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

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

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.

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.

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?

Jennifer Miller August 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Thanks, David!

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