Leadership and Psychometric Testing

Effective leadership has a profound impact on the performance of any organisation – whether it is a school group, sports club, or business, multinational corporation or government. Not surprisingly, leadership has been the subject of vast amounts of research, proliferating models that in theory help us understand it, while even the definition of leadership, and how it relates to management, has been hotly debated for decades. This article explores how using psychometrics can help us, as individuals and teams, develop effective leadership. There are three sections: What is leadership? What are psychometrics? And a brief review of some of the psychometrics that are useful in leadership development.

What is leadership?
Most of us can recognise and acknowledge leadership when it is effective, and can name effective leaders even if we disagree with their philosophy, yet we would often struggle to specifically describe and define it.

If you Google leadership, you will come up with thousands of different definitions! Some are based on character, others on the attributes of a leader, some are based on what leaders do, some are about the results or performance leaders generate. In essence, the ability to lead requires the ability to generate ideas, communicate them and create the belief in followers that the idea is worthwhile. Effective leadership draws not only on the concept of followers believing in or being inspired by the leader and their purpose or vision (idea), but also on performance. Effective leadership results in superior performance, achievement and success of individuals, teams and organisations.

Being given a title or position of ‘leader‘ does not confer the ability to lead, yet anyone can lead. There is no formula for the attributes of a leader and leadership is not a thing you can get. Developing leadership is a journey, where we learn step by step as we explore different facets of what leadership is and can be for us. The qualities that make followers want to support the leader are not the same in all circumstances. An effective leader is able to draw on a variety of styles of leadership so they are able to match the situation appropriately, to recognise what their followers need from them at that moment. It is sometimes said that leadership is not so much about doing but about being – so how does one BE a better leader?

The secrets to our potential as leaders are inside us, so it helps to have tools to unlock our own ability to lead. One of the most important of these tools is a high level of self awareness and understanding of how we impact on and affect the people around us and a desire for self-development built upon on that self awareness. Psychometrics, when used well, offer us remarkable insights that help us develop that high level of self awareness and improve the way that we interact with others and the world around us. The instruments offer a language through which to discuss self awareness, different styles and dealing with difference. They offer us the potential to choose how we want to be and potential for change – in this case, developing our capability as a leader. We can’t change if we don’t know where we are to start with. We can’t choose if we don’t know what the choices are or don’t recognise that we already are making a choice, even though it is unconscious. Psychometrics offer us a short cut to protracted discussions, reflection and self-analysis, and can offer an objective external reference point that is not judgemental. The language of psychometrics can offer a short-hand for team members to refer to and facilitate discussions around personal interactions. Application of the learning can be applied not only at an individual level, but also through teams, departments and, for example, to change internal and external communication strategies.

What is psychometrics?
‘Psychometrics‘ is a term often used as a short-hand for psychometric tests or questionnaires, and is the science of measuring behaviour or ability. A strict psychometric questionnaire involves a statistical model to summarise the information and produce results. A good quality instrument has evidence to prove it is reliable (it is consistent across time and people), valid (it measures what it says it does), standardised (it has been set up objectively and consistently) and free from bias (it does not favour one group of people over another).

Many psychometrics are personality questionnaires that measure some aspect of personality, behaviour or underlying stable characteristics or preferences in an observable way. These include trait instruments that measure to what degree people behave on different scales, and type instruments that classify people into different types. With most personality questionnaires, there are no ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘ or ‘good‘ or ‘bad‘ profiles.

There are two types of Psychometrics. The first type (Ipsative) compares attributes within the person, highlighting relative capabilities, preferences, personality attributes or motivational needs, such as the MBTI questionnaire. For example, the questionnaire might indicate that you prefer to focus more on things and action than contemplation and reflection. The second type (Normative), compares your results with those of a relevant “norm group” (eg managers or the general population), such as the ILM72, MTQ48 and EQ-i questionnaires. For example, the results may indicate that you are more task focused and energetic than most other managers, but have a less developed level of empathy.

Psychometrics are often used for “profiling” where the emphasis is on building awareness and understanding of your attributes and preferences (such as abilities, interests, leadership style) and opening up new avenues for exploration of possibilities that you might not have thought of before. The questionnaires are used to give insights into your relative strengths and areas for development, and potential to take roles suited for your strengths. Used in a group or team setting, psychometrics can show the different roles or styles people have which can help the team members work and communicate better with each other. Psychometrics may also be used with a more criterion oriented approach, where the questionnaire is used to assess how well your profile fits with a number of set criteria or competencies. This approach is most often taken in recruitment situations and assessment centres and it is an approach that may contribute to the negative attitude some people hold towards psychometrics, feeling that they judge you in an unnatural manner.

Psychometrics are most beneficial when approached with an open and curious mindset to discover more about yourself and ways you might want to improve in certain areas. To get real value from psychometrics, you need to choose a high quality tool (see above) that is fit for your purpose and to work with a coach who has been properly trained in how to administer and interpret it. Any tool is only as good as the person wielding it and the mechanical application of a tool can lead to disastrous outcomes, where a person feels pigeon-holed or disempowered as their potential is perceived to be at odds with their profile. Also, the results may give an inaccurate representation when someone changes their usual mindset, such as when a questionnaire is administered in a way to make you feel under ‘test‘ conditions.

For good results, psychometric assessments should be used wisely, administered well with sensitive feedback that avoids ‘labels’ and misunderstandings. Because they are based on statistical models, the results from a psychometric questionnaire will not be 100% and the purpose is emphatically not to label someone or to ‘pigeonhole a person into a box’. It is important to review the results with your coach as a starting point for a discussion around insightful suggestions or indications, and where you disagree with the results, to be open to explore whether it is bringing something to your attention that you are not yet aware of. To get the most benefit from the experience, your coach will help you interpret the results and create a personal development plan.

Finally, it is vital to choose the right measure – that is ‘fit for purpose’. You need to choose the measure that suits the situation and purpose required. If in our life, we are on a journey from birth to death, and specifically, say, developing our leadership capability now, psychometrics can help to develop a road map to guide us on our way. However, it is no good using a small scale map covering all of Europe on one page if you are trying to navigate small country roads to a village in Fife; an OS map would be much more useful!

As well as using psychometrics formally (that is actually doing the questionnaire), it can also be useful to just explore the concepts and ideas in a conversation or in self reflection, to get a different angle or perspective.

Psychometrics for developing leadership capability
There are far too many psychometrics to discuss them all here, so I have selected a few that are useful in developing as a leader.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), one of the most often used personality typing questionnaires, is based on Jungian psychological theory. Four pairs of opposite preferences produce 16 main personality types. We have a tendency to feel more comfortable in using one side of each scale, which becomes our natural preference. However, we have the ability to use both sides and can develop the ability to use our non-preferred side more easily if we choose, which can be enormously beneficial for leaders who want to be able to relate better with someone who has a different preference type to their own. In essence, we have both, we use both, and prefer one.

* Extroversion/ Introversion (E/I) – Where is our attention focused? Extroversion – on the outside world and our own effect on it; Introversion: on the inner world of reflection and understanding.
* Sensing/Intuition (S/N) – How do we take in information? Sensing – focus on facts within information; Intuition – interpreting patterns, possibilities and meaning from information.
* Thinking /Feeling (T/F) – How do we evaluate information and make decisions? Thinking – using logic, objective analysis and process-driven conclusions. Feeling – according to what matters to self and others, and personal values.
* Judging/Perceiving (J/P) – How do we approach the outer world? Judging – organises, emphasis on decisions and closure; Perceiving – flexibility and understanding, emphasis on openness to respond to ideas or events as they arise, relatively slow to decide.

The MBTI is used a lot in leadership development as it helps us understand and develop ourselves and others; helps us understand what motivates ourselves and others, and helps us recognise someone else’s preferences and choose how we will interact with them. This helps us begin to understand and appreciate the different strengths, weaknesses and stress points for members of our team. A typical response a coach hears when discussing with a leader about how a team member goes about completing a task would be “Oh, he isn’t just doing this to wind me up then?”

The Institute of Leadership and Management offers two tools, ILM72 and MTQ48, to its members as part of their commitment to developing leaders.

The Integrated Leadership Model questionnaire, ILM72, helps us understand or know about our preferred leadership styles and our overall effectiveness, with suggestions on how to develop our strengths in other styles and in effectiveness. A leader who is able to adapt their style to suit the person/people and situation will be more effective than a leader who holds a fixed style. No one style is right in all situations and no style is good or bad in itself. ILM72 measures six specific pairs of styles and three effectiveness scales:

* Task / Person – Relative concern with meeting the needs of the task or the needs of individuals.
* Flexible / Dogmatic – Relative openness to ideas and suggestions compared to having a strong belief in how things should be done.
* De-Centralised / Centralised – Relative preference for everything to go through you or to delegate and work through others.
* Reward / Punishment – Attitude to recognise and reward acceptable or high performance; or assume good or high performance as the norm and deal with shortcomings in performance.
* Means / End – Concern over how the goal is achieved relative to the result mattering most.
* Structured / Organic – leadership style based on plans and processes relative to “gut feeling” and emergent style.

Understanding our own and other’s leadership styles can have an enormous impact on our productivity and effectiveness, particularly when we can develop the capacity to recognise and choose the most appropriate style for effective leadership in different situations.

The Mental Toughness Questionnaire, MTQ48, measures how people deal with challenge, stressors and pressure. Excellent leaders and managers typically have higher levels of mental toughness, or resilience, than the rest of the population, reflecting the demands of their work. Developing mental toughness helps leaders to better manage stress, deal with multiple tasks and deliver peak performance. The questionnaire measures four components as well as an overall measure of mental toughness:

* Challenge – view challenges and variety as opportunities and thrive in changing environments or feel threatened by change.
* Control – extent to which you feel able to influence outcomes/decisions and handle many things at once.
* Confidence – in your abilities and interpersonal skills.
* Commitment – extent to which you can focus on goals and overcome problems and obstacles that arise or become distracted or bored.

Mental toughness is a state that we can change and develop. The opposite of mental toughness is sensitivity, and as a leader, we probably do not want to be 10/10 on mental toughness! However, developing a relatively high level is an advantage to help leaders feel comfortable in their position. Knowing where we lie on the component scales can be illuminating if we are feeling under pressure. Quite often, raising our level on one scale in line with where we are on others can help to reduce feelings of stress.

Mental toughness is one component of emotional intelligence, which has been shown in numerous studies to have a major influence on how successful leaders and senior managers become, and also on the effectiveness and ‘bottom-line‘ for organisations. One of the most well known psychometrics to measure emotional intelligence is the Bar-on EQ-i.

The questionnaire describes a cross-section of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that impact intelligent behaviour and have been proven to contribute to proficiency in complex activities such as conflict resolution and planning. The 15 scales are grouped under five higher level scales and all are combined to give an overall scale of emotional-social intelligence.


* Self-Regard
* Emotional Self-Awareness
* Assertiveness
* Independence
* Self-Actualization


* Empathy
* Social Responsibility
* Interpersonal Relationships

Stress Management

* Stress Tolerance
* Impulse Control


* Reality Testing
* Flexibility
* Problem Solving

General Mood

* Optimism
* Happiness

Developing emotional intelligence is valuable for leaders as it helps us know and manage our own emotions, recognise and understand other people’s emotions, motivate ourselves and others, and manage relationships. Since leadership is all about interacting with your followers, sharing your vision and goals with them, inspiring them to follow your lead and enhancing performance of both yourself and your followers / team / organisation, it is easy to see how higher levels of emotional intelligence can enhance our capability as a leader.

360degree feedback
360degree feedback is particularly valuable for leadership development, where a leader receives feedback from various sources such as managers, peers, co-workers, direct reports or customers. It is not a psychometric in itself but many are available in this format. It is often difficult to know how others perceive us and constructive feedback about this can be illuminating. How well does our image of who we are and how well we come across match the way other people see us? Do they see things in us that we are blind to? Are they unaware of things we feel they should know or see in us? While it can be difficult to receive feedback that does not match our own image of ourselves, if we can remain open and non-defensive and look for the positive intent in the feedback, we can learn a great deal about how to improve as an effective leader. Where feedback matches our own image, it can be useful to identify how we have developed that shared image and how we can apply our self-awareness in these situations to others where the match may not be so great.

Other useful psychometrics used for leadership development include the FIRO-B, DTI Leadership assessment, Hay Inventory of Leadership Styles 360, Learning Styles Inventory, Belbin, Hogan Personality Inventory, DISC and Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). Further information on some of these can be found at http://www.businessballs.com/personalitystylesmodels.htm and I will put more information on various psychometrics on the leaders in Scotland resources web page (www.leadersinscotland.org.uk) at some point in the next couple of months. If you would like me to email you when it is up, or if you would like further information on anything mentioned in this article, please email me at sue@aeona.co.uk.

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