Do leadership assessments work?
“Learners need endless feedback more than they need endless teaching”– Grant Wiggins
Leadership assessments are becoming more and more popular across a wide variety of industries: business, education, sports, the military, you name it. In these organizations, leadership assessments are being embedded into HR practices ranging from hiring and selection to employee development and promotion. While assessments certainly provide a wealth of information, the question many decision-makers have on their mind is “Do leadership assessments really work?” In other words, can they be trusted as indicators of leadership ability? The short answer is “yes”. The long answer is that not all assessments were created equal; you’ll have to pick one that was scientifically developed and make sure that you’re interpreting and applying the results correctly as well. In this blog, we’ll teach you how.
The Importance of Test Development
In order to find a leadership assessment that works, you will need to find one that was properly (i.e., scientifically) developed. To do this, we recommend asking vendors for the supporting psychometric materials. These documents will often describe how the test was developed, what it is intended to measure, and any research or data that supports the test’s validation process. You can use these technical documents to evaluate and compare personality assessments. When doing so, here are five things you can look for to make sure you’re choosing a strong assessment:[i]
- The assessment uses an evidence-based model of personality.
- It measures traits that are relevant to the job.
- It was created by those with expertise in psychometrics.
- It has been validated on a sample that is similar to the candidate pool.
- There is evidence of strong reliability and predictive validity.
Check for Validity & Reliability
One of the most important steps in finding a leadership assessment that works is to check for strong validity and reliability. Validity is like the accuracy of an assessment (i.e., how well does it measure what it says it is going to measure?) Reliability, on the other hand, refers to how consistent the assessment is (i.e., if the same person takes the same assessment multiple times, will they receive the same score?)There are several ways in which you can learn about the validity and reliability of an assessment. We recommend checking the psychometric materials (as described above) or seeing if you can find information on the test provider’s website.
Tip: One of the most important types of validity to look for is criterion validity. Criterion validity describes the predictive power of a test. When using a test for selection, the test should be able to predict outcomes that are relevant to job performance.
Shorter is Sweeter: Only Measure Traits Relevant to the Job
Although some may argue that it’s better to assess as much as possible, we recommend measuring only those traits that are relevant to the job (or using only those scores).Leadership assessments will be better predictors of workplace behaviors when the focus is on job-specific performance metrics. Don’t measure everything and hope for high scores across the board. High scores are not always better – balance is important. For example, you might not need an extroverted computer programmer. In fact, high scores on extraversion could be a problem for that position. Be sure you can justify why each trait you are looking for is relevant to that leader’s particular role, and use benchmarking to tailor your assessments to those traits. This will help you make better decisions with the information you need, rather than getting sidetracked by excessive and potentially irrelevant data.
Interpreting and Applying Results Correctly
In addition to finding an assessment that has been properly developed, it’s also important that results are correctly interpreted and applied. For example, how an assessment is used might look different for hiring/selection than it does when used only for employee development. The way that results are interpreted may also change depending on the context. Some research has shown that individual differences can be helpful to consider when interpreting results. For more information and some practical tips and tricks, check out SIGMA’s guide on using leadership assessments across cultures, and how to interpret leadership assessment results across cultures.
The Big Picture – Do Leadership Assessments Work?
At the end of the day, we stand by our conclusion that leadership assessments do work. When properly developed, a leadership assessment can be used to identify leadership skills, strengths, and development opportunities. Results can also be used to make inferences about leadership potential and leadership style. Studies have also confirmed that leadership assessments do, in fact, work:
- A study done by Bass and colleagues found that leaders’ scores on transformational and transactional leadership assessments positively predicted the group’s performance[ii]
- A study done by Shane and colleagues found that certain leadership skills and knowledge did account for variance in a leader’s effectiveness[iii]
Introducing the LSP-R
If you’re looking for an assessment that works, check out SIGMA’s Leadership Skills Profile – Revised (LSP-R). The LSP-R is a personality-based assessment of leadership skills that can be used to guide leadership development efforts. The test scores individuals on 50 leadership competencies including cognitive, personal, interpersonal, and senior leadership skills. Everyone who takes the LSP-R will automatically receive a Focus Report which includes a summary of scores and analysis of results, as well as templates and activities for creating a personalized development plan.
Looking for More?
If you have questions about the LSP-R, your Focus Report, or leadership assessments in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! Over the last 50 years we’ve worked with more than 8,500 private and public organizations across North America. We’ve got lots of tips and tricks to share, and our consultants are always happy to chat.
Erica Sutherland, Ph.D.
SENIOR CONSULTANT & EXECUTIVE COACH
Erica completed her Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational psychology at Western University. She is a Senior Consultant at SIGMA, where she delivers consulting services and Succession Planning solutions to clients. As a member of SIGMA’s executive coaching team, Erica works one-on-one with leaders to develop talent. She also brings her expertise in measurement and psychometrics to the R&D team, assisting with the development and validation of SIGMA’s many assessments.
Brittney Anderson, Ph.D.
LEADERSHIP CONSULTANT & EXECUTIVE COACH
Brittney is a member of our coaching and consulting team. She brings her expertise in evidence-based practice to provide companies with leadership solutions that meet their needs. Primarily, Brittney helps her clients prepare for their future with succession planning and comprehensive leadership development programs. As an executive coach, she helps leaders hone their skills using a process-based approach to development.
Glen oversees SIGMA’s sales and marketing activities. As a skilled presenter and trainer, he has designed and delivered engaging and entertaining workshops and webinars to help leaders and HR professionals enhance their understanding of how our products and services can be used to realize potential within their organizations.
[i] Di Fabio, A., & Saklofske, D. H. (2019). Positive relational management for sustainable development: Beyond personality traits—The contribution of emotional intelligence. Sustainability, 11(2), 330. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11020330
[ii] Bass, B. M., Avolio, B. J., Jung, D. I., & Berson, Y. (2003). Predicting unit performance by assessing transformational and transactional leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(2), 207–218. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.88.2.207
[iii] Connelly, M.S., Gilbert, J.A., Zaccaro, S.J., Threfall, K.V., Marks, M.A., & Mumford, M.D. (2000). Exploring the relationship of leadership skills and knowledge to leader performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 65-68.