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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Terranova

Leadership Assessments: Friend or Foe?

leadership assessments

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?

In my line of work, polarizing topics are a rarity, but the use and relevance of leadership assessments split the working world into two camps: those who love them and those who rank their value just below horoscopes as a predictive index.

So dive into leadership assessments in professional settings. We will define what makes a good assessment, identify how assessments create value, and differentiate responsible from irresponsible assessment use.

Defining Assessments

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 means assessments compare your results to a normative population, placing your performance on bell-curve distribution. 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 models, rooted in organizational or psychological theory. 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

Value of Assessments

Professional assessments are invaluable for individuals, groups and organizations as they offer an opportunity for objective analysis of strengths and areas for improvement. Unlike many other methods of soliciting professional performance feedback, which often carry strong subject biases, assessments provide neutral information. This neutral data can be weighed against the more subjective components of professional development feedback to create a clearer picture of overall performance. For example, if your boss doesn’t think you know how to think strategically or innovatively, an assessment can objectively evaluate those skills. Take that, boss man!

Moreover, assessment instruments create value by evaluating professional characteristics beyond your immediate environment, providing comparisons to a broader population. Instead of solely comparing your skills and strengths to those within your organization, assessments offer a wider perspective. Thy can help individuals and teams avoid the harsh judgements that can come from a limited comparison group. Just because everyone on your team excels in socialization and networking, it doesn't mean you're deficient if your skills in these areas is average. Assessments maintain a balanced perspective and provide the context necessary to avoid unfair comparisons.

Assessments also contribute significantly to organizational culture by allowing benchmarking of progress. Assessment results assign rating or scores to each characteristic measured, which serve as a basis for tracking professional improvement. You no longer have to rely solely on surveys or annual reviews to evaluate skill development. Assessments track progress over time, providing empirical data to measure advancement toward professional development goals. With assessment findings recorded and periodically reviewed, you can track your professional development journey without waiting on input from others.

Responsible Assessment Use

Assessments are most commonly used to support three organizational functions - selection decisions, professional development, and issue identification. Responsible assessment use recognizes that assessments are only one data point in the evaluation of individuals or groups. They offer an empirical perspective and should be considered alongside information from other sources, such as interviews and self-assessments. People are multifaceted and shouldn't be confined to boxes based solely on assessment results.

When assessment information plays a too significant role, or becomes the sole determinant for executive decision-making, organizations create a blind spot by not accounting for the limitations in the assessment process. Assessment data can be misused if organizations don't fully understand its limitations and develop strategies to address any knowledge gaps. For example, many professionals are surprised to learn that:

  • 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 both the benefits and limitations of the selected instruments, and effectively design decision-making strategies that do not overly rely on assessment data.

Best Practices

Most companies have assessment processes that leverage the benefits of the instrument while mitigating some of the drawbacks. If I were using assessments in my own organization, here's what I would do:

  • Don't send surprise assessment links. Prepare assessment takers by outlining how assessment data will be used and provide 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 areas for improvement. 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 that executives need to make informed selection and development decisions. They offer 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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