Are Traditional Leadership Development Programs Doomed?

Colin Newbold, 16th June 2024 in Development, Feedback, Hiring, Human Resources, People Management, Testing

Leadership and management development programs (L/MDPs) have long been fundamental components of corporate training initiatives.  But in today’s fast-paced and digitally-enabled post-Covid world, we ask “Is there a better way?”

This article is the first chapter of a soon-to-be-published book which explores what published evidence there is to compare traditional L/MDPs with a newer alternative: 360-degree feedback + 1:1 virtual leadership coaching.  These two approaches, both of which aim to cultivate effective leadership and management skills, each offer numerous benefits that contribute to both individual and organisational success.  Each one also has its critics and so, for completeness, we also show the drawbacks to either approach.  This article explores these advantages and disadvantages, seeking to offer you a conclusion with recommendations.

Benefits of Traditional L/MD Programs

Traditional in-house leadership and management development programs, where multiple executives are trained together in a group setting over several sessions, have been shown to significantly enhance leadership and management skills, while opening up communication channels across different parts of an organisation. This improvement in communication fosters cross-collaboration, resulting in numerous organisational benefits.

1. Enhanced Leadership Skills

Traditional leadership programs provide structured learning environments where participants can acquire and refine essential leadership skills. These programs often include modules on strategic thinking, communication and decision-making.  According to a study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organisational Studies, structured leadership training significantly improves participants' leadership capabilities and effectiveness in their roles (Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009).

2. Increased Organisational Performance

Effective leadership and management are directly correlated with improved organisational performance and employee retention. By investing in traditional development programs, organisations can ensure that their leaders are equipped to drive performance improvements. A study by McKinsey & Company found that companies with robust leadership development practices are 1.5 times more likely to outperform their peers in financial metrics (Gurdjian, Halbeisen, & Lane, 2014). This demonstrates the tangible impact of well-trained leaders on the bottom line.

3. Succession Planning and Talent Retention

Traditional development programs play a crucial role in succession planning by preparing future leaders from within the organisation. This not only ensures a smooth transition during leadership changes but also aids in talent attraction and retention. Employees who perceive opportunities for growth and development are more likely to be attracted to and stay with the company. According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, companies that excel at leadership development enjoy a 20% reduction in staff turnover rates compared to their peers (Groysberg & Abrahams, 2014).

4. Building a Positive Organisational Culture

Leadership development programs contribute to the cultivation of a positive organisational culture. These programs often emphasise values such as integrity, inclusivity, and collaboration. Leaders who embody these values set the tone for the entire organisation, fostering a work environment that is supportive and productive. A report by Deloitte highlights that companies with strong leadership development programs are better equipped to build and maintain a positive organisational culture, which in turn boosts employee engagement and performance (Deloitte, 2016).

5. Adaptability and Change Management

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, the ability to adapt and manage change is crucial. Traditional leadership programs often include training on change management, helping leaders navigate and guide their teams through transitions. This adaptability is essential for maintaining competitiveness. According to a study by the Center for Creative Leadership, leaders who have undergone traditional development training are better equipped to handle change and lead their organisations through periods of transformation (Gentry, Eckert, Munusamy, Stawiski, & Martin, 2014).

6. Improved Decision-Making

Traditional L/MD programs focus heavily on enhancing decision-making skills. Leaders trained through these programs are more adept at analysing situations, weighing options, and making informed decisions that benefit the organisation. Research from the International Journal of Management Reviews indicates that structured leadership training significantly improves decision-making capabilities, leading to more effective and strategic choices (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Sturm, & McKee, 2014).

7. Enhanced Communication and Understanding

In-house leadership programs typically involve executives from various departments participating in shared learning experiences. This setup promotes open dialogue and mutual understanding among participants, breaking down silos that often exist within organisations. According to a report by Deloitte, 83% of digitally mature companies leverage cross-functional teams to enhance communication and collaboration, significantly reducing organisational barriers that impede agility and innovation.

8. Fostering a Collaborative Culture

These programs help create a culture of collaboration by encouraging leaders to work together on common projects and challenges. This cultural shift is critical for fostering teamwork across different functions. McKinsey's research highlights that cross-functional collaboration, initiated through leadership training, leads to tangible improvements in performance metrics such as customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. By bringing together diverse perspectives, these programs help leaders understand and appreciate the roles and challenges of their peers from other departments, thereby fostering a more cohesive organisational culture.

9. Building Strong Networks

Leadership programs often include group activities, workshops, and discussions that facilitate networking among executives. These interactions build strong interpersonal relationships that extend beyond the training environment. As highlighted in a CIPD report, effective cross-functional collaboration is driven by strong personal connections and mutual trust, which are often established through shared developmental experiences. These networks become invaluable resources for leaders when navigating complex organisational issues that require cross-departmental cooperation.

10. Improving Problem-Solving and Innovation

Cross-functional collaboration fostered through leadership development programs leads to more innovative problem-solving. When leaders from different areas of the organisation collaborate, they bring diverse viewpoints and expertise to the table, resulting in more creative and effective solutions. Deloitte's insights underscore that companies with strong cross-functional teams are better equipped to adapt to disruptions and innovate continuously, leveraging the collective knowledge and skills of their leaders.

11. Creating Accountability and Ownership

Group-based leadership programs often incorporate projects that require participants to work together towards common goals. This shared responsibility enhances accountability and ownership, as leaders are collectively responsible for the outcomes of their collaborative efforts. McKinsey's findings suggest that assigning cross-functional teams with clear objectives and accountability measures significantly improves execution and reduces operational bottlenecks.

12. Encouraging Continuous Learning and Improvement

In-house leadership programs emphasise continuous learning and improvement, which are crucial for sustaining cross-collaboration benefits. By regularly bringing together leaders for training sessions, organisations ensure that their leadership teams are constantly updating their skills and knowledge, staying aligned with best practices, and adapting to new challenges collectively. This ongoing developmental approach is essential for maintaining the momentum of collaborative initiatives and ensuring long-term success.


Traditional leadership and management development programs offer numerous benefits, including enhanced leadership skills, improved organisational performance, effective succession planning, a positive organisational culture, adaptability, and better decision-making. These programs remain a critical investment for organisations seeking to cultivate strong leaders and achieve long-term success. As supported by various studies and reports, the structured approach of traditional development programs provides a solid foundation for leadership excellence and organisational growth.

As well, L/MDPs are instrumental in enhancing communication and fostering cross-collaboration within organisations. By breaking down silos, building strong networks, promoting a collaborative culture, and encouraging continuous learning, these programs enable organisations to harness the full potential of their leadership teams. The resulting improvements in communication, problem-solving, and innovation drive significant organisational benefits, making such programs a valuable investment for any company aiming to thrive in today's complex and dynamic business environment.


  1. Avolio, B. J., Walumbwa, F. O., & Weber, T. J. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research, and future directions. *Annual Review of Psychology*, 60, 421-449.
  2. Gurdjian, P., Halbeisen, T., & Lane, K. (2014). Why leadership-development programs fail. *McKinsey & Company*.
  3. Groysberg, B., & Abrahams, R. (2014). Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life. *Harvard Business Review*.
  4. Deloitte. (2016). Global Human Capital Trends 2016: The new organisation: Different by design.
  5. Gentry, W. A., Eckert, R. H., Munusamy, V. P., Stawiski, S. A., & Martin, J. L. (2014). The needs of participants in leadership development programs: A qualitative and quantitative cross-national study. *Center for Creative Leadership*.
  6. Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E., & McKee, R. A. (2014). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory. *The Leadership Quarterly*, 25(1), 63-82.

For more detailed insights on paragraphs 7-12, you can refer to the following comprehensive reports by Deloitte and McKinsey on cross-functional collaboration and leadership development:

These references provide empirical support for the benefits of traditional leadership and management development programs, illustrating their importance in cultivating effective leaders and driving organisational success.

Drawbacks of Traditional L/MDPs

While traditional leadership and management development programs have been instrumental in shaping effective leaders, they also come with several drawbacks that can limit their effectiveness. This summary explores these limitations, providing insights into why traditional approaches may not always meet the evolving needs of modern organisations.

1. One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Traditional leadership programs often employ a standardised curriculum that fails to address the unique needs of individual participants. This one-size-fits-all approach can lead to disengagement among learners who feel that their specific developmental needs and learning styles are not being met. According to a study published in the Academy of Management Learning & Education, customised and context-specific training (as in 360-degree feedback followed by coaching) is more effective in producing tangible leadership outcomes compared to generic L/MD programs (DeRue & Wellman, 2009).

2. Lack of Practical Application

Many traditional leadership programs focus heavily on theoretical knowledge and classroom-based learning, which can result in a gap between knowledge acquisition and practical application. Participants may struggle to translate what they learn in training sessions to real-world situations. As highlighted in a report by the Harvard Business Review, effective leadership development requires integrating experiential learning opportunities, such as on-the-job training and real-life projects, to ensure that leaders can apply their skills in practice (Hill, 2007).  This is much easier to achieve in a program of 360-degree feedback followed by coaching.

3. Limited Scope of Learning

Just like an MBA program, traditional leadership and management development programs often emphasise certain aspects of leadership, such as strategic thinking and decision-making, while neglecting other critical areas like emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, adaptability, and cultural competence. This narrow focus can leave leaders ill-prepared to handle the complex and diverse challenges they face in today's globalised and dynamic business environment. A study in the Journal of Business Research points out that holistic leadership development, which includes a broader range of skills, is essential for preparing leaders to succeed in diverse contexts (Sosik & Jung, 2018).

4. High Cost and Time Investment

Traditional leadership development programs can be expensive and time-consuming, often requiring significant financial investment (facilitators’ fees, venue and travel) and long periods away from the workplace (‘opportunity cost’). This can be a barrier for many organisations, especially smaller ones, and may limit the accessibility of such programs. While smaller organisations can elect to send employees to 'open' training programs, the disadvantages referred to in paragraphs 1-3 above are amplified.  Much better if they consider the 360+coaching approach instead.  The Association for Talent Development (ATD) reports that the average organisation spends thousands of dollars per leader on development programs, which can strain budgets and resources (ATD, 2016).

5. Inflexibility in Delivery

Traditional programs are typically delivered through in-person workshops, seminars, and classes, which can be inflexible in terms of timing and location. This rigidity can make it difficult for busy leaders to participate fully, particularly those who are balancing demanding schedules. The rise of digital and blended learning solutions (such as 360 plus virtual coaching) has highlighted the limitations of traditional in-person formats, which do not offer the same level of flexibility and accessibility (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

6. Resistance to Change

Traditional leadership programs can be slow to adapt to new trends and changes in the business environment. They tend to follow a modular approach that was designed some years’ previously.  This resistance to change means that the content and methods used in these programs may quickly become outdated, failing to equip leaders with the skills needed to navigate modern challenges. A study published in the Leadership Quarterly suggests that adaptive and continuous learning models (such as 1:1 coaching) are more effective in preparing leaders for the fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Sturm, & McKee, 2014).


While traditional leadership and management development programs offer valuable benefits, they also come with several significant drawbacks. The one-size-fits-all approach, lack of practical application, limited scope of learning, high costs, inflexibility in delivery, and resistance to change can all hinder their effectiveness. Organisations must recognise these limitations and consider integrating more adaptive, personalised, and flexible learning approaches to better prepare their leaders for the complexities of the modern business world.


  1. DeRue, D. S., & Wellman, N. (2009). Developing leaders via experience: The role of developmental challenge, learning orientation, and feedback availability. *Academy of Management Learning & Education*, 8(3), 333-356.
  2. Hill, L. A. (2007). Becoming the Boss. *Harvard Business Review*.
  3. Sosik, J. J., & Jung, D. I. (2018). Full range leadership development: Pathways for people, profit, and planet. *Journal of Business Research*, 62(4), 375-384.
  4. Association for Talent Development (ATD). (2016). 2016 State of the Industry Report.
  5. Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organisations: What matters in practice. *Psychological Science in the Public Interest*, 13(2), 74-101.
  6. Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E., & McKee, R. A. (2014). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory. *The Leadership Quarterly*, 25(1), 63-82.

These references provide empirical support for the limitations of traditional leadership and management development programs, highlighting the need for more innovative and adaptable approaches to leadership training.

Benefits of 360-Degree Feedback Followed by Leadership Coaching Programs

Combining 360-degree feedback with virtual leadership coaching (‘360+Coaching’) has emerged as a powerful approach to enhancing leadership effectiveness and organisational performance. This summary explores the benefits of this integrated method, highlighting its impact on personal and professional development.

1. Comprehensive Perspective on Performance

360-degree feedback provides leaders with a holistic view of their performance by collecting input from a variety of sources, including peers, subordinates, supervisors, and sometimes clients. This multi-faceted feedback helps leaders gain a better understanding of how their actions and behaviours are perceived across different levels of the organisation. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, receiving feedback from multiple sources enhances self-awareness and helps leaders identify current strengths plus areas for improvement (Bracken, Timmreck, & Church, 2001).

2. Enhanced Self-Awareness and Personal Development

Two of the primary benefits of 360-degree feedback are the enhancement of self-awareness and the growth in emotional intelligence. Leaders often have blind spots that can hinder their effectiveness. By providing candid insights from various stakeholders, 360-degree feedback helps leaders become more aware of their strengths and areas for development. This increased self-awareness and emotional intelligence is crucial for personal development and is a key predictor of leadership success. Research in the Leadership & Organisation Development Journal indicates that leaders who receive 360-degree feedback show significant improvements in self-awareness and awareness of the impact of their behaviour on others, which is linked to better performance and career advancement (Rogers, Rogers, & Metlay, 2002).

3. Targeted Leadership Coaching

Leadership coaching that follows 360-degree feedback is highly targeted and personalised. Coaches use the feedback data to create customised development plans that address the specific needs and goals of the leader. This tailored approach ensures that coaching efforts are focused on areas that will have the most significant impact. A study in the Journal of Management Development found that leaders who participated in coaching programs designed around 360-degree feedback showed greater improvements in leadership competencies compared to those who did not receive such targeted coaching (Thach, 2002).

4. Improved Communication and Relationships

Done properly, and in a culture of organisational readiness, 360-degree feedback promotes open communication and helps build stronger relationships within the organisation. By involving multiple stakeholders in the feedback process, leaders can better understand the perspectives and expectations of their colleagues and subordinates. This understanding fosters a culture of trust and transparency, which is essential for effective leadership. The Academy of Management Review highlights that leaders who engage in open communication and actively seek feedback are more likely to build cohesive and high-performing teams (Ashford & DeRue, 2012).

5. Enhanced Accountability and Motivation

The feedback process holds leaders accountable for their actions and behaviours. Knowing that their performance is being evaluated by a broad range of colleagues can motivate leaders to improve and maintain high standards (the ‘Hawthorn Factor’). Additionally, the support and guidance provided by leadership coaching help leaders stay committed to their development goals. According to a study in the Journal of Business and Psychology, leaders who receive 360-degree feedback followed by coaching are more likely to take ownership of their development and show sustained improvements in performance (Seifert, Yukl, & McDonald, 2003).

6. Positive Organisational Impact

The combination of 360-degree feedback and leadership coaching not only benefits individual leaders but also has a positive impact on the organisation as a whole. Improved leadership effectiveness leads to better decision-making, higher employee engagement, and increased productivity. A report by the Center for Creative Leadership suggests that organisations that invest in integrated feedback and coaching programs see significant returns in terms of enhanced leadership capabilities and overall organisational performance (Gentry, Eckert, Munusamy, Stawiski, & Martin, 2014).

Benefits of Coaching in Terms of Accountability

Coaching is a powerful tool for enhancing accountability among coachees. The structured nature of coaching sessions, where coachees are held to account for completing on-the-job based assignments between sessions, combined with personalised goal-setting and regular progress reviews, ensures that coachees remain focused and committed to their development. Paragraphs 7-11 outline some key ways in which coaching fosters accountability:

7. Setting Clear, Job-Specific Goals

One of the primary benefits of coaching is the establishment of clear, job-specific goals. Coaches work with coachees and their 360-degree feedback reports to identify specific objectives that are relevant to their roles. These goals are not only tailored to the individual's job responsibilities but also aligned with organisational objectives, ensuring that the coachee's development supports broader business outcomes. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, setting specific, challenging goals following 360 feedback is strongly correlated with higher performance (Locke & Latham, 2002).

8. Regular Assignments and Check-Ins

Coaches often assign tasks or projects to coachees between sessions. These assignments are designed to apply the concepts discussed during coaching sessions to real-world situations, reinforcing learning through practical application. The regularity of these assignments, coupled with follow-up discussions that hold coachees to account to deliver on those assignments, ensures that coachees are consistently working towards their goals. This structured approach helps maintain momentum and keeps coachees accountable for their progress. As highlighted in the International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, regular assignments and check-ins significantly enhance the effectiveness of coaching by providing ongoing opportunities for practice and feedback (Grant, 2003).

9. Feedback and Reflection

Effective coaching involves continuous feedback and reflection. Coaches provide constructive feedback on the coachee's performance, helping them to identify areas of improvement and celebrate successes. This feedback loop is crucial for maintaining accountability, as it provides coachees with a clear understanding of their progress and areas that require further attention. A report by the Center for Creative Leadership emphasises that feedback is a critical component of effective coaching, contributing to greater self-awareness and improved performance (Gentry et al., 2014).

10. Enhanced Motivation and Commitment

Accountability in coaching also stems from the motivational support provided by the coach. By setting expectations and holding coachees responsible for meeting them, coaches foster a sense of commitment and ownership. This supportive yet challenging environment encourages coachees to stay engaged and motivated to achieve their goals. Research in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science indicates that the accountability inherent in coaching relationships significantly boosts motivation and commitment among coachees (Peterson, 1996).

11. Developing Accountability Skills

Through the coaching process, coachees learn to take accountability for their actions and outcomes. Coaches model accountability behaviours and help coachees develop strategies for self-monitoring and self-regulation. These skills are essential for long-term professional growth and can be applied beyond the coaching context to other areas of the coachee's work and life. The Harvard Business Review notes that coaching helps individuals develop a greater sense of personal accountability, which is crucial for effective leadership (Coutu & Kauffman, 2009).


The integration of 360-degree feedback with leadership coaching offers numerous benefits, including a comprehensive perspective on performance, enhanced self-awareness, targeted development, improved communication, and positive organisational impact. These advantages make this combined approach a powerful tool for developing effective leaders and fostering organisational success.

As well, coaching enhances accountability by setting clear, job-specific goals, providing regular assignments and feedback, and fostering a supportive environment that motivates and challenges coachees. By developing these accountability skills, coachees are better equipped to take responsibility for their performance and achieve their professional objectives. This structured approach to personal and professional development is supported by extensive research, demonstrating its effectiveness in promoting sustained behavioural change and improved performance.


  1. Bracken, D. W., Timmreck, C. W., & Church, A. H. (2001). The Handbook of Multisource Feedback. *San Francisco: Jossey-Bass*.
  2. Rogers, R. W., Rogers, E. W., & Metlay, W. (2002). Improving the payoff from 360-degree feedback. *Leadership & Organisation Development Journal*, 23(4), 209-215.
  3. Thach, L. (2002). The impact of executive coaching and 360 feedback on leadership effectiveness. *Journal of Management Development*, 21(5), 374-388.
  4. Ashford, S. J., & DeRue, D. S. (2012). Developing as a leader: The power of mindful engagement. *Academy of Management Review*, 37(2), 225-234.
  5. Seifert, C. F., Yukl, G., & McDonald, R. A. (2003). Effects of multisource feedback and a feedback facilitator on the influence behavior of managers toward subordinates. *Journal of Business and Psychology*, 18(3), 399-413.
  6. Gentry, W. A., Eckert, R. H., Munusamy, V. P., Stawiski, S. A., & Martin, J. L. (2014). The needs of participants in leadership development programs: A qualitative and quantitative cross-national study. *Center for Creative Leadership*.
  7. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. *Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology*, 57(9), 705-717.
  8. Grant, A. M. (2003). The impact of life coaching on goal attainment, metacognition and mental health. *International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring*, 1(1), 38-48.
  9. Gentry, W. A., Eckert, R. H., Munusamy, V. P., Stawiski, S. A., & Martin, J. L. (2014). The needs of participants in leadership development programs: A qualitative and quantitative cross-national study. *Center for Creative Leadership*.
  10. Peterson, D. B. (1996). Executive coaching at work: The art of one-on-one change. *Journal of Applied Behavioral Science*, 32(3), 264-281.
  11. Coutu, D., & Kauffman, C. (2009). What can coaches do for you? *Harvard Business Review*.

Drawbacks of 360-Degree Feedback Followed by Leadership Coaching Programs

While the integration of 360-degree feedback with virtual leadership coaching can offer substantial benefits, it also comes with some drawbacks that can undermine its effectiveness. This summary explores these limitations, providing a balanced view of the potential challenges associated with these programs.

1. Potential for Feedback Overload

One drawback of 360-degree feedback is the potential for feedback overload. Leaders may receive a vast amount of feedback from multiple sources, which can be overwhelming and difficult to process. This overload can lead to confusion and frustration, making it challenging for leaders to identify the most critical areas for improvement. According to a study in the Academy of Management Review, excessive feedback can dilute the impact of valuable insights and reduce the overall effectiveness of the feedback process (London & Smither, 2002).

2. Bias and Inconsistencies in Feedback

The quality of 360-degree feedback depends heavily on the honesty and accuracy of the respondents. Biases and inconsistencies can arise from various sources, including personal relationships, workplace politics, and individual perceptions. Sometimes the feedback is confusing or contradictory, for example when one rater category scores the participant highly for one or more questions, while another category scores low.  That disparate range of views can also occur within the same category.  These biases can skew the feedback and confuse the participant, leading to inaccurate assessments of a leader's performance. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that feedback from peers and subordinates can sometimes reflect personal biases rather than objective evaluations, potentially undermining the validity of the feedback (Scullen, Mount, & Goff, 2000).

3. Resistance to Feedback

Leaders may resist the feedback they receive, particularly if it is critical or challenges their self-perception. This is more often the case when 360 feedback is used as a performance assessment or performance improvement measure, when the participant’s defences are already on stand-by, rather than as a pure development tool.  Resistance can hinder their willingness to engage in the coaching process and act on the feedback. Research published in the Journal of Business and Psychology suggests that leaders who perceive feedback as unfair or threatening are less likely to make meaningful changes, reducing the effectiveness of both the feedback and the subsequent coaching (Atwater, Brett, & Charles, 2007).

4. High Costs and Resource Intensive

While invariably less expensive than traditional leadership and management development programs, implementing 360-degree feedback followed by leadership coaching can be costly and resource-intensive. The process involves designing and administering the feedback instruments, analysing the results, and conducting multiple coaching sessions. Smaller organisations or those with limited budgets may find it challenging to afford these programs, unless they can partner with a provider who takes care of everything at a very low cost (cue The Harvard Business Review highlights that the financial and time investments required for these initiatives can be substantial, potentially limiting their accessibility and scalability (Cappelli & Tavis, 2016).

5. Variable Quality of Coaching

The effectiveness of leadership coaching can vary significantly depending on the coach's expertise and approach. Not all coaches are equally skilled, and inconsistent coaching quality can lead to uneven outcomes. A study in the Journal of Management Development emphasises the importance of selecting qualified and experienced coaches to ensure the success of coaching programs. Poor coaching can negate the benefits of 360-degree feedback, leaving leaders without the guidance they need to improve (Feldman & Lankau, 2005).

6. Short-Term Focus

There is a risk that 360-degree feedback and coaching programs may focus too much on short-term performance improvements rather than long-term development. Leaders might prioritise addressing immediate issues highlighted in the feedback rather than cultivating sustainable leadership qualities. According to research in the Leadership Quarterly, a short-term focus can limit the depth of development and fail to produce lasting behavioural changes (Day, 2000).


While 360-degree feedback followed by leadership coaching has many potential benefits, it also faces some significant drawbacks. Feedback overload, biases, resistance to feedback, high costs, variable coaching quality, and a short-term focus can all undermine the effectiveness of these programs. Organisations must carefully consider these challenges and implement strategies to mitigate them, such as ensuring the quality of feedback, selecting skilled coaches, and fostering a culture that values continuous improvement and openness to feedback.


  1. London, M., & Smither, J. W. (2002). Feedback orientation, feedback culture, and the longitudinal performance management process. *Human Resource Management Review*, 12(1), 81-100.
  2. Scullen, S. E., Mount, M. K., & Goff, M. (2000). Understanding the latent structure of job performance ratings. *Journal of Applied Psychology*, 85(6), 956-970.
  3. Atwater, L., Brett, J. F., & Charles, A. C. (2007). Feedback format: Does it influence manager reactions to negative feedback? *Journal of Business and Psychology*, 22(3), 219-232.
  4. Cappelli, P., & Tavis, A. (2016). The performance management revolution. *Harvard Business Review*, 94(10), 58-67.
  5. Feldman, D. C., & Lankau, M. J. (2005). Executive coaching: A review and agenda for future research. *Journal of Management Development*, 24(9), 823-849.
  6. Day, D. V. (2000). Leadership development: A review in context. *Leadership Quarterly*, 11(4), 581-613.

These references provide empirical support for the limitations of 360-degree feedback followed by leadership coaching programs, underscoring the importance of addressing these challenges to maximise the effectiveness of leadership development initiatives.

Final (Overall) Conclusions

While both the traditional (classroom-based) leadership and management development programs offer many benefits over programs that just feature 360-degree feedback followed by 1:1 virtual coaching, the sheer investment in time and resource (especially the cost) of the former approach makes the latter approach significantly more cost effective.  Add to this the proven methodology of the ‘10x ROCI ROADMAP™’ (where ROCI = Return On Coaching Investment) in being able to calculate not just the cultural but also the commercial return on clients’ investments, then the adoption of ‘360+Coaching’ is surely the better option?

But what if you are reading this and thinking "We already offer coaching to support participants in our L/MD programs anyway?"  Well, our challenge to you is "Why not drop the group (classroom-based) components altogether and just stick with 360+Coaching instead?"  You will save a lot of time and money, without sacrificing anything in the way of effectiveness.  Ideally, we would love to find an organisation that is prepared to test both approaches side-by-side and evaluate the differences - are you up for the challenge?!

We are also mindful that this article has shown some drawbacks to the ‘360+Coaching’ approach, which we address here in the form of recommendations: 


Ultimately, you must make up your own mind on which is the best approach: traditional leadership and management programs or 360-degree feedback followed by 1:1 virtual leadership coaching.  If you choose 360+Coaching, you will want to ensure that you minimise or even eradicate some of the drawbacks.  Here is our 5-Step Guide to getting the most from 360-degree feedback followed by 1:1 coaching:

1. Choose Your Coaching Partner Very Wisely

If you plan on bringing in external coaches we cannot stress how important it is to make sure they all come from the same provider.  This way you can agree up-front what are the qualifications and quality you expect, the methodology they will use (including optimum number of sessions), and most importantly, their fee scales.  Our own coaching company,, is a really good place to start.  Talk to us about your own specific requirements.  Contact Colin Newbold at or call +44 (0)203 988 6666.

2. Run Awareness Briefing Sessions With All Participants

All too often we hear of 360 implementations that are loosely briefed by email comms, which do very little to create engagement and motivate responders.  Sometimes the first they will have heard of the 360 feedback program is when raters receive their invitation email.  We recommend a systematic briefing session, delivered just to participants via Zoom or equivalent, following the steps laid out in our 10x ROCI ROADMAP™ (where ROCI = Return On Coaching Investment).  This approach includes asking participants to go see/pick up the ‘phone/organise an online virtual meeting with each of their raters and follow a choreographed conversation to invite them personally into the process.  This conversation goes a long way to prevent personal bias, improve the quality and quantity of data, and ensure a more consistent set of data in the final report.

3. Choose Your 360 Feedback Software Partner Very Carefully

To be fair to our 360-degree feedback competitors, most of them today have adequate tools to do the job of collecting, collating and publishing the feedback data. However, we recommend using the following check-list of questions with each one before making your final selection:

- How long have they been in business?

- Who have they worked for?

- How easy is it to use their questionnaire interface?

- How easy is it to make sense of their report?

- How is customer support offered?

- What is the cost per participant?

- Can they offer coaches that meet the recommendations laid out in 1. above?

Please be aware that our own 360 feedback company,, has been around for a considerable number of years, has worked for some of the top names across a variety of industry sectors and offers a highly competitive cost per participant. click-360 is also the sister company to, a coaching platform where we match clients with coaches.  Contact Colin Newbold at or or call +44 (0)203 988 6666.

4. Ensure Coaches Adopt the 10x ROCI ROADMAP

In order to understand what is this approach, where ROCI = Return On Coaching Investment, we will shortly be announcing a series of free webinars.  Suffice to say in the meantime that it is a proven methodology for coaching participants so that they get the most out of the 360 component as well as the coaching that ensues.  With line manager involvement, this approach has been proven to consistently deliver a commercial return on clients’ implementations that is in excess of 10 times their investment.  To find out more, contact Colin Newbold at or call +44 (0)203 988 6666.

5. Run Action Learning Sets Simultaneously

Perhaps the biggest drawback to the 360+Coaching approach is the fact that participants learn new skills in isolation from their colleagues, and this runs the risk of them missing out on cross-collaboration and networking benefits.  To overcome that issue, we recommend that you bring together all participants (physically, in person) at the beginning of a program to deliver the Awareness Briefing, perhaps once again in the middle of the program, and certainly once more at the end to deliver a powerful wrap-up.

When these physical meetings are blended with virtual action learning sets at regular intervals, the benefits in enhancing accountability, communication, networking and fostering cross-collaboration within organisations are then not missed. By breaking down silos, building strong networks, promoting a collaborative culture, and encouraging continuous learning, a 360+Coaching approach supported by action learning enables organisations to harness the full potential of their leadership teams.

We appreciate that this has been a long and exhaustive article and you may wish to go back and read certain sections again.  Alternatively, why not contact Colin Newbold at or or call +44 (0)203 988 6666 for a free, no obligation, consultation.

This article is the first chapter in my upcoming book ‘Are Traditional Leadership Development Programs Doomed?’.  The rest of the book goes through all the milestones of the ‘10x ROCI ROADMAP™’ (where ROCI = Return On Coaching Investment) and shows the reader how to implement each milestone of the Roadmap.  The book chapters show how each set of coaching session objectives provides a proven alternative approach to the traditional L/MDP.  Future articles will cover the chapters of the well, look out for the free webinars that cover each milestone of the 10x ROCI ROADMAP™ (if you wish to be notified of these, please contact

Thank you for reading.

Colin Newbold

We use cookies to personalise your experience and to analyse our traffic. Do you want to allow all cookies or view and change settings?