Rethinking Leadership Development Evaluation
Social change is complex, dynamic and contextual
The social sector generally considers leadership development a good investment, especially when it comes to cultivating systems-level change. But ask leadership program developers and evaluators, "What is leadership?," and you will often get vague responses rife with potential bias: "You'll know it when you see it," or "It's the special sauce," are two surprisingly common answers.
Yet clearly defining leadership is essential to determining the quality and efficacy of a development program. It establishes the "what' and "why"—concrete intentions that help guide the way to understanding what does and does not work.
So, why is it so hard to do? The reason is that leadership for social change is complex, dynamic and contextual. Approaching leadership development evaluation with a traditional theory lens ensures that the evaluation is well-grounded and intentional. But simultaneously approaching it with an "emergence" lens expands the focus to include the contexts, adaptations and insights that arise from the realities of operating within complex systems. Combining these approaches gives evaluators a richer and more dynamic picture of what allows participants to exercise leadership and how it can support systems change.
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