PURPOSE – The purpose of this paper is to evaluate a leadership development program (LDP) for senior academic staff on “qualitative research” after two years to establish the success, limitations and overall impact of the program in terms of personal, professional and organizational benefits. DESIGN / METHODOLOGY / APPROACH The paper presents the background, outline of the LDP and evaluation of results through participant feedback: at the end of the program; and after two years, using a “participatory action learning and action research” (PALAR) approach. FINDINGS – All participants were very positive about the design, conduct and learning outcomes of the program in terms of their own and their students’ learning during and after the program. But although the workshop had prepared them, some had not cascaded their learning and skills by conducting similar programs in their department, faculty or university wide, which was one of the main original objectives to achieve a multiplier effect across the institution. The authors discuss various reasons for this shortcoming and develop a process model for positive institutional change management in higher education. RESEARCH LIMITATIONS / IMPLICATIONS – Medium- and long-term effects of an LDP need to be followed up after a timespan of one to three or five years to establish whether the development has been effective and sustainable and to learn from limitations and shortcomings for future R&D activities. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS – The authors identify the limitations and suggest practical institutional changes that encourage cascading of learning in theory and practice with a multiplier effect. SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS – The paper aims to assist higher education institutions to ensure sustainability in their LDPs. ORIGINALITY / VALUE – The process model for leadership development in higher education can be adopted, adapted or further developed by other scholars interested in designing, conducting and evaluating a sustainable LDP in their field and organization.