Why Some Leadership Development Programs Fail

Why do some leadership development programs fail? While everything can seem to go well on your leadership retreat—from the travel to the activities you’ve planned—it can sometimes feel like your employees didn’t get what they should have from the curriculum you pieced together. It’s frustrating. You’ve undoubtedly worked hard to plan a trip, get everyone together, and work through the process, yet no one feels like they are better off having attended. Leadership development programs are an investment, and no one wants to make a poor investment. 

Why did your trip fail? Before you throw up your arms and give up on the entire process, we’ve pieced together a few common reasons why some leadership development programs fail. 

What’s Your Purpose Here?

30% of organizations have difficulty creating effective leadership development programs, so you’re not alone. Yet these programs are important. Why? That’s a good question to ask yourself before you even set out to plan your next retreat.  

Employers know they have to cultivate their leaders. They know that leadership development programs can help them. But there’s one thing they don’t know: what exactly the goal of their program is. Before you even pick a date, place, and program, ask yourself (and your leadership team) one very important question: what exactly are we trying to accomplish here? 

Too many businesses fall victim to the “every other business does this and so should we” mentality. They plunge headfirst into the leadership development pool without even asking themselves what they are trying to accomplish. The result is a shallow program that accomplishes nothing (other than wasting your time and money). 

No retreat location, facilitator, or anyone else can tell you what you are trying to accomplish. It’s up to you to decide why you are bringing this group of people on a retreat, what you want them to get from it, and how you want things to change in the aftermath. Try this rubric for success: 

  • Create a list of key performance indicators that you want to improve and track 
  • Choose the key group of people that are integral to achieving those results 
  • Create a leadership development curriculum that targets the skills they’ll need to achieve those KPIs 
  • Create a method to measure the results 

Go in with a plan and you’ll find that your leadership development retreat will be much more successful. 

Know the Difference Between Leadership Development and “Adult Summer Camp”

Are you focusing on trust falls, scavenger hunts, and other games. Congrats, your “leadership development program” is a glorified adult summer camp. While these games have their place (as fun little distractions or ice breakers), they should not be at the forefront of any leadership development program. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to spend all your time sitting indoors at seminars, either. The best leadership development programs incorporate experiential learning into their curriculum. What exactly does that mean? See how experiential learning enhances leadership development programs. 

Are You Measuring Your Results?

What happens after your retreat is just as important as what goes on during it. How do you know if your leaders have improved or learned anything if you have no gauge for success? What does success even look like to your business? Too many companies go through the process of leadership development without any thought as to what success looks like and how it can be measured. 

Go back to your KPIs. Have you achieved them yet? Review them before your retreat to get a baseline, then again in the months after your retreat to gauge your improvements. 

Don’t fall victim to thinking your leadership development isn’t successful just because you haven’t been measuring its success. 


Plan your next leadership retreat at Sugar Lake Lodge. Learn more about our retreat facilities and offerings today.