Executive Assessments — What do they measure?

by Karen Armon, CEO/Founder, MarketOne Executive

Assessments are vital to individual leadership feedback.  Common are 360º feedback systems, personality profiles, behavioral predictors, psychological evaluations, employee satisfaction surveys, and even handwriting samples – all used in an effort to determine how well the leader is performing.  However, there are relatively few which measure whether a leader is truly leading.

For instance, an executive is typically called a “leader” because he or she has a position of power in an organization.  But does that mean the person does, in fact, lead?  Or does it just mean that such an individual is responsible to oversee an operational function? When that executive is assessed, do the results measure effectiveness of behavior, personality, or… (fill in the blank) in that role?

Kouzes and Posner support this view.  “Senior executives can graduate at the top of the best business schools in the world, reason circles around their brightest peers, solve technical problems with wizard-like powers, and have all the relevant situational, functional, and industry experience — and still be more likely to fail than succeed, unless they also possess the requisite personal and social skills (i.e. leadership skills).”(1)

Over the last 20 years, I’ve compiled extensive original research on leadership development and what it takes for an executive to be prepared to lead.  I’ve identified twelve experiential challenges that a leader must have encountered and overcome to be “Challenge-Ready“.  Three of the challenges are:

  • Failure Recovery:  Learning is most powerful when the chance of failure is significant and obvious to others.  Only when challenged by individual, organizational, or group hardships does one come face-to-face with who and what he or she is.  Leaders who learn this lesson discover what their true capabilities are.  And they learn to conquer the “fear of failure” which limits the leader’s willingness to take calculated risks.
  • Take-charge Leadership: Creating visions for change, focusing on mutual expectations, and being individually accountable for the result requires a “take-charge” point of view.  Contrary to popular opinion, not all decisions can or should be made by the team.  Leaders who learn this valuable lesson are able to know when to gain consensus and when not to, yet they still motivate their group toward success.
  • Crucial Alignment:  Finding the missing piece in this challenge includes compelling a leader to learn by encountering the absence of any one of the key elements of strategy, skills, technology, credentials, or credibility.  Leaders learn to how critically align with top leadership, garner support for projects, and develop strategies that succeed.
The MarketOne Executive Bottom Line

Don’t send your leaders to programs that emphasize non-work related factors like personality or behavioral development around competencies that are all alike.  And quit hiring executive coaches who function like personal therapists.  Instead, hire an executive coach who guides leadership development that includes the participant and the leader’s significant boss.  The executive coach should connect what an executive is operationally responsible for and the way in which he or she leads their group.  It will provide a return-on-investment that puts you on the road to building a great organization, retaining your key talent, and creating sustained success through constant cultivation of future leaders.

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1)Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z.; Challenge is the Opportunity for Greatness; No. 28, Spring 2003, p.7.  (Emphasis mine.)

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