You’re Using the Wrong Assessment Tool to Build Effective Leaders

By February 22, 2019 General

That headline is a bold statement, but I believe it is true for most organizations. And it boils down to two simple reasons: preference and consistency. Most of us know what we like and like what we know.  

In order for assessments to be effective, we need a new line of thinking about assessments — both among HR and talent-grooming executives, and for the leaders they are working hard to help cultivate. 

This is not about making the case for one assessment over another. When I say you’re using the wrong assessment tool it’s because I believe that the problem is about having a singular focus. The misguided approach in believing that a one-size-fits-all assessment works to groom great managers and leaders at any stage of their career is false. As managers grow into leaders, so must the tools that assess their approach to management. 

I’m going to show you where popular assessments land on an X and Y axis, with X focusing on Awareness and Y focusing on timing consistent with a leader’s career/management growth.

How aware are you?

Awareness. It sounds innocuous enough to the point that the concept may not resonate at all. But for the organization that blindly moves managers and leaders up the ranks without a keen sense of self-awareness and on how to lead are setting themselves up for failure. I see three progressive awareness tracks that every management pro needs to have: self-awareness, team-awareness and awareness of impact to the company. 

SELF-AWARE

Your growth as a manager at some point is likely going to be trial by fire. That’s rarely by design, but most managers get elevated to new levels of responsibility without the requisite training to lead. In fact, there is this false premise that leaders shouldn’t fret about their weaknesses, but instead lead into their strengths. That requires knowing what those strengths are. Self-awareness is critical and is best applied when understood in the early leadership stages.

This is where a StrengthsFinder becomes a valuable assessment tool for helping early-stage managers understand their core intuitive strengths. This is foundational understanding for any future leader, which is why it gets plotted as #1 on the axis.

TEAM-AWARE

While the best leaders are undoubtedly self-aware, you’ll quickly find that on the ascent to leadership it’s no longer about you. Your focus has to shift from your own ladder-climbing interests to the members of the team you lead. In fact, you’ll discover that leaning more on what you do instinctively (your strengths) can hurt you, your team and the company over time. Your leadership now has to influence behavior. 

Being team-aware is where a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment becomes helpful (#2 on the axis). Your strengths will never fully align with the strengths of all individual team members, and that’s good — you need a diverse team with varying strengths. It’s why there are 16 different combinations of preferences that help us see who we’re working with and how they work. Notice I didn’t call it a personality test.  MBTI is about preferences on how people organize life in a way that works best for them. As a manager, this is a critical takeaway. When you see something you don’t like in a team member (for example, when you as an ENTJ get sideways with an INSP), it’s important to recognize this isn’t a character flaw, but a way in which they prefer to behave. When you see people for who they are, you see them as complete people and are better able to manage and lead to their strengths.

Another component of being team-aware is taking self-awareness to the next level for the benefit of the team and the company, which can be cultivated through 360°Feedback assessments (#3 on the axis). While not everyone loves this assessment of soliciting anonymous, confidential feedback from those above, below and beside you on the org chart, I’ve seen it work and believe it can be useful, and so do others[Note: I expect a large number of HR and training professionals to take issue with my views on the value of 360°Feedback, and we can address that on a different day.]

Yes, there certainly can be feedback that stings, and parsing what’s constructive versus what is destructive is necessary if you are going to make this more vulnerable assessment worthwhile. But here’s an important reality check: a lot of us have different personas with different groups of people. Over time that will become apparent. The goal then is to determine how to become a more consistent and respected leader by asking: how do I show up with my team, with my peers, with my boss? When am I at my best and when am I not? By considering the 360°Feedback results you have the opportunity to demonstrate you are listening and respect the feedback by employing adjustments that make you a better leader. 

IMPACT ON COMPANY

As your tenure as a management professional grows the need to see the big picture becomes a must, especially when you arrive in the C-suite. That bigger picture is knowing that your behavior impacts the financials of the company as well as your people. Taken at face value, this can be misleading. 

While self-awareness is important, currently there is no evidence that self-aware leaders are automatically rewarded with better financial growth. On the contrary, there are a lot of self-unaware, nasty and uninformed leaders who are helping lead their companies to massive profits. I could name names, but why state the obvious.

So what is the self-aware, team-aware leader to do to help influence an upward trajectory of growth for the company? This is where a behavioral finance mindset comes in and can be found with the help of Perth Leadership Institute (#4 on the axis). 

Dr. E. Ted Prince developed a behavioral finance model to test leaders for their bias with regard to risk and opportunity. What he found was that when it comes to making money:

  • 50 percent of us are hard-wired to lose money
  • 38 percent of us are hard-wired to break even
  • 12 percent of us are hard-wired to make money

Good luck finding any managers or leaders on the planet who believe they are among the 88 percent that aren’t wired to drive profitability. That’s bias in action.

But you have to consider the cycles of a business — startup/growth, maturity, and aging. Perth suggests that a leader’s intuitive behavior provides at best only one-third of what the business needs at any given time. For example, managers and leaders who are passionate about starting something new are not well positioned to bring that company into maturity and beyond. What Perth does is help leaders pivot from their intuitive behaviors to those that align with the cycles of the business. And those behaviors help companies better sustain and grow their revenue.

Reassess your assessments. Timing is everything.

I would argue that using one assessment is better than not using any at all, but these four assessments applied at four different stages of management and leadership suggest what you already know intuitively — leadership is about continuous growth and learning, not the arrival in a corner office.

Just as a StrengthsFinder assessment won’t be of much use to the CEO, 360 Feedback and Perth are equally premature for the new management associate. However, the right assessment at the right time will help any management pro understand more about what they’re good at and like to do, while also understanding the impact of their behavior, biases and filters in which they view their work.     

Great management pros — many of whom go on to become exceptional leaders — are those who stay curious and who look to grow themselves, the people they manage, and the company they help lead. Well-timed assessments along the way can help all parties succeed.

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