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The Hard Data Behind the Soft Skills of Leadership: New Study Delivers 42 Years of Evidence that Leadership Development Pays Off

“PROOF” is the world’s largest aggregation of impact studies on the effectiveness and ROI of a single leadership development program

Harvard Business Review called leadership development programs the “great training robbery.”[i] According to the Wall Street Journal, such programs are a “waste of time and money.”[ii] McKinsey Quarterly accuses U.S. companies of lavishing $14 billion per year on programs to nurture their leaders, but with little to show for it.[iii]

Criticism of leadership development programs often stems from the lack of hard data measuring how the programs affected leaders’ behavior and the company’s bottom line business metrics. In fact, less than 8 percent of CEOs ever see the business impact of their leadership development programs or the ROI from their investment, according to a recent LinkedIn survey.[iv]

Today, DDI released “PROOF,” the world’s largest and most comprehensive report on the effectiveness and ROI of a leadership development program. Based on 42 years of data, 186 unique studies, and surveys of more than 18,000 participants, the study focuses on Interaction Management®, a behavioral change program which is the longest-running and most widely-used program in the leadership development industry. To date, IM has trained more than 10 million leaders worldwide.

“DDI is a pioneer in leadership development, and we have more than four decades of data and research spanning nearly the entire history of the modern leadership development industry,” said William C. Byham, Ph.D., co-founder and executive chairman of DDI. “This report pulls together a significant body of work that shows the measurable impact of leadership development on the behavior of leaders and on the behavior of those they lead. For example, the report showed that 81 percent of people were more engaged in their jobs after their leaders applied IM training.”

Overall, the study showed that the organizations in which leaders employed IM reported ROI ranging from 147 percent to 633 percent. Most notably, critical business success metrics improved after leaders applied IM. For example, individual companies found:

  • Sales increased 114 percent
  • Accidents decreased 60 percent
  • Productivity increased 36 percent
  • Grievances dropped 105 percent
  • Work quality improved 48 percent
  • Turnover dropped 77 percent
  • Absenteeism dropped 90 percent
  • Customer satisfaction increased 71 percent

“Businesses only see these types of positive results if the leadership development program they use permanently changes the way that leaders behave and interact with their direct reports, colleagues and managers,” said Byham.

In “PROOF,” 6,408 managers, peers and direct reports rated how leaders’ behavior changed after they applied IM training:

  • 41 percent more leaders became effective at asking for others’ help and encouraging their involvement (76 percent of leaders overall were effective)
  • 39 percent more leaders became effective at maintaining or enhancing others’ self-esteem (75 percent of leaders overall were effective)
  • 33 percent more leaders were effective at supporting others without removing individual responsibility (77 percent of leaders overall were effective)
  • 32 percent more leaders were effective at listening and responding with empathy (78 percent of leaders overall were effective)
  • 31 percent more leaders were effective at openly sharing their feelings and concerns (77 percent of leaders overall were effective)

Other key findings in the study include:

  • Leadership development helps young leaders make up for inexperience. Prior to undergoing IM training, only 52 percent of leaders with 1-2 years of experience in a leadership role rated themselves as effective leaders, while 60 percent of leaders with 10 or more years in the role thought they were effective. After IM training, roughly 85 percent of leaders at all levels of experience rate themselves as effective.
  • Women feel more confident in their roles after leadership development programs. Among women leaders, 82 percent reported that they were more confident leaders as a result of participating in IM programs.
  • Leaders take their training home with them. Among more than 300 leaders who participated in at least one IM course, 82 percent reported that they also used the skills they learned to improve their relationships at home and in their communities.

“I’m especially excited that the study is replete with actionable recommendations for companies and their leaders to get the most out of their leadership development initiatives,” said Barry Stern, Ph.D. senior vice president, Accelerated Development Solutions, DDI.

View the complete study “PROOF” at

About Development Dimensions International
DDI is a global human resources consultancy specializing in leadership assessment and development. We help companies transform the way they hire, promote and develop their leaders at every organizational level. Clients include half of the Fortune 500 and multinationals doing business across a vast array of industries from Berlin to Bangalore. We serve clients from 42 offices.

Visit DDI’s Website
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Available for interviews:
Barry Stern, Ph.D., senior vice president, Accelerated Development Solutions, DDI
William C. Byham, Ph.D., founder and executive chairman, DDI
Tacy Byham, Ph.D., chief executive officer, DDI


[i] Beer, Michael, Finnström, Magnus, & Schrader, Derek. (2016 October). Why leadership training fails–and what to do about it. Harvard Business Review.
[ii] Silverman, Rachel Emma. (2012, October 26). So much training, so little to show for it. Retrieved February 22, 2017 from
[iii] Gurdjian, Pierre, Halbeisen, Thomas, & Lane, Kevin. (2014 January). Why leadership-development programs fail. McKinsey Quarterly.
[iv] Staples, Tanya. (2017, February 7). Introducing the 2017 workplace learning report: Top trends & challenges among L&D leaders. Retrieved February 22, 2017 from

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