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A Leadership Development Needs Assessment measures leader perception of need (i.e., a scale of “no need” through “urgent need”) for specific leadership actions in an institution of higher education or school district. Leaders rate the level of need for each action when building a successful organization and working with internal and external stakeholders.

The purpose is to identify alignment, that is, whether leaders are both (a) on the same page with internal and external goals/strategies/actions and (b) perceive the same sense of urgency (Studer, Straight A Leadership; see also Kotter, A Sense of Urgency).

Administration of the Leadership Development Needs Assessments helps identify any gaps or disconnects in goals/strategies/actions and sense of urgency across levels of leadership. Leadership levels include the executive/administrative team, department directors, and managers and supervisors; the table below provides examples in education.


Data from the Assessment allow one to evaluate whether the different levels of leadership have a consistent view (goals/strategies/actions) of the internal and external environment, in addition to a consistent perception of urgency (no need or urgent need). If there is alignment among the leadership groups, then one can expect the same type and consistency in behavior among the leaders. Studer describes the importance using an example:

We actually had a hospital one time where the Executive Team said this is one of their areas to improve and the managers/supervisors had it as one of their strengths. [This is an example of one of those gaps/disconnects.] What the [Leadership Development Needs Assessment] is about is to see what these disconnects are, not to say “this is bad,” but to say, “if you have a disconnect then how do we make the connection” because obviously, a disconnect highlights communication challenges [such that people (leaders) are not on the same page.]1

It is important to focus on both horizontal and vertical consistency or gaps/disconnects when analyzing the data.

In Practice

Studer Education recently completed the Leadership Development Needs Assessment with a school district. Between 125 and 150 leaders completed the 17-item, 10-point scale Assessment that measured leader perception of the level of need (“no need” through “urgent need”) for actions when building a successful organization and working with internal and external stakeholders. Analysis of the responses highlighted:

  1. Only one-third of the Executive Team completed the Assessment.
  2. “Holding Critical Conversations with Low Performers” ranked first as the most urgent need for all leadership levels, however the perception of urgency differed by over two points across leadership levels. Similarly, three items ranked second as most urgent among the district-level leadership (agreement on one of the three items); one of the items ranked no higher than 7 and the other no higher than 10 by the remaining leader levels.
  3. Alignment of goals/strategies/actions (or being on the same page) was not evident both within leader levels and across leader levels. For example, the Executive Team leaders’ perception differed on 14 of 17 items, with the differences ranging from one (2 items) to six (1 item). Seven items were rated as both “no need” for urgency and “urgent need” by the district-level leadership, while 16 of 17 items were rated as both “no need” and “urgent need” by principals.

Why is this Important?

Consider the item that all leaders identified as “most urgent” for development – Holding Critical Conversations with Low Performers.

In 2004 a collective bargaining agreement was signed by the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union which “gave principals the flexibility to dismiss probationary teachers for any reason and without documentation and a hearing process” (Jacob, 2011). Jacobs, an economist at the University of Michigan and with the National Bureau of Economic Research, analyzed principal decision-making in teacher dismissal. Highlights from the article related to school quality:

[T]here is evidence that principals do not hire the “best” teachersx(403).

Recent research suggests that an important way in which the most effective principals influence student performance is through recruitment and retention of effective teachersy (404)

…dismissed teachers who were subsequently rehired by a different school are substantially more likely to be dismissed again relative to first year teachers in the school. These results provide suggestive evidence that reforms along the lines of the Chicago policy might improve student achievement (404).

… 38.8% to 46.2% (28% to 34%) of elementary (secondary) principals—including those in some of the worst performing schools in the district—did not dismiss any teachers despite how easy it was to do so under the new policy (404).

A TNTP report titled The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools found:

Low performers rarely improve significantly. Even three years later, most perform worse than the average first-year teacher (p. 11). Three out of four times, new teachers perform better in their first year than the low-performing teachers they replace, and they are more likely to improve over time23 (p. 10).

… Poorly performing teachers to “self-select out,” few leave on their own. About 75 percent of low performers remain at the same school from one year to the next.21 Half say they plan to remain a teacher for at least another decade22 (p. 10).

Replacing a teacher who struggles to help students learn can be an uncomfortable decision, but the alternative is far riskier. Doing nothing —the choice most principals make—usually guarantees that a low-performing teacher will teach dozens or even hundreds more children, and never improve (p. 10).

A meta-analysis completed by Marzano (2003) found a student scoring at the 50th percentile is likely to continue scoring at the 50th percentile after two years at an average school and in an average teacher’s classroom. Consider additional findings from the study:

Most effective school, most effective teacher: After two years student increases from 50th percentile to 96th.

Least effective school, most effective teacher: After two years student increases from 50th percentile to 63rd.

Most effective school, least effective teacher: After two years student drops from 50th percentile to 37th.

Least effective school, least effective teacher: After two years student drops from 50th percentile to 3rd.

“Holding Critical Conversations with Low Performers” as an end goal of improving opportunities for all children to learn is not a choice for leaders, but a responsibility.



Jacob, Brian A. 2011. Do Principals Fire the Worst Teachers? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(4): 403-434. Secondary sources (added using footnotes): (x) Ballou, 1996; Ballou & Podgursky, 1997; Pflaum & Abramson, 1990; and (y) Beteille, Kalogrides & Loeb, 2009.

Kotter, John. 2008. A Sense of Urgency. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press. Author video on YouTube.

Marzano, Robert J. 2003. What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Studer, Quint. 2009. Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.

1 Studer, Quint. 2012. Straight A Leadership: Alignment, Action, Accountability. Studer Group Webinar Series. Available online.

TNTP. 2012. The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools. Retrieved 07/31/2012. Secondary source footnotes within quoted text: (21) District data; (22) Teacher survey data; and (23) Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin (2005) and Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, Rockoff, and Wyckoff (2007).

Our mission at Studer Education is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. To do this we teach teachers and leaders how to get the best student learning results and create results-oriented school cultures. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com to learn more about Studer Education Teacher Development Institutes (TDIs), Leader Development Institutes (LDIs), and Evidence-Based Leadership. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, the recipient of a 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.