In principle, leadership development may have positive effects, negative effects, or no effects at all. The present study aims to explore the potential negative effects of leadership development. We approach this issue with three studies. The first study develops theoretical reasons to expect negative effects and provides a qualitative description of such instances based on 14 semi-structured interviews with people witnessing negative effects. The second study is a quantitative assessment of the prevalence of negative effects. While 97.4% of 189 managers responding to an anonymous survey have experienced positive effects from developmental activities, 63% of them have also experienced instances they deemed wasted or ineffective, and 37% have witnessed actual negative effects. A small but distinct group (13% of the entire sample and 36% of those witnessing negative effects) reported detrimental effects on mental health and private life. The third study explores the evaluation practices of 143 companies to examine why negative leadership development interventions may persist. The data indicates that negative effects co-exist with a lack of systematic evaluation practices. Our findings suggest that a combination of insufficient evaluation with outsourcing of leadership development activities may render organizations susceptible to fads. In turn, the chance of exposing participants to ineffective and even harmful experiences increases.
Arnulf, J. K., Glasø, L., Andreassen, A. K. B., & Martinsen. Ø. L. (2016). The dark side of leadership development: An exploration of the possible downsides of leadership development. Scandinavian Psychologist, 3(e18), 1-20