skip to Main Content
The Case For Measuring Leadership Development: “Hard” Development Requires Hard Data

The Case for Measuring Leadership Development: “Hard” Development Requires Hard Data

With an estimated $166 billion spent annually in the US on leadership development training, you may find it hard to believe that most organizations struggle with how to measure leadership development efforts that ultimately result in the readiness of their leaders.  After all, we measure everything!  We measure calories just so we can feel guilty about devouring them.  We measure things that have no appreciable day-to-day impact for us: like the mass and spin of subatomic particles and the soil compensation of Mars.  Perhaps depressingly, we have even come to measure our popularity and social currency through the ignominious lens of “shares”, “likes” and “re-tweets”.  Yet, for some reason, this proclivity for measurement and formal analysis has escaped leadership development.  This is a serious—and wholly unnecessary—oversight.  

By and large, organizations recognize the need to develop their leaders, as their leaders have a stronger impact on business results than most any other factor.  Creating a business strategy that cannot be executed by your people is effectively failing to create a business strategy.  Therefore, developing your leaders to align and execute objectives through their employees creates tremendous value.  A value, seemingly, the market has determined to be worth $166 billion yearly, even without measuring the outcomes of leadership development investments!  

Ask an organization what demonstrably clear evidence they can point to for the success or failure of that investment and you’re likely to get an answer as nebulous and unsatisfactory as asking your teenager about a ding on the front bumper of your car.  Leadership development is rife with anecdotal feedback; but meaningful data that unequivocally shows where to invest more money, or where to put more effort, is too often absent.  

A large part of the challenge comes from a historical lack of measures for a development culture.  Creating a development culture is critical to program success; and is the preliminary step of evaluating your organization’s readiness to create and sustain such a culture.  We could determine this appetite if we measured whether leadership development increased the linkage between business strategy and people strategy; whether the program created appropriate opportunities for practice and reinforcement of learned skills; or, ultimately, whether the program successfully created a truly leader-led development culture within the organization.  In brief, a good assessment instrument would create a structured approach to identifying both the strengths and the challenges within your organization’s leadership development efforts, generating greater focus on educational opportunities and, therefore, accelerating program outcomes, as well as creating a meaningful way of measuring the outcomes of leadership development.

Fortunately, just such a tool has emerged.  The Leadership Development Maturity Tool (LDMT) is a 62-question survey instrument created by Jennifer Mackin, CEO, Forbesbook author and recognized leader in developing people and organizations.  This instrument offers critical insight into the success of leadership development outcomes by connecting with four drivers associated with measuring leadership development success.  For anyone who has struggled with knowing if their investment in leadership development is paying off, these drivers should be insightful.  More often than not, learning isn’t adopted because these drivers aren’t understood:              

  • An organization’s strategic objectives must include a link to the plan to develop people
  • Leadership development must be leader-led 
  • Reinforcement/practice put skills into action
  • Development must incorporate a face-to-face component

When organizations fail to make people development a priority, programmatical efforts to develop leaders inevitably fail.  Business strategy should include a people strategy.  How are you intending to execute business objectives if not through your employees?  Organizations that have relegated human resources and learning development functions to be subordinate to the CFO or chief legal counsel start at a disadvantage.  The development of people must have a place at the senior team’s table regarding strategic goals; the development of people must be valued as a critical objective in its own right.    

Further, when leadership is not driving their team member’s development, execution suffers.  Developing a leader-led development culture that recognizes and supports leaders accountable for people/leadership growth creates a direct path for carrying out strategic objectives, maximizing the performance of each and every employee and generating a framework of support for identifying and developing high performers and preparing for effective succession.  If top leaders don’t drive all development, it is like not valuing the sail and rutter on your boat: you may float well enough, but you’re not going anywhere, and you couldn’t steer yourself even if you caught a lucky current.  

Additionally, as with any skills or behaviors we value, we must practice our new learnings in order to create proficiency and generate meaningful outcomes.  The population of leadership prodigies—those natural leaders who don’t require training or development—is only slightly less populace than the number of self-styled Tik Tok stars.  Developing the skills of effective delegation, of coaching and leading our direct reports, and creating clear objectives with appropriate accountability—these must be practiced to create consistent results.  This is the outcome of producing a leader-led culture: providing leaders with the opportunity to lead; providing peer support and accountability around the practice of leading; and valuing the practice of leadership.  When this leadership culture meets with the on-going and regular practice of leadership, you create meaningful change.

Lastly, leadership development programs fail when they ignore how people best learn: together, through active interaction with peers and by learning from others.  Even with ZOOM, or other virtual platforms, we can create meaningful development when we challenge leaders and require dynamic participation from them in the learning and the practice of leadership.  Easy solutions, like dis-engaged digital learning, where we’re passively watching videos and checking boxes, doesn’t generate the right shift in behaviors or a lasting capacity for real leadership.      

If you’re going to make an investment in leadership, aligning that effort to these drivers will help ensure success. It’s a framework for how to measure leadership development for starters.  And committing to measuring leadership development efforts translates to understanding whether those efforts are generating results.  There is no sense in pursuing protracted development initiatives without a sense of whether that effort is succeeding?  Using an instrument like the LDMT can provide the leadership team critical feedback on what is, and what is not, working with your development practices, as well as help create tighter alignment to the drivers that ensure leadership development success.  There is plenty of uncertainty around market confidence, pandemic infection rates and supply chain stability.  Don’t make leadership development another unclear variable of your business.  

Back To Top