Leadership development programs are a large and growing part of training in a wide variety of companies today. Bersin & Associates says leadership development is a 12.3 billion dollar market and continuing to expand. Although there is a large margin of error in this number, suffice it to say that corporations are making a huge investment in the improvement of leadership. And, according to BusinessWeek, experiential leadership events are a significant part of this investment. Companies are spending $1,000 to $10,000 per person to have their high performers learn the lessons of Civil War battlefields, ocean sailing, fire walking, Maasai tribal villages, acting in Shakespeare plays, Outward Bound adventures, the Allied invasion of Normandy, or horse whispering (See photo from BusinessWeek).
If intended to reward people for a job well done and keep them committed to their companies, then these unusual and challenging experiences probably are successful. And, for a few, self-awareness can be profound. Impact on workplace leadership, however, is another issue. Unless the intended leadership outcome is clear before they arrive and the link from the experience to leadership in their organizations is made clear during the program, and they are encouraged and supported in the application of that learning back on the job, actual behavior change will be elusive, impact will be minimal, and most of the corporate investment, including time away from the job and travel expenses, will be wasted in terms of leadership improvement in the workplace.