Personality assessments can play an important role in helping you gain insight into your innate tendencies, sweet spots, and strengths – which will ultimately help you become a more balanced and effective leader. They can also illuminate your weaknesses and any areas that don’t come as naturally for you. The goal of this kind of self-discovery is to gain an honest representation of where you stand and what development you might need; personality assessments can fast track this learning.
Assessments often highlight places where you are working harder than you need to. For example, a leader, through experience, may learn to be competent with analyzing spreadsheets and budgets, even though this skill does not fall within their natural abilities. Their natural abilities might make these kinds of tasks energy-draining and time-consuming. Even if they wind up with a solid result, it does not mean a task was worth the effort it took to get there. Thus, assessments can help you learn more about where your time and energy could be best spent.
Most self-assessments take less than 20 minutes (and as little as 5) and generate a report that is full of insights about one’s personality or a particular set of competencies or skillset. 360 assessments and reports include other assessors, so they tend to be more time intensive to set up and debrief. The upside is enormous since they include multiple perspectives and therefore render a more complete picture of one’s leadership – though this article specifically discusses self-assessments. If you are interested in learning more about 360s, read this article I wrote previously: http://widelensleadership.com/360-feedback-how-do-others-see-you/
How to Use Assessments
Assessments can be used to help people grow as leaders and individuals. Knowing your leadership gaps – or areas of opportunity – is extremely helpful in developing a leadership development plan for the future.
Personality assessments can also be used to help you guide future career decisions, find out if you are in the right role, or guide you into a more suitable role for your traits. Some assessments may even help you hire the best people for your open roles. For organizations and HR teams, assessments can be instrumental in hiring at scale, succession planning, and in leadership and talent development processes and programs.
Teams can use assessments as a tool to help team members understand one another better and strengthen team dynamic. A personality assessment can be the foundation of an entire activity to get the team more connected, gain more understanding of how the individuals influence the group, figure out who on the team is best suited for which tasks, and appreciate the unique differences and gifts each person brings to the table. Using a personality assessment with people you work closest with can be a fast path to helping you understand one another in a more objective way – which can illuminate development opportunities as a team. One of the biggest benefits of doing an assessment as a team, is that it will introduce common language and group norms across a team or organization. When you have shared language regarding strengths, weaknesses, and development opportunities, people tend to talk more openly with one another, have an easier time giving and receiving feedback, and can better learn from mistakes.
You might work with a coach, trainer, consultant, or HR representative who can administer an assessment for you or your team, to help you get a deeper understanding about some aspect(s) of your leadership or team dynamics. You can take an assessment and debrief the report in a 1:1 setting with someone certified in an assessment tool, or you can get a debrief with your entire team to reap the aforementioned benefits of improved relationships and group dynamics.
Unique Qualities Are Not Good or Bad
“There is no such thing as a strength and weakness; it is all contextual. And so the opportunity we have is to be aware of the characteristics that we have, to know how we show up, and to try as best we can to put ourselves in the context where that thing is a strength or mitigate it in the times where it might be a weakness. It is not good or bad or right or wrong. It is just us.”
– Simon Sinek
Most personality assessments measure one’s strengths and weaknesses in some way, but it’s important to note that strengths and weaknesses are not static. They work on a continuum and are very much based on context. Being a creative, imaginative thinker is a strength when you work in marketing. The same traits would be disastrous for a surgeon when in the operating room. There is no good/bad, right/wrong, or win/lose about who you are. The key is to learn when certain traits work for you and when they hold you back. When they are being used in balance and when they are being used to excess. With this level of awareness, you can learn when to turn the volume of your strengths up and when to turn them down, depending on the context.
A strength can easily turn into a drawback when the volume is turned up too high. As Brené Brown said, “Overusing strengths can be a liability.” Similarly, if you say you dislike some aspect of yourself and then try to eradicate that part of you, often the positive aspects of that trait go out the window with it. Most traits, tendencies, and skills have benefits and drawbacks, and it is figuring out when to use what – and when not to – that is helpful. Situational leadership is all about reading the room – or moment – and consciously deciding how to show up based on what the moment needs of you.
Personality Assessments vs. Leadership Tools
Some assessments measure one’s personality, which is largely stable over time. As you age, some aspects of your personality might shift slightly – perhaps you have become less extroverted or more conscientious – but largely we have our personalities for life, for better or worse. They are not something we can or should change (even if we might want to!) – the assessments are intended to simply provide insight into who you are so that we can capitalize on your inherent strengths and support or compensate for your weaknesses, particularly as it relates to your role and your team(s).
Other assessments seek to measure leadership skills or behaviors – how a leader is performing or behaving during the moment the assessment was administered. The intention of these types of assessment is to raise awareness of helpful and unhelpful leadership behaviors and tendencies so that you can develop and grow in particular ways. They don’t measure your personality; they measure where you are at a “snapshot in time.” With practice and focus, such as with leadership coaching or training, you can shift your profile and enhance your leadership skills over time. These are great tools for leadership development programs because you can measure how far someone has come with support. For example, when you take the same assessment once, and again after six months or a year of executive coaching, you can find out if certain areas you’ve been working on have increased. In other words, these can and hopefully will change as you work on your leadership.
There are hundreds of assessments on the market today; it can be overwhelming to decide which will work best for your needs. I’ve taken dozens over the years, am certified in several, and I certainly have opinions about which assessment tools I think are more scientifically valid and useful, and which I like for particular use cases.
With that said, I am not convinced that one assessment is better than any another. You can take the fanciest and most expensive personality instrument available, and not understand its report and or how to translate it into valuable insights or meaningful change for you. Likewise, you can take a free simple tool, and glean powerful insights that are hyper relevant to your situation and what you need in the moment.
It is not necessarily the assessment that makes the learning and positive transformation possible. The conversations and actions you take as a result of an assessment are what make them valuable. This is why working with an executive coach or consultant who is knowledgeable and trained in an instrument is so helpful; they can help you make your report meaningful and relevant to your leadership development and life. A coach can also help you determine which assessment would be the best fit for your needs.
When I am debriefing an assessment for a client, my intention is always to foster the best conversation and most useful learning possible for the particular leader I am working with and the particular moment they are in. When I am oriented toward making it relevant and useful for the client, I create a practical filter and there is no need to share every detail of the report with my client. This perspective may take some of the pressure off trying to find the “best” instrument.
Here are a few of my favorites, whether you are taking it on your own or with your team.
Workplace Big Five Profile
Based on the scientifically validated five-factor model, the Workplace Big Five profile is a personality assessment that reveals an individual’s five super traits and 23 subtraits. Rather than putting people into a type or quadrant, this profile maps out where you fall on each of the 28 continuums – you can find out which types of activities and tasks are naturally energizing for you and which are draining – and use that information to help you optimize your energy, maximize your engagement, and boost your performance and overall satisfaction at work. There are options for team and leader-specific reports as well. Learn more about the Workplace Big Five Suite of Reports. I am a certified consultant in this instrument; Contact me if you are interested in learning more!
- Pros: The profile scores are usually spot on, because the results are so specific, with a score from 1-100 in 28 different areas – which, I feel gives the instrument more depth and sophistication than the instruments that seek to classify you as a particular type. The report is very easy to grasp and use – including exercises and activities to maximize your performance and energy based on your profile, so you can revisit it often and learn something new each time you open it. Its accessibility makes it a great fit for teamwork and its focus on work contexts makes it highly relevant to leadership performance.
- Cons: It can be a little overwhelming with so many areas to look at, but you can focus on the specific places you want to develop your leadership and prioritize your focus. This is a personality assessment, so it won’t provide a map to improve leadership competencies, but will give you insight into how to design and optimize your leadership, role, work, and day-to-day life. You must work with a certified consultant to run the report.
Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that influence how you perceive and express yourself, develop and maintain relationships, cope with adversity, problem solve, make sound decisions, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. There are options for a leader-specific report and a multi-rater 360 report as well. Learn more about the EQ-i 2.0. I am a certified consultant in this instrument; Contact me if you are interested in learning more!
- Pros: In my opinion, emotional intelligence is the most important set of leadership competencies you can develop and learning more about where you fall among these skills is crucial to developing as a leader. This assessment is also a snapshot in time, meaning you can measure your growth by retaking the assessment as often as you would like to gauge progress toward your goals.
- Cons: The focus on emotional intelligence might not be broad enough to apply team-wide for some organizations. You must work with a certified consultant to run the report.
Strengths-Based Assessments (Gallup Strength Finder and VIA Survey of Strengths)
Gallup Strength Finder is the most popular strength-based assessment on the market. VIA Survey of Strengths is another strengths-based tool that is free. Both assessments help you understand what makes you unique and identify your top (and bottom) strengths. Take the VIA Survey of Strengths.
- Pros: I think strength-based assessments, such as Gallup and VIA, are particularly powerful to create team connection, bonding, and shared language. The team conversations are always lively, fun, and productive. The VIA Strengths assessment is free.
- Cons: As a leadership development tool, I feel both of these assessments fall short in supporting leaders on their development journeys to revealing blind spots, improving performance, and increasing critical leadership competencies.
Th Enneagram is a tool that helps you understand your innate personality type, among nine distinct types. The tool also gives you a diagram that includes much more than just your personality type and can reflect other aspects of yourself and your tendencies. The Enneagram system helps you gain a deeper understanding of how you view yourself and others, how you communicate with yourself and others – particularly under stress, and learn more about what you need, want, and fear. With the added clarity about your personality, the tool helps you identify patterns that may be holding you back in your work and life. Take The Enneagram.
- Pros: If you are invested in the process and learning about the system, the tool can be a powerful catalyst for self-improvement that is not confined to work contexts.
- Cons: With only nine personality types, the tool can feel a bit vague and generalized. It also depends on a participant being self-aware to respond to the questions and align themselves with the accurate personality type. Finally, it is a complex system that requires some investment in order to appreciate its value.
Positive Intelligence Saboteur Assessment
Saboteurs are the nasty voices in our heads that create negative emotions – which become obstacles for us in handling any challenges in our lives. Over time, our minds develop automated, default responses for how to think, feel, and respond to everyday challenges, and these default responses can cause us stress, anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, restlessness, and unhappiness. The work of Positive Intelligence asserts that it is not stressful events that cause us stress, it is our reaction to these events, and those automated reactions sabotage our performance, wellbeing, and relationships. The saboteur assessment is a short (free!) quiz that identifies the top saboteurs occupying your mind that stand in your way of success and happiness. Discovering your saboteurs is the first step to reducing the harm they cause in your work and life. Take The Saboteur Assessment. I am a certified consultant in this instrument; Contact me if you are interested in learning more!
- Pros: The assessment is free, fast, and spot-on for most people. The report offers a relatable and accessible way to become more aware of how your mind can get you into trouble and cause unnecessary stress. The emails and program that follows (if you choose to participate) offers a helpful framework and six-week program to understand your saboteurs and stop them from hijacking your mind and getting in your way.
- Cons: It’s a free assessment, the language is fun, and the insights are highly practical – not many cons to report. There are however, only 10 identified saboteurs, so it could feel a bit too general for some.
As with everything, I encourage you to experiment and try a variety of tools and approaches to see what supports your learning and development best. If you take one new assessment every year, imagine how much you can learn about yourself in a decade.
Join my monthly newsletter!
If you loved this article, join the monthly newsletter — featuring tips and reflections on leadership development and stress management in the modern world. Join the 5,000+ leaders who have it delivered straight to their inbox each month.
Join the monthly newsletter!
If you’re an executive, leader, or entrepreneur, you’ll love our monthly newsletters.