“Labels are for clothing; labels are not for people”– Martina Navratilova
Leadership personality assessments are all the rage these days. Everyone seems to be using them – in schools, sports, the military, and of course, in the office. In fact, personality testing has become so popular that it is now a $500 million industry, with an annual growth rate estimated at 10-15%.[i] But do these tests really deserve the hype they’ve been getting? Yes, and no. While there are some personality-based assessments that are valid and reliable, others can be unhelpful or even misleading. This is particularly true of typological (type-based) assessments. These are the ones that give you a personality test color, character, acronym etc., which is supposed to sum up the essence of who you are. Although these tests may be great conversation starters, and fun to do with friends, they may not be the best way to assess your employees. Here’s why:
The Problem with Personality Test Colors
We’re picking on colors here, but in reality, there are problems with most type-based personality assessments. Whether it gives you a color or some other label, type-based assessments are those that group respondents into distinct categories. The reason why people are drawn to these assessments is because they are relatively simple and easy to understand. We all have a base desire to know who we are, and having a label we can use to understand and communicate that identity can be satisfying. Not only that, but people usually identify with at least some of what type-based personality reports say about their identity, whether that’s their strengths, weaknesses, or preferred work style. This sense of being seen and understood can make type-based assessments appealing to people.
While it may be fun to know “who you are” – and know who others are – studies have shown that most type-based assessments are not particularly reliable or valid. Anecdotal evidence gives us several instances of people taking the same assessment multiple times and receiving different results based on their mood or the context they were in (i.e., low reliability). Furthermore, the predictions made by some type-based personality tests about things like career progression, or relationships have also often been inaccurate (i.e., low validity). These examples of low reliability and validity demonstrate why type-based personality tests should not be weighted too heavily, or used at all, when making important decisions that could impact people’s future.
A Better Way to Test Personality: Continuous Measures
Although testing personality colors isn’t the best way to go, there are other assessments that can be used for employee selection and development. Continuous measures are particularly well-suited to leadership assessment. Rather than grouping test-takers into a certain category, continuous measures score individuals on a range of personality traits (e.g., flexibility, self-esteem, integrity, interpersonal relations, etc.) Scores are given on a continuous scale (e.g., 0 to 100) rather than categorically (i.e., introvert OR extrovert). This gives a much more accurate description of the nuance of an individual’s unique personality.
The Bottom Line for Personality Test Colors
At the end of the day, type-based personality tests (like those with personality test colors) may be fun or entertaining as icebreakers at social gatherings. However, they are often not the best choice for leadership assessment. When it comes to making decisions about important HR processes (e.g., hiring, succession, talent development, promotion), we strongly recommend using a scientifically developed, continuous personality assessment. This will ensure that you are making decisions based on data you can trust.
Introducing the LSP-R: A Scientifically-Developed, Continuous Personality Assessment
If you’re looking for a reliable personality test you can use with your leaders, 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. The accompanying Focus Report 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 personality tests 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] Harrell, E. (March-April, 2017). A Brief History of Personality Tests. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/03/a-brief-history-of-personality-tests.