Background Although numerous leadership development programs (LDPs) exist in health care, no programs have been specifically designed to meet the needs of surgeons. This study aimed to elicit practicing surgeons' motivations and desired goals for leadership training to design an evidence-based LDP in surgery. Materials and methods At a large academic health center, we conducted semistructured interviews with 24 surgical faculty members who voluntarily applied and were selected for participation in a newly created LDP. Transcriptions of the interviews were analyzed using analyst triangulation and thematic coding to extract major themes regarding surgeons' motivations and perceived needs for leadership knowledge and skills. Themes from interview responses were then used to design the program curriculum specifically to meet the leadership needs of surgical faculty. Results Three major themes emerged regarding surgeons' motivations for seeking leadership training: (1) Recognizing key gaps in their formal preparation for leadership roles; (2) Exhibiting an appetite for personal self-improvement; and (3) Seeking leadership guidance for career advancement. Participants' interviews revealed four specific domains of knowledge and skills that they indicated as desired takeaways from a LDP: (1) leadership and communication; (2) team building; (3) business acumen/finance; and (4) greater understanding of the health care context. Conclusions Interviews with surgical faculty members identified gaps in prior leadership training and demonstrated concrete motivations and specific goals for participating in a formal leadership program. A LDP that is specifically tailored to address the needs of surgical faculty may benefit surgeons at a personal and institutional level.