Top 100 Leadership Programs Named

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The best programs have the best practices.

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In our efforts to develop leaders, we can waste a lot of precious time, money, and other resources. However, the best organizations invest wisely by designing and delivering great programs for emerging and experienced leaders.

“Sadly, for most organizations, leadership development is just another wasted expense on a select group of so-called high potentials,” says Ken Shelton, editor for the past 22 years of Leadership Excellence (, the only magazine dedicated to leadership development. “Worse, many people equate leadership development programs with expensive off-site trips, resorts and recreation. All too often the delivery of content and development of people is overshadowed by the entertainment aspects of the program.”

Shelton notes that he attends many of the top leadership conferences and events in the world each year and finds that many participants get very little out of them. “The total cost per person to be in attendance can be as high as $10,000, and yet many participants don’t even take notes. They make no attempt to capture content and have no intent of making applications to their work.”

Learn from the Best

More organizations today are creating custom programs to develop their own leaders—as opposed to simply buying the top graduates from the best schools, sending their people to public training programs, or relying exclusively on outside consultants, trainers, speakers and authors, continues Shelton. “Clearly some leadership programs are much better than others.”

What makes for a great program and who are the best examples? To find out, Leadership Excellence surveyed about 600 U.S.-based organizations known for their excellence in developing leaders and then ranked them based on seven criteria:

  • Vision/mission. Are these statements meaningful to all participants, linked to strategy and focused on outcomes that benefit all stakeholders?
  • Involvement/participation. How broad and deep are the involvement and participation of people in the programs?    
  • Accountability/measurement. What ROI measures and 360 feedback are made and reported and to what degree are people accountable for learning and performance?
  • Content/curriculum. How well-designed is the program? How credible is the content? How relevant is the curriculum? How is the program customized?
  • Presenters/presentations. What are the qualifications of the presenters and how effective are their presentations? How is the program delivered?
  • Take-home value/results for customers. What do participants take away and apply to improve themselves, their families, teams, and volunteer work?
  • Outreach of the programs and products. What is the impact of the program beyond the sponsoring organization? What difference has it made?

Based on survey responses, interviews, site visits, and 22 years of publishing experience in this field, Leadership Excellence then ranked the top Leadership Development programs in seven categories:

Small to midsize organizations: 1 Plante & Moran 2. Acuity 3. Pacific Service Credit Union 4. InsureMe 5. Analytical Graphics.

Large organizations: 1. Catepillar U. 2. General Electric 3. Southwest Airlines 4. JetBlue Airways 5. P&G 6. 3M 7. Capital One 8. McDonald’s 9. Boeing 10. Disney Institute 11. Motorola U. 12. Best Buy 13. Home Depot 14. Yahoo 15. Tie: Countrywide and Qualcomm.

Education/universities/schools of management and business: 1. University of Michigan/Ross 2. Center for Public Leadership, JFK School of Government, Harvard University 3. University of Chicago/GSB Leadership Program 4. UCLA/Anderson 5. USC/Marshall CEO 6. Northwestern/Kellogg 7. Pennsylvania/Wharton 8 MIT/Sloan 9. Harvard Business School 10. Tie: Duke/Fuqua, Ball State.

Non-profit organizations and professional associations: 1. HCI 2. ASTD 3. SHRM 4. ISPI 5. The Conference Board, 6. Baptist Leadership Institute 7. Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts 8. Leader to Leader Institute 9. ASQ 10. Tie: NYC Leadership Academy and HR.Com.

Government/military: 1. Defense Acquisition University (DOD) 2. U.S. Air Force Academy 3. FBI Academy 4. U.S. Naval Academy/Seals 5. U.S. Marine Academy 6. U.S. Army/Westpoint 7. U.S. Army Rangers 8. Baldrige Award/ASQ 9. Tie: U.S. Coast Guard/U.S. National Guard 10. National Defense University.

Independent consultants/trainers/coaches: 1. Zenger/Folkman 2. Marshall Goldsmith Partners 3. Marcus Buckingham 4. Jim Collins 5. Human Performance Institute 6. Maxcomm 7. Leadersource 8. Lebow Company 9. Synthesis Consulting 10. Tom Peters Company.

Large consulting groups: 1. Linkage/GILD 2. Results-Based Leadership 3. HSM/World Business Forum 4. Senn-Delaney Leadership 5. IQPC Corporate U 6. Vital Smarts 7. Accenture 8. Lee Hecht Harrison 9. Pacific Institute 10. Tie: FranklinCovey and Ken Blanchard Co.

“These programs appear to deliver the best return on investment,” said Shelton. “Participants come in with clear expectations and come away with concrete applications and accountability for results.”

At Motorola, Alejandro Reyes, director of leadership development, said, “We feel that a great leadership development program always has great content at its core. We draw content from many highly credible sources, tailor it to our curriculum and culture, and present it through our own certified trainers and coaches and some outside consultants. We provide our best people with a fast track.”

In such programs, said Shelton, results are tracked, measured and reported. “The expectation is that every function will meet the same high standards. There are no double standards, sacred cows, exemptions, exceptions, or excuses—only excellence. The result is a cost-efficient, people-friendly, well-managed, customer-focused, best-in-class, award-winning, market-competitive, and employee-loved organization.”

Sadly, many leadership programs efforts miss the mark, waste resources, and become mired in vague vision and mission statements. So, is leadership development worth the investment? “In the best programs, yes,” notes Shelton. “These programs even make the best university MBA and executive education programs somewhat obsolete.”

For a full report of the top 100 programs, visit or contact Ken Shelton by phone at 801-375-4060.

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