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Which Leadership Development Programs Deliver the Greatest Results?

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Written by: Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D., Chairman, ROI Institute, Inc.

The Need

From time to time, our clients ask us which leadership development programs deliver greater results. Although we are reluctant to provide data, the response we provide is based on the results of our evaluation of many programs for more than two decades. Unfortunately, this is a small sample compared to the number of programs available. Three significant forces have created a need to rank leadership development programs based on the results they deliver.

The Investment in Leadership Development

Because of the global pandemic, recessions exist in some countries, and there is much global uncertainty about the future. Still, there is a hefty investment in leadership development. Depending on whose estimates you examine, this number is somewhere between $20 and $50 billion.1 The investment is growing, sparked by the need to have great leaders with high integrity, agility, and diversity who can deliver results. This high level of investment requires a more significant need for accountability to show the business value for leadership development. The more you spend, the more you need to deliver results— pushing the evaluation beyond the classic approach of merely demonstrating the new behavior to now proving how it has made a difference in the organization in business terms, and, in some cases, the financial ROI.

Business Connection is the Key

Various studies indicate that what executives most want to see from learning and development is the connection to the business.2 This is particularly true for soft skills. Unfortunately, few leadership development programs are measured at this level because executives can easily see the need for hard skills programs. They rarely question the value of entry-level training for new employees, compliance training, or technical training. They ask how the investment in leadership development (or other soft skills) connects to business needs when this is not so obvious to them. The challenge for leadership development providers is to align the program to the business initially, focus on business impact during this program, and validate business improvement in a follow-up to ensure it delivered the business value.

Lack of Relevant Ranking

Although there have been several attempts to rank leadership development programs, these rankings are not based on the business results they deliver or are designed to deliver. Instead, they are based on volume, faculty, history, and sometimes innovation.

In today’s climate, a ranking is needed based on business results delivered or how the programs are designed to deliver results throughout the process. If this existed, it would help internal leadership development teams see which programs have this focus and do not. It could help guide them into deciding which program to pursue, explore, and implement on a pilot basis.

>> Learn more at the webinar: Level 5 Leadership: Designing for Results.

The Ranking System

The criteria for delivering results should be based on the key success factors for leadership development. These factors are based on hundreds of studies where leadership development was evaluated at the business impact or ROI Levels.3 If these factors are in place, results are delivered. An organization must use an established framework to design for the needed results instead of just measuring results—only to be frustrated with the lack of results.

The ranking should be based on eight success factors:

  1. Start with Why: Aligning Programs with the
  2. Make It Feasible: Selecting the Right
  3. Expect Success: Designing for Results with Impact
  4. Make It Matter: Designing for Input, Reaction, and
  5. Make It Stick: Designing for Application and
  6. Make It Credible: Measuring Business Results and Calculating ROI, if
  7. Tell the Story: Communicating Results to Key
  8. Optimize Results: Using Black Box Thinking to Increase

The ranking of leadership programs should be based on an objective process with rating systems, document reviews, and actual case studies. The outcome is a ranking system based on the extent to which programs are designed to deliver results.


  1. Bersin, Josh, Jason Flynn, Art Mazor, and Veronica Melian. “2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends: Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age.” Deloitte University Press, capital-trends.html
  2. Phillips, Jack J., and Patti P. Phillips. Measuring for Success: What CEOs Really Think about Learning Investments. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press,
  3. Phillips, Jack J., Patti P. Phillips, and Rebecca L. Ray. Measuring Leadership Development: Quantify Your Program’s Impact and ROI on Organizational Performance. New York: McGraw-Hill,

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