HKS Authors

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Organizations spend billions of dollars in leadership development, yet, our understanding of what is gained as a result of leadership development remain limited. In this research, we argue that leadership development can be more than professional learning and can serve a critical function to improve the psychological well-being of employees and leaders, especially when it targets the whole identity of professionals. Studying a large sample of 1,341 leaders which include eleven cohorts of participants from an identity-based leadership development program and a matched control group, we found leadership development to have a positive impact on sense of purpose in life and personal growth and to reduce levels of stress about two weeks after the programs. At a six-month follow-up these changes largely reverted to baseline levels pointing to a ‘eudaimonic treadmill’. We did not find significant differences in online and in-person programs before, during, and after the pandemic. The findings suggest that psychological well-being should be considered in understanding effectiveness, return on value, and the driving factors for leadership development, and that learning and development could be an overlooked source of mental health at work which can potentially deliver mutual gains in both professional and personal outcomes.


Yemiscigil, Ayse, and Dana Born. "The Psychological Value of Leadership Development: Longitudinal Quasi-Experimental Evidence." Academy of Management Proceedings 2023.1 (August 2023): 19334.