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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Terranova

Leadership Assessments: Friend or Foe?

assessment graph

Leadership assessments can be a leader's best friend or a misused decision-making tool in organizational culture. How can you determine the role assessments play in your company and ensure they are used responsible selection, diagnostic and development tool?

It isn’t that often that I encounter polarizing topics in my line of work, but the use and relevance of leadership assessments divides professionals into two camps - love ‘em or hate ‘em. Some find assessments to be invaluable leadership tools while others rank their value somewhere just below horoscopes as a predictive index.

So let’s break down the use of leadership assessments in professional settings by defining what constitutes a good assessment, identifying ways assessments create value and differentiating responsible assessment application from the misuses that give assessments a bad rap.

Assessments Defined

Professional assessments are a norm-referenced method of obtaining valid and reliable information about the characteristics of an individual, group or organization.

(So what does this fancy definition actually mean? )

Norm-referenced indicates assessments should compare results against a normative population. Essentially, a good assessment compares your results to the results of other test takers (otherwise known as the "norm"). Your results should fall somewhere on a bell-curve distribution of low, average or high performance ranges when compared to the results of all other test talkers on the same instrument.

Assessment instruments should be valid and reliable. Validity and reliability are scientific terms used to indicate a dependable evaluation process. Assessments must be valid - measure what it says it measures, and reliable - produce consistent results. Test takers should be able to take an assessment, understand exactly what it measures and achieve similar results if they take the test on separate occasions within a similar timeframe.

To be a qualified assessment, the instrument must measure characteristics derived from evidence-based modeling. Assessment instruments should have a solid, scientific basis in organizational or psychological theory, and identify characteristics for evaluation based on trustworthy theoretical design. We might have to question an assessment correlating the ability to do a cartwheel to sound leadership performance.

Common Workplace Assessment Instruments

The Big Five

Personality Assessment

Clifton Strengths

Professional Strengths Finder


Personality Assessment


Personality Assessment

Emotional Quotient (EQ-i)

Emotional Intelligence Assessment

Hogan (MVPI, HDS and HPI)

Leadership Skills Assessments

Insights Discovery

Personality Assessment

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

Intelligence Assessment

Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator

Personality Assessment

Predictive Index

Cognitive/Behavioral Assessment


Critical Thinking Assessment

How Assessments Add Value

Professional assessments add value by providing individuals, groups and organizations with an opportunity for objective analysis of strengths and improvement areas. Most other methods of soliciting professional performance feedback have strong subjective biases because they are heavily influenced by the opinions, beliefs and perspectives of those providing the information. Assessments provide access to neutral information that can be weighed against more subjective components of professional development feedback. If your boss doesn’t think you know how to think strategically or innovatively, an assessment can accurately evaluate if that is, in fact, the case (Take that, boss man!).

Similarly, assessment instruments also create value by evaluating professional characteristics beyond the scope of your existing environment to include comparisons to a broad population. Instead of evaluating your skills and professional strengths compared to those within your organization, you can zoom out and expand your perspective to include comparisons to a larger population in the world of work. In this context, assessments can protect individuals and teams from the harsh perspective often created by a small comparison group. Just because everyone on your team is stellar when it comes to socialization and networking, it does not mean you are deficient if you have average skills in these areas. Assessments keep professional evaluation in proper perspective and provide the broad context necessary to avoid unfair comparisons.

Assessments make one more important contribution to organizational culture – they can benchmark progress. Assessment results provide a rating or score for each characteristic they measure, and those data points can serve as a basis for measuring professional improvement. We no longer have to rely on surveys or annual reviews to serve as the sole basis for evaluating skill development. Assessments mark progress over time and provide empirical data to measure advancement toward professional development goals. With assessment findings recorded and re-evaluated over time, you don't have to wait for survey results or review feedback to know if you are making professional development strides in the right direction.

Responsible Assessment Use

Assessments are most commonly used to support three organizational functions - selection decisions, professional development and issue identification. At a baseline, responsible assessment use includes the perspective that assessments are only one data point. They simply provide information from an empirical perspective and serve as one informational element when evaluating an individual or group. Assessment data must be effectively weighed against information from other sources, including interviews and self-assessments, to reveal a comprehensive professional profile. Further, no assessment platform can provide a comprehensive analysis of an individual or group. People are multifaceted and should not be categorized or placed into a metaphorical box of understanding based on assessment results.

When assessment information plays a heavy role, or becomes the sole determination for executive decision-making, leaders create a blind spot because they fail to account for the limitations in the assessment process. Assessment data is susceptible to misuse if organizations do not fully understand the limitations of assessment information and devise strategies to fill any knowledge gaps. For example, many professionals are surprised to learn:

  • Assessments cannot be used to determine potential success in a role

  • Assessment results can be influenced by one's professional environment and context

  • Mental and emotional health concerns are not identified by professional assessments

  • Assessment results can change over time, findings are not static or fixed

  • Assessment reports should not be included in personnel files

  • Assessments should not serve as the sole basis for final selection decisions

  • Assessments are not purely objective unless raw data is given to the test-taker

  • Bias can still influence the evaluation and contextualization of assessment results

To use assessment information responsibly, organizations must understand the benefits, as well as the limitations of the selected instruments, and effectively design decision-making strategies that do not overemphasize assessment information.

Best Practices

Most companies have an assessment process that leverages the benefits of the instrument while mitigating some of the drawbacks. I've had the privilege of seeing these practices in action and I have to admit, I like some more than others. If I were using assessments as a tool in my own organization, here is what I would do.

  • Don't send surprise assessment links. Prepare test takers for the assessment process by outlining how assessment data will be used and provide test-taking guidelines. Why add to the stress and vulnerability of assessment taking when you can alleviate it instead?

  • Have all new hires take assessments to identify strengths and opportunities to improve. Give managers the insight necessary to hit the ground running with new employees instead wasting the first several months getting to know each other on a case-by-case basis.

  • Provide assessment results to the assessment takers. Nothing is worse than knowing your company has information about you, and you have no idea what it is.

  • Use assessment data to inform the career development process. Don't just rely on managers to identify strengths and development requirements for their teams, especially when compensation and promotion decisions are at stake. Create a place for assessments to inform the career development process by identifying opportunities and benchmarking improvements.

  • Allow assessment results to influence organizational design. Use assessments to evaluate individual alignment with guidelines for success in any given role and create development plans to address any gaps.

  • Use more than one assessment instrument at a time to gather more data. Assessment results can be cross-referenced to ensure accurate findings. Assessments can also be referenced against feedback from others to develop an unbiased perspective.

  • Be aware of bias when evaluating assessment results. We tend to favor results that are similar to our own assessment results. Be mindful of the personal preference bias and the tendency to feel connected with those who are similar to you.

  • Know the limitations and blind spots in your assessment data and develop plans to address any blind spots in the assessment process. Assessments are not the end-all-be-all of organizational information and should play an appropriately balanced role in executive decision-making.

When used responsibly, assessments provide valuable objective information executives need to make informed selection and development decisions. They cultivate insight and create a broad context to effectively evaluate professional needs. Hopefully this article has convinced you to join the love 'em side of the assessment issue, but if you have questions about the role assessments in your organization, we are here to help contact us.



To explore your personality assessment preferences and what they say about you as a leader, check out this fun article in The Atlantic.
Adam Grant is one of my favorite Organizational Psychologists and the author of a quippy newsletter post entitled MBTI, If you Want Me Back, You Need to Change Too. His critique about the limitations of the assessments we hold dear (and won't let die) is a worthy read.
We use Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking, Hogan HPI and HDS, MBTI and EQ-i assessments for our Leadership Assessment Profiles. If you are interested in being assessed to determine not only professional strengths and derailing behaviors, but also opportunities to cultivate professional potential, contact us here. We promise we won't bite.
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