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Leadership Assessment Tools & Approaches

11 April 2012

± minute read

    Leadership Assessment Tools & Approaches
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By Lauren Davis, JvR Consulting Psychologists

“Organizations are like automobiles.  They don’t run themselves except downhill.  They need people to make them work - and not just any people but the right people.  The effectiveness of an organization’s employees determines how the organizational machine will perform.  In this process, the leader is the one who shows fellow travelers the way by walking ahead.  If the leadership dimension is not in place a company simply cannot be successful”.                                                                                                                          Kets de Vries (2001)


Research evidence over the past 10 years has started to highlight the importance of using psychological assessments in leadership recruitment and development to ensure that the most effective leaders for the organisation are being selected.  The results of assessments provide an indication of the potential a person has to demonstrate competence in their role as a leader in the organisation.  They enable an organisation to make a prediction of the leader’s personality style, cognitive ability, interest, values and emotional intelligence so as to determine whether he/she is a good fit for the role and for the organisation. The philosophy we use at JvR Consulting Psychologists regarding the psychological assessment of a person is grounded on looking at the entire person in context. Once we get a full psychological profile of the individual being assessed for a leadership position, we can determine the fit of that person to the demands of the context.  The figure below demonstrates those aspects of the person we consider important to evaluate when looking to select the best leaders for an organisation. This model is an adaptation of Hogan's Performance Pie.


  The top half of the “pie” relates to the demonstration of behaviours. The Personality slice describes the person’s day-to-day behaviours (the so-called “bright side” of personality). An example of a personality assessment is the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) which provides an assessment of an individual across 7 different personality factors (e.g. adjustment, ambition, interpersonal sensitivity, prudence).  The Derailers slice describes the person’s possible problematic behaviours (the so-called “dark side” of personality). These are behaviours that may emerge under stress.  An example of this assessment is the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) which measures certain derailers (e.g. colourful, mischievous, dutiful, and bold).  The EQ in the middle is seen as a buffer of sorts, and describes the skills and abilities that help to manage day-to-day behaviour in such a way that it protects against a lapse into derailment. An example of this assessment is the EQ-I which measures 15 different emotionally intelligent skills and abilities for example, empathy, emotional self-awareness, assertiveness, interpersonal relationships and stress tolerance. Underlying these behaviours is the person’s personal values (the “inside”): in other words, those core beliefs, preferences, and interests that motivate or drive them in the workplace. An example of this kind of assessment is the Hogan Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory (MVPI) which measures aspects such as commerce, aesthetics, hedonism, tradition, security, power.  The last slice of the “pie” looks at a person’s cognitive ability, which has been shown to be a vital component of job success. Examples of these assessments are the Cognitive Processing Profile (CPP), the Career Path Appreciation (CPA), or the Hogan Business Reasoning Inventory (HBRI).  Both assessments measure, amongst other aspects, an individual’s problem solving styles and ability to deal with complexity.   Surrounding these assessments is the simulation exercises which are real life organisational situations that the individual needs to respond to (e.g. in-basket exercises, role plays or presentations).  These simulation exercises enable a view of how the personality, cognitive ability and emotional intelligence are displayed in action.  In any situation, it is important to consider all of these aspects when determining a person’s fit to a role or to the organisation. This forms the psychological foundation of the assessment process. However, simply having the assessment results is not enough.  For these results to be truly effective, they need to be mapped against leadership competencies selected by the organisation.  The competencies should be linked to the both the organisational and human resources strategy.  In this way, an organisation is able to make informed selection decisions ensuring that its leaders are competent in the areas that are mission critical for sustainable business performance. There are a plethora of leadership competencies available for selection.   An example of these leadership competencies are: strategic thinking, decision making and judgment;  building effective teams; leading others, coaching, delegating,  influencing, networking, building and maintaining relationships, interpersonal sensitivity, business acumen, change agility.  Once an organisation has selected those core competencies, the results of the assessments are loaded against these competencies to provide an overall indication of how the individual scored in each competency area.  An organisation is then able to make an objective, scientific selection decision taking into consideration both the strengths the individual presents and also any development areas that may emerge.  No individual will be a perfect fit for a role, there will always be development areas.  However, the selection decision needs to consider whether these gaps are fatal to the success in the role or are they manageable with the correct development initiatives in place.  Once the individual be hired, a development plan needs to be designed so as to ensure that the development gaps do not become fatal to success in the role. Using assessments therefore offers the following benefits to both the individual and the organisation:

  • An objective picture of individual characteristics which underpin components of successful performance
  • An understanding of individual strengths and what to capitalise on
  • An understanding of development areas
  • A departure point for focused learning and development interventions

Whilst the above process might seem like a one off, linear event, it is important to remember that assessment of future potential is a process.  Once the individual has been selected, he/she should receive the assessment feedback within the first 2-3 months in the role.  It is also recommended that the individuals’ manager be part of the feedback process so as to ensure that development plans are enacted upon.  The use of assessments from this point onwards then becomes developmental in nature with the aim of enhancing performance and/or addressing other gaps that may emerge.  The model below indicates how assessments can be made more useful in the development context.   By combining current performance data and track record in the role together with the simulation exercise results, an organisation is able to gain an understanding of the individual’s current competence.  Looking at the psychometric assessment results combined with an executive interview will provide an understanding of the leader’s potential.  This process can then assist in the talent management and succession planning process of leaders within the organisation.  Using this model to gain a thematic analysis across all leaders in the organisation will provide a view of what leadership competency strengths and gaps exist to achieve both current and future organisational strategies.  This will enable more focused training and development initiatives. Assessment tools play a critical role in an organisation, from leadership selection and development to talent management.  They form the basis from which objective, scientific selection decisions and development initiatives can be made.  For assessments to be optimally utilised, they should always provide a direct line of sight to the strategic HR plan and to the business strategy.

For more information, please contact us on +27(0) 11 781 3705/6/7 or send an email to

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