Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)

Center for Creative LeadershipThe Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is an internationally recognized resource for understanding and expanding the leadership capabilities of individuals and organizations from across the public, private, nonprofit, government, and education sectors. A nonprofit educational organization founded in 1970, CCL’s mission is to advance the understanding, practice, and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide. It pursues this mission through leadership development programs for mid-level to senior managers, leadership research and publication, and networks and events aimed at building learning communities.

CCL’s Activities

One of the core activities of CCL is feedback-intensive leader development programs. CCL defines leader development as the expansion of a person’s capacity to be effective in leadership roles and processes. Feedback-intensive programs provide individuals with a comprehensive assessment of their personal preferences, their capabilities, and how they are perceived by others. The goal is to gain a more in-depth understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses as a leader and to use that understanding to set and work toward goals for enhancing one’s effectiveness and satisfaction. The programs make use of assessment tools (e.g., personality measures, 360-degree feedback instruments, value inventories), models and frameworks for understanding leadership work, experiential exercises and simulations, and peer and staff coaching.

CCL offers two types of leadership development programs: open enrollment (scheduled programs open to any leader and thus made up of participants from multiple organizations) and contract (programs for a single organization that are often customized for that organization’s specific needs and context). The various open-enrollment programs are for the most part targeted to address the needs of different populations. For example, there are programs for early career leaders, for top-level executives, for women, for team leaders, and for individuals leading organizational transformations. Increasingly, contract programs are part of longer-term leadership development processes that include activities such as ongoing coaching, action learning projects, and online learning.

Research is another core activity. Historically, research at CCL has focused on individual leader development and on leadership and diversity. One influential study examined key events in managerial careers and produced the book Lessons of Experience. This study found that the majority of management development occurs on the job through assignments, relationships, and hardships. Formal development programs were found to play an important and distinct role in leader development, but they are not a substitute for on-the-job experiences.

Another important research thrust looks at issues in developing women and people of color—often referred to as “glass ceiling” research. Recent research in the diversity arena has examined the choices and trade­offs made by high-achieving women and the development of global leaders.

CCL also facilitates a number of networks, councils, and learning communities that bring together alumni, donors, faculty, practicing leaders, and leaders of thought from around the world. These groups provide a setting for members to learn from one another, develop relationships, and gain energy and support from others working in the leadership field.

CCL’s Leader Development Model

Integrating knowledge developed through its programs, research, and learning communities, CCL has articulated a model that guides its approach to leader development. A key component of the model is developmental experiences. Experiences are developmental to the extent that they provide individuals with assessment, challenge, and support. Assessment consists of the formal and informal processes for generating and delivering data about an individual: What am I doing well? Where do I need to improve? How do others see me? How am I doing relative to my goals? What’s important to me? Challenge is the aspect of experience that pushes people out of their comfort zones, creates disequilibrium, and calls for enhanced knowledge and skills, new approaches, and more developed ways of understanding oneself and the world. Support helps individuals deal with the difficulties and struggles of a learning experience and helps them maintain a positive view of themselves as capable, valuable people who can learn and grow. Support often comes from other people but can also come from organizational cultures and systems.

The CCL model of leader development proposes that development is maximized over an individual’s career to the extent that he or she (a) has the opportunity to engage in a variety of developmental experiences and (b) has a high ability to learn from experience. The ability to learn is a broad concept incorporating motivational factors, personality factors, and learning tactics. The model also recognizes that any leader development process is embedded in a particular organizational context: the organization’s business strategy, its culture, and the various systems and processes within the organization. This context shapes the leader development process: how it is focused, how well integrated and systemic it is, and who is responsible for it.

Leader development is aimed at enhancing the capabilities individuals need to be effective in leadership roles and processes. These include self-management capabilities (how individuals manage their own thoughts, feelings, and actions), social capabilities (how individuals work with others in a social system), and work facilitation capabilities (how individuals facilitate the accomplishment of work in organizational systems).

Finally, the model suggests three broad strategies for enhancing leader development: (1) create a variety of rich developmental experiences that provide assessment, challenge, and support; (2) develop people’s ability to learn from experience; and (3) build an organizational system that supports and values development.

Organizational Information

CCL is headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has campuses in Brussels, Colorado Springs, San Diego, and Singapore. Its work is carried out by 500 employees and a network of adjunct staff. Approximately 20,000 leaders participate in CCL programs and events each year. More information about the organization can be found at

See also:


  1. Dalton, M. A., Ernst, C. T., Deal, J. J. and Leslie, J. B. 2002. Success for the New Global Manager. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  2. McCall, M. W. Jr., Lombardo, M. M. and Morrison, A. M. 1988. The Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job. San Francisco, CA: New Lexington Press.
  3. McCauley, C. D. and Van Velsor, E. 2004. The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development. 2d ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  4. Morrison, A. M., White, R. P. and Van Velsor, E. 1992. Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach the Top of America’s Largest Corporations? ed. New York: Perseus Books.
  5. Ruderman, M. N. and Ohlott, P. J. 2002. Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-achieving Women. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.