Making the Most of Leadership Assessments

by Jennifer Miller on February 4, 2011

in Leadership

I was talking “leadership assessment” with two colleagues the other day. Both are employed by large organizations well-known for their people development practices.  We were exploring the merits of assessing for leadership qualities, both as a pre-employment screening tool and for development purposes after the leader is hired.  Not surprisingly, there were varying opinions—which assessments were the “best”, how to administer them and so on.

Here’s a part of the conversation that stands out for me:

Should internal employees (from Human Resources or Training and Development) deliver developmental feedback based on the assessment results?

There were two schools of thought:

  1. Yes, of course. My staff is very professional and highly skilled at giving this type of feedback.
  2. Maybe not. There’s skepticism about the feedback process— people in our company feel this type of activity is best left to corporate psychologists.  

As we explored this topic, a few key take-aways emerged:

  • No winging it allowed. If a company is going to expect its internal staff to deliver this type of developmental feedback, then it should also invest the proper time training its employees in the proper coaching delivery methods. Additionally, reputable publishers of assessments offer certifications; companies should also ensure that employees have this training as well.
  • Organizational culture plays a part. In addition to determining which internal employees might be suited to act as coaches, the company should also overlay its corporate culture onto the process. Some companies are into the do-it-yourself model of professional development, others prefer to seek assistance from outside experts.
  •  If it’s an executive being coached, go peer-to-peer. In most cases, this means seeking outside expertise to deliver the feedback. I have seen cases where a very well-respected senior-level manager has been trusted to give feedback to executives and it’s worked well. This is not the norm, however.

As we wrapped up our conversation, we agreed on one thing: no matter the tool or the process, great care should be taken with the use of leadership assessments. It’s peoples’ careers we’re talking about.

 Discussion Questions:

  • What have you experienced with leadership assessment tools—either as a feedback coach, or as the feedback recipient?
  • What’s worked well, and what could use improvement?


Photo credit: © Robyn Mackenzie

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Alis Anagnostakis February 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Hi, Jennifer,
In my experience assessing and coaching leaders from various organizations, your key take-away point on the role of organization culture stood out the most. Internal feedback seems to work best in companies with a culture based on trust, where there is little internal competition and leaders perceive assessments as real development tools, not threats to their status. With such clients, my role as consultant was just to accompany them in administering the assessments and training the internal coaches – and such projects are, to me, always more fulfilling, since I know there is something lasting that is being built in those organizations, in terms of coaching culture and leadership development. Sadly these companies are rather the exception, than the rule.
Most of my corporate clients fall in a different category, with highly competitive or avoidance driven cultures, where there is little trust and HR is perceived more as an administrative function or as the “corporate policeman”, thus making internal developmental feedback for leaders a delicate issue. That is when outside consultants’ feedback is preferred. In this second category, I’ve had clients where the assessment and external feedback was the first step in a larger organizational culture change, setting the company on the path of building a more constructive culture. There were other clients where the assessment was just a one off project, part of some type of restructuring or reorganizing effort, that turned out to bring about only frustration and be perceived as a threat by the leaders involved.
From all these experiences, I’ve taken away a few key points, among which here are the most important:
1. The external consultant should always use research based tools for leadership assessment – I use Human Synergistics Leadership Impact and SHL tools – but there are many others that are really good – because this adds weight to a leadership assessment project and builds credibility as well as validity of results.
2. The client’s Top Management should be directly involved – either as official sponsor and promoter of the project or, whenever possible, as participant in the actual assessment. This sends out a strong message that the assessment is taken seriously and that the company actually intends to use it to increase organizational performance and benefit all involved.
3. The key word in any leadership assessment is TRUST. The client company should fully trust the consultant who delivers the assessment, the leaders involved should trust the person who gives him/her feedback (be it internal or external), and the other employees in the organization should trust that this assessment is a way of helping their leaders grow and improve and that it will ultimately benefit everybody.

Jennifer February 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm


Hello, and welcome to The People Equation! You are SO correct that trust is a huge part of the equation for assessment effectiveness. Your point about competitive or avoidance-driven cultures is well-taken too. Thanks for sharing your wealth of experience with our readers.

Chris Young February 7, 2011 at 12:02 am

Nice post Jennifer! In my experience working on leadership development with Clients I think the quality of the leadership assessment being used is paramount. It must be scientifically validated and designed specifically for identifying leadership strengths and growth opportunities. I agree with you that training of internal team members is critical as well – a high quality assessment provider should included an option for certification in using the assessment for identifying and developing future leaders.

I have included your post in my Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ blog picks of the week (found here: to share your thoughts on leadership assessments with my readers.

Be well!

Jennifer V. Miller February 7, 2011 at 9:00 am


Thanks for stopping by The People Equation. I’m thrilled to be featured in your Fab Five picks of the week.

I agree completely with the validity piece of your comment. If a vendor can’t explain the means by which the assessment is constructed, and how reliable and valid it is, then the client should look elsewhere.

Lynn Dessert February 7, 2011 at 10:20 am

Hi Jennifer, You have hit on a topic of great interest to me. I use assessments in my work with clients and am intrigued with how much discussion does and does not take place around using assessments effectively in organizations or one to one.

This week (cross my fingers) I have a new website debuting called It will provide an independent place for assessment publishers to showcase their products and practitioners and assessment participants to rate and provide feedback on the assessments they have used in the past.

Sarah Gutek February 8, 2011 at 1:37 am

Hi Jennifer. Your blog was of great interest to me as for the past five years I’ve been working with a leadership assessment tool that has great credentials for its scientific validity and originates with a well known, world-wide executive hiring/development firm. I’ve delivered the results of this assessment tool for the purposes of hiring, promoting, and developing. I agree with all of the previous bloggers. In addition, one thing that I’ve noticed is that some leaders/potential leaders KNOW all the right answers so they score very high on the leadership assessment. Yet, their performance is actually quite weak. This happens rarely but is something of which we should all be aware. In using assessments for hiring and promoting, the assessment should be only one part of the picture. It’s wise to combine it with past performance and perhaps the results of a behavioral interview.

In my experience I’ve also found that some higher level executives will focus on a number from an assessment as if that, alone, holds the answer as to who should be hired or promoted. This is a very slippery slope. Hiring, promoting, and developing are all still an art that can benefit from the use of assessments. However, it’s a mistake to place complete confidence in an assessment result alone.

Jennifer February 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm


Thanks for weighing in on this important topic. There certainly can be a gap between “knowing” and “doing”– that’s for sure!

John July 8, 2011 at 6:33 am

Thought whilst on this Blog, which I enjoy and have tagged under favorites I would make short comment re my my experience with assessments. Many organizations in general tend to over assess and under develop. In many instances I have also found that parties, vendors etc (people) attending to assessments and people having to design & develop, deliver, evaluate “‘solutions” are seldom aligned. Feedback during post evaluation sessions of many programs participants also reported that they were seldom able to differentiate which elements of actual learning program was actually intended to help them with feedback re a or b?

David July 30, 2013 at 2:27 pm

This is a very interesting conversation that you pose here. Giving adequate feedback is essential for any and all employees, because thats the most effective way to improve as a professional. The way that the feedback is delivered is a very crucial piece to the puzzle, and the points you laid out in this post are very insightful. Thanks, Jennifer!

Jennifer Miller August 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Thanks, David!

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