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ATD Blog

How Top Companies Get Results from Leadership Development Programs

Friday, February 17, 2023

What does it mean to be strategic at a time when the world—and work—is changing constantly? How do we equip leaders with the new skills they need to address our most significant challenges? What does the future of leadership development look like, and how is it already evolving?

Like many people leaders, you’ve probably had these questions on your mind for the past few years. Today we expect more from our leaders than in the past. We rely on them not only to drive revenue, growth, retention, engagement, and productivity but also to help us navigate our unpredictable and ambiguous world. We need them to be skilled relationship builders who inspire and enable others to reach their full potential.

With such enhanced expectations of our leaders, leadership development programs are more important than ever. But in many organizations, these programs are stuck in the past. They develop a narrow set of skills, and leverage old, and often ineffective, ways of teaching them. It’s not surprising that, according to research from i4cp, 67 percent of executives say their leadership development programs don’t work.

We think a lot about this problem at Torch, especially this question: How should organizations adapt their leadership development strategies to make sure they’re driving business results?


A new Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report, sponsored by Torch, presents an answer. The research explores how leadership development is evolving as a whole and distills best practices from organizations that are achieving desired results from their programs.


The research divides respondents—665 organizational leaders from across industries and around the world—into three categories: leaders, followers, and laggards. This categorization is based on whether respondents reported that their leadership development program is delivering desired results.

Here are four key takeaways from the research:

  • Leaders—25 percent of the respondents—are more likely to report increased revenue and other benefits from their leadership development efforts than others. Leaders report increased revenue as an outcome of their leadership development efforts; 35 percent of leaders, versus 12 percent of followers and 7 percent of laggards, report this benefit. Leaders also report better collaboration and teamwork (69 percent) followed by increased employee engagement (60 percent), better performance from teams, and greater emotional intelligence (59 percent respectively).
  • Personalized leadership development isn’t just a “nice to have”; it’s a “need to have.” Accordingly, 86 percent of respondents agree that personalized leadership development, such as coaching and mentoring, is required in our changing work environment.
  • Relationship-based development is more effective than leadership skills training. Though the former is still the most commonly used leadership development tool according to 80 percent of respondents, it is rated as less effective than personalized and relationship-based options: 35 percent rate skills training as extremely or very effective versus 60 percent for coaching.
  • Inclusive programs are becoming mainstream. In the past, leadership development opportunities were primarily offered to senior executives or high-potential leaders. Today, 64 percent of respondents strongly agree that it’s important to provide leadership development more broadly across their organizations. Roughly half of organizations are working to increase the equity and inclusiveness of their mentoring and coaching programs.

There are many ways to think about incorporating more thoughtful and rigorous leadership development strategies into your evolving workspace. Use these lenses to analyze your organization and figure out how you can help shape its leadership development for the future.

About the Author

Elizabeth Weingarten is the head of behavioral science insights for Torch. Previously, Elizabeth was managing editor of Behavioral Scientist magazine, worked at the behavioral science design firm, ideas42, directed the Global Gender Parity Initiative at the think tank New America and was a senior fellow in its Better Life Lab. She has also worked on the editorial staffs of Slate, The Atlantic, and Qatar Today Magazine. She graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

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