The Best Development Leadership Programs


The Best Leadership Development Programs

It’s funny…I just Googled “Best Leadership Development Programs” and was informed that there are about 270,000 pages out there! What?!!   That’s crazy.  But what’s even crazier is the fact that nobody knows what the best leadership development programs truly are. Seriously.

Let me explain, from an insider’s perspective.

As adjunct faculty at the National Leadership Institute, I have been helping run various leadership development modules in their flagship “Leadership Development Program”, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).  When I was there in 2003, in BusinessWeek’s 2003 Executive Education Special Report, they ranked the Center for Creative Leadership first in the world for leadership development. First in the world! Wow.

best leadership programs

It turns out that CCL has been ranked in the Top 10 for over 12 years straight by Financial Times.

Pretty impressive.

I love being associated with CCL programs. The programs are great.  They are inspiring. But I question anybody’s attempt so far to decide who has “the best leadership development program.”

Proof of the Pudding

But how did Business Week go about ranking the best leadership programs?  What data did they look at?  I’m not entirely sure, but CCL does receive amazing feedback.  In fact, every single day of each program, participants were required to rate various components of the day. How valuable was the 3-mile island activity? Did you learn something new about yourself during the model building activity? How well was your 360 feedback delivered? Is there anything you’d change about the program to make it better? These weren’t the exact questions, but you get the gist.  They gathered lots of data, and those participant feedback numbers are amazing.

On the final day of each week-long program, participants’ averaged ratings were often about 4.7 out of 5, in terms of how valuable they thought the program was.

Basically, this score indicates that participants thought the program was amazing! And these leaders, mind you, are quite tough to please…

So, given the world ranking of #1, and these super high scores from tough participants, you’d think “Best Leadership Program” would make sense, right?

Dusty Binder Syndrome

But too often when I talk to participants a few weeks or a few months later, I hear an unsettling story.  Conversations sometimes go something like this:

  • Participant: “Oh man. That was a great week. I met lots of great people, and learned a lot about myself.”
  • Me: “Yeah, it was great. You were clearly learning a lot about yourself, and what leadership is, and how to become a better leader”
  • Participant: “Absolutely.  And I can see now what I need to start doing much better. I hope I get a chance to open up my big ol’ binder soon. There’s lots of great material in there.”
  • Me: “You haven’t opened your binder yet?”
  • Participant: “Well…no.  You’ve got to understand. I came back from that week full of enthusiasm, ready to take on the world.  But, there were only about a thousand emails that came in during the week, and I’ve been slammed with work since I got back. There’s just not been time.”
  • Me: “Really…But we talked about some specific goals–things you would do with your team right away.”
  • Participant: “Yeah. I’ll get there. But you have to understand. Nobody here went through the experience. They don’t know what I’ve learned. The world around me hasn’t changed, so it’s hard to transfer what I learned into my world here.  It sounded easier when I was there…”

“Dusty Binder Syndrome” I began to call this.  Those big thick binders…they’re full of rich content about leadership research, personal insights captured after each experience, tips and strategies for more effective leadership, 360 data gathered painfully from as many as twenty peers, direct reports, managers and others, etc.

Real Leadership Development

But the truth is that the best leadership development programs must be connected to a leader’s real work, with his or her real teams, addressing the real challenges, with real time pressures, real budget constraints, in the real economy, with really “messy” people issues to contend with.

The best leadership development programs are the ones that either occur directly in that space or make extra efforts to do so.  The lasting effects on the people and the business results is what makes a program great.

If you are someone looking for the best leadership programs because you want to become the best leader, or develop a colleague into the best leader, I encourage you to consider great programs like CCL offers.  But don’t let the development end there.

You must make sure there’s a strong connection to the real challenges leaders face in their actual work environment.

It’s what leaders do when they get back from a leadership development program that matters.   That’s what makes leaders great.  To find out what the best leadership development programs are, I believe a new wave of research needs to be done, which looks at the long-term and real world impact of a leaders’ enhanced effectiveness leading people, teams and organizations.


About Curt Buermeyer

I am the founder and president of LeadPeople. I hope you enjoyed this post and encourage you to subscribe to receive these in your inbox. Thanks for visiting!

  1. A few questions:
    About how many participants will there be in the week long sessions? Where are sessions taught? My location? Yours? elsewhere? Could you share more metrics on the difference CCL has made for participants.

    • Often, there are between 15-22 participants in the week-long LDP. Sessions I’m involved with are at the National Leadership Institute at UMUC. CCL offers many other locations too, for “open enrollment” programs. I do custom programs at client’s offices or offsites. Feel free to email ( or call me (703-889-5038) if you have interest.
      Cheers, Curt

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