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The Truth About Executive Psychological Assessments

At the most senior levels of leadership in organizations, psychologists often perform psychological assessments to do two basic things:

  1. Selection: To glean understanding of a leader’s ability to fit within the role, context and culture of a new organization or to ascertain whether a promotion will be successful or not.
  2. Development: To help leaders deepen understanding of their leadership impact through what we call “developmental” psychological assessments.

Assessments themselves vary from in-depth intensive one to one interviews, to full blown – multiple day assessment centers, to online survey tools, or various combinations of these. There is a proliferation of business speak and intellectual debate about the viability of some of these tools, including which are better and which are worse. I’m not here to reflect on the merits of the innumerable different methodologies or tools; rather, I want to discuss why you should do them and how you begin. This leads to who should do them which solves your methodology questions, because in the hands of the right professional, the process and tools become less of an issue.

There are three reasons why you absolutely need to do assessments in the first place:

  1. People lie. To themselves, to their colleagues and to their families. Sometimes unintentionally, sometimes because they do not understand what great looks, sometimes on purpose. Assessments attempt to get to the reality about an individual that goes beyond perception.
  2. Leaders have personal agendas. It is difficult for leaders to distinguish between reality and what they perceive to be true. Leaders project their own fears, dreams, or issues onto those around them if they do not understand this about themselves. Frankly, most do not. It is because of this that it is difficult for leaders to objectively judge the merits of those around him or her.
  3. People are extremely complex. People that think they can uncover everything during a brief interaction are delusional (see points 1 and 2 above). Additionally, online tests and surveys at best capture just a few dimensions.

Here’s how you begin:

  1. Find a business psychologist with a PhD and significant experience working with and within organizations. This is important! There are numerous inexperienced professionals who are well intentioned but have never faced the intricate dynamics of organization life themselves.
  2. Uncover what’s important for your organization to achieve its business strategy. Then marry these criteria to a vetted leadership model. If you must, build your own that speaks to the organization’s unique culture, but ground it in the current best thinking.
  3. Conduct assessments against the criteria developed in the previous step for those entering the organization, for those you promote and for those that you think have a chance to be leaders.
  4. Do this for yourself and your employees. Lead by example, which should be a no brainer, but sadly, it is not.
  5. Craft developmental plans that help people engage in gaining additional insight into their impact. Help them uncover their purpose. Follow up, follow up and follow up. Make it fun.
  6. For a kick, step back and look holistically at your results to determine trends and areas of strengths and weaknesses in your leadership pool; plan accordingly.

And that’s how it’s done. Who knows what might be lying underneath all those smiling faces (or yours)? Having an objective external view of your talent gives you a clear picture of how to manage risk as it relates to executing your strategy. Everything thing else is lies, agendas, and delusion.

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