Why Leadership Development Programs Fail

Gary Stringer
September 6, 2023
September 6, 2023

Leadership development programs are designed to enhance the skills and capabilities of people in leadership roles. However, despite the significant investments made in these programs, many of them fail to deliver the desired results. 

Understanding the reasons behind the failure of leadership development programs is crucial for organisations to improve their effectiveness and ensure a positive return on investment, and we’ll share the big ones here.

Lack of alignment with organisational goals

One of the primary reasons leadership development programs fail is the lack of alignment with organisational goals. When the objectives of the program do not align with the strategic direction of the business, participants may not see the relevance or value of the program. It’s also less likely to have meaningful impact…

This misalignment can lead to a lack of motivation and engagement, resulting in a failure to apply the learned skills and behaviours in their leadership roles.

To address this issue, organisations need to ensure that leadership development programs are tailored to address the specific challenges and goals of the organisation, the context and the individual.

Lack of support from the C-Suite

Another common reason for the failure of leadership development programs is the lack of support from top management. Without the active involvement and endorsement of senior leaders, participants may perceive the program as a mere formality or a box-ticking exercise. 

This lack of support can undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the program, leading to a lack of commitment and engagement from participants.

To overcome this challenge, organisations need to ensure that those at the top of the food chain actively support and participate in the leadership development program. Senior leaders should communicate the importance of the program, set expectations, and provide ongoing support and feedback to participants. 

This lends more weight and credibility to the program and shows the importance to those who participate.

Ineffective program design

The design of the leadership development program plays a crucial role in its success or failure. Ineffective program design, such as a lack of clear objectives, poorly defined learning outcomes, or inadequate assessment methods, can hinder the effectiveness of the program. 

Participants may struggle to understand what they are expected to achieve or how their progress will be measured, leading to a lack of focus and direction.

Lack of follow-ups and reinforcement

Leadership development programs often fail to deliver sustainable results because of a lack of follow-up and reinforcement. Once the program is completed, participants may struggle to apply the newly acquired skills and behaviours in their day-to-day leadership roles without ongoing support and reinforcement. 

Without reinforcement, participants may revert to their old habits and behaviours, rendering the program ineffective.

To ensure the long-term success of leadership development programs, organisations should establish mechanisms for ongoing support and reinforcement. This can include follow-up workshops, coaching sessions, or peer support networks. 

By providing continuous support and reinforcement, organisations can help participants integrate the learned skills and behaviours into their leadership practice, resulting in sustained improvements.


Leadership development programs can be highly valuable for organisations seeking to enhance the capabilities of their leaders. However, the failure of these programs is a common occurrence. 

By addressing issues such as lack of alignment with organisational goals, lack of support from top management, ineffective program design, and lack of follow-up and reinforcement, organisations can increase the effectiveness of their leadership development programs. 

Investing time and effort in designing and implementing well-aligned, supported, and reinforced programs will ultimately lead to improved leadership capabilities and organisational success.

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