are longer than 24 hours have a significantly larger impact on behaviour, social and emotional results
- Face to face and multiple development sessions support increased transfer back to work and long-term organisational results
- The type of theory used as the basis of development affected results – transactional/contingency theory provided an immediate effect after the program ended but transformational type leadership theory had better long-term effect on organisational results
- The practical application to work of the program elements delivers both on the job and organisational results
- Even some time after completion, leadership development programs still continue to deliver leadership behavioural change and organisational results
- Who you choose to deliver the program is critical – they need to meet the objectives of the program
- High Potential and Senior Leader programs are different and need both different approaches to development as well as different practitioner to deliver.
These items reflect notes taken at a number of sessions and have been collated across these sessions
21st century organisations operate in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable environment with intractable challenges for which there is no single ‘right’ solution[i].
In this context, leaders are faced with a work environment characterised by high levels of complexity and change requiring exceptional levels of personal maturity, people leadership and change agility[ii].
At the same time there are increasing expectations and demands of leaders in business and in the broader political and social context. Where are the good leaders to come from? How are they to be educated and supported in their work? And what are the core capabilities they need to be successful? [iii]
Primary leadership capabilities for complexity
Research and experience indicates these capabilities include:
- ensuring delivery of enterprise-wide performance and the culture to support it
- developing the relationship skills and acumen required to influence, negotiate and collaborate with stakeholders effectively
- building capacity to deal with ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty
- strengthening self-insight and emotional regulation as a foundation for development
- understanding leadership styles and identity, and when to shift these to more effectively lead
- developing capacity to monitor and challenge personal and others’ mindsets and behaviours [iv]
- focusing on managing energy to support team performance and development[v].
Addressing these challenges: developing leaders and leadership
To address these challenges, development needs to focus not only on individual capability but also organisational capability[vi].
Leadership development can no longer be simply described as an individual characteristic or capability but rather as a collective or group activity using a relational, strategic global and complex social dynamic[vii].
How to take action?
The next time you’re creating a leadership program, it’s useful to consider your program objectives – should you be focusing only on development of each individual, or should you also be building capability to build performance of the organisation in complexity.
[i] _O’Connell, P. K. 2013. A simplified framework for 21st century leader development. The Leadership Quarterly, Article in Press, 1-21.
[ii] Allen, S. J. & Middlebrooks, A. (2014). The challenge of educating leadership expertise. Journal of Leadership Studies, 6, 84-89.
[iii] Van Velsor, E. (2008). A Complexity Perspective on Leadership Development. Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. M. Uhl-Bien and R. Marion. Charlotte, North Carolina, Information Age Publishing Inc. 1: 333-346.
[v] Cherry, Nita. 2015. Energising Leadership Oxford University Press
[vi] Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E. & Mckee, R. A. 2014. Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 63-82
[vii] Uhl-Bien, M. & Marion, R. 2008. Introduction: Complexity Leadership-A Framework for Leadership in the Twenty-First Century. In: Uhl-Bien, M. & Marion, R. (eds.) Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing Inc.No comments
This article outlines what I’ve learnt about measuring the impact of leadership development both from experience and from reviewing the research.
While most people say measurement is important, only around 3% of organisations globally measure the results achieved through leadership development and the impact on organisational outcomes. [i].
For a full background to the changes in leadership development that are influencing how to measure leadership development impact, please go to our Articles page.
Measuring leadership development impact
These four steps are drawn from experience, together with a review of the academic research and program evaluation case studies. The questions, within each step of the process, support measuring the impact of leadership development beyond the level of individual participant to include results for the organisation:
- embedding measurement into the design of the development from the beginning;
- establishing program learning goals so that learning activities clearly contribute to individual and organisational change and results;
- developing a robust measurement methodology creating multiple points of evidence at the same time as recognizing the reality of organisational life; and
- reporting results to the people who have sponsored, supported and been a part of the development both celebrates the outcomes and provides accountability for their investment in the program.
4 Steps – designing your impact measurement strategy
1. Embed measurement into the design of the development activity
Key questions to consider during the design of a leadership program or development activity are:
- What are the metrics that will tell the organisation that the program has been successful?
- How will this program contribute to the organisation’s outcomes and strategy?
- How will the program deliver on the organisation’s HR strategy?
- Who are the key stakeholders for this impact measurement strategy?
- How does the program fit with the overall leadership capabilities required for this organisation?
- What are the assumptions underlying the design of the program and how will the design contribute to these objectives [ii]
These questions contribute to the development of robust program objectives, reflecting what the organisation is aiming to achieve, right from the early phases of the program design.
This is one of the most difficult stages of measuring impact – these questions are not easy to answer and may feel frustrating when stakeholders ‘just want to get the program going’.
2. Establish program learning goals
At this stage, program developers should be asking:
- How will this program support participants to build their capability and to deliver on the organisation’s strategy?
- What are the most effective learning activities that will ensure these learning goals are achieved?
- How will these learning activities build on each other to deliver impact?
The temptation is to focus on the instruments, methods and tools that support development such as 360 degree feedback, executive coaching, digital learning, and specific learning models. However, bolting these together without considering how they support learning doesn’t deliver a well-designed and impactful program.
3. Develop a program measurement methodology
Embedding measurement into the learning design means asking:
- What data will be needed to measure these program objectives?
- Which measurement methods will help identify the required changes in knowledge or behaviour?
- What is the cost of undertaking these measurement methods?
What is the best timing for collecting data?
- How will this data contribute evidence of the link to the program objectives?
- How will the data be used to support iterative learning design, participant learning and engagement with program stakeholders?
- What else is happening in the organisation that may affect the data collection or results?
- While being founded in the rigour of research, methods for measurement of impact also have to be balanced with the relevance of organisational life and must be pragmatic.
It’s also important to identify whether the resulting data can be integrated, analysed and reported in a timely way to tell the story of the impact of the program for key stakeholders.
4. Report the results
In this stage, understanding who the program stakeholders are is crucial, as this guides reporting and insights:
- What is the data saying about the program results when measured against the program objectives and learning goals?
- Who needs to be involved in reviewing the data and in identifying insights?
- What are the key insights: what is the analysis showing or not showing about the program impact for participants, their teams, their direct line managers, and for the enterprise more broadly?
- What are the recommendations for change arising from the evaluation results and key insights?
Taking action: translating leadership development into impact
Understanding the impact of leadership development programs is crucial in an economic environment where organisations are under increasing pressure.
Learning and development programs are often the first to be cut in these circumstances yet there is significant evidence to demonstrate that investing in the ongoing development of leaders is essential to organisational success.
Understanding the impact and effectiveness of development is foundational in identifying what has been achieved and also what can be achieved, and it’s time that more than 3% of organisations use more effective approaches to measurement than “happy sheets”.
[i] McGonagill, G & Pruyn, P W. 2010 Leadership development in the US: Principles and Patterns of Best Practice, Bertelsmann Stiftung Leadership Series
[ii] Packard, T and Jones, L. 2015. An outcomes evaluation of a leadership development initiative. Journal of Management Development Vol 34, No 2 pp 153-168No comments