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New Research: How Top Companies Get Results from Leadership Development Programs

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?   


If you’re like many people leaders, you’ve probably had questions like these on your mind over the past few years. Today, we’re expecting more from our leaders. 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 greater expectations of our leaders, leadership development programs are more important than ever. But for many organizations, those 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 67% of executives say their leadership development programs don’t work, according to research from i4cp.  


We think a lot about this problem at Torch, and 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, has 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 or not respondents reported that their leadership development program is delivering against desired results.  


Here are four key takeaways from the research: 

  1. 25% of respondents–the leaders–are more likely to report increased revenue from their leadership development efforts, and other benefits more from their leadership development investments than others. Leaders report increased revenue as an outcome of their leadership development efforts; 35% of leaders, versus 12% of followers and 7% of laggards, report this benefit. Other benefits include better collaboration/teamwork (69% of leaders) followed by increased employee engagement (60%), better performance from teams, and greater emotional intelligence (59% each).
  2. Personalized leadership development isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. The vast majority of respondents (86%) agree that personalized leadership development, such as coaching and mentoring, is required in our changing work environment. ‘
  3. Relationship-based development is more effective than leadership skills training. Though leadership skills training is still the most commonly used leadership development tool (80%of respondents), it is rated as less effective than personalized and relationship-based options: 35% rate skills training as extremely or very effective versus 60% for coaching.
  4. Inclusive programs are becoming mainstream. In the past, leadership development opportunities were primarily offered to senior executives or “high-potential” leaders. Today, 64% of respondents strongly agreed 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.

Want to learn more about how leading organizations are achieving these results from their leadership development programs?

Check out the executive summary.