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Collusion with denial: leadership development and its evaluation

Elizabeth King (Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)
Paul Nesbit (Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to investigate ways to gain deeper understanding of the evaluation challenge by reporting on insights about the impact of a leadership development program. It focusses on participants’ reflective post-course analysis of their learning, comparing this to a traditional evaluative analysis. Recently there has been a greater focus on programs to develop leaders who have the requisite cognitive and behavioral complexity to lead in challenging environments. However models for the evaluation of such programs often rely on methodologies that assume learning of specific skills rather than assessment of how well participants are able to cognitively and behaviorally adapt to uncertain and complex environments.


The leadership development program was evaluated in two stages and the findings compared. Stage 1 elicited responses to the program using a traditional evaluation approach. Stage 2 involved 30 semi-structured interviews with the participants exploring the connections made between their development experience, work environment and approach to challenge.


Evaluation approaches which focus on assessing reflection about personal learning provide greater detail on learning experience than traditional approaches to evaluation and can increase our understanding of the broader impact of leadership development programs. Current evaluation practices are mostly traditional despite dissatisfaction with outcomes. There are functional and financial benefits flowing from this practice suggesting collusion with denial between the suppliers and purchasers of leadership development and posing a question of causation.


This study supports the use of qualitative evaluation techniques and in particular a focus on post-learning reflection to increase understanding of the impact of leadership development programs. The increased understanding provided by this type of evaluation can play a significant role in both the design of leader development programs and the creation of strategic alignment between business strategy, the purpose of leadership development interventions, learning objectives, program design and program evaluation.



King, E. and Nesbit, P. (2015), "Collusion with denial: leadership development and its evaluation", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 134-152.



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