What is the best way to assess executives' leadership potential?
Where large numbers of candidates are involved, organizations may employ one or more self-administered questionnaires to identify the characteristics of their personalities. These assessments can be conducted either by traditional paper-and-pencil or online, quickly and cost-effectively.
Next might come an interview with an organizational psychologist trained to probe and assess candidates' responses to a variety of questions.
But perhaps the richest source of insight into someone's leadership potential is the 360-degree interview, a series of one-on-one discussions conducted by a psychologist or coach with an executive's supervisors and six to eight peers and direct reports. Such feedback not only yields specific examples of the behaviors that a candidate may need to change or polish to increase his or her chances for future success, but it also provides the foundation for the action plan to achieve those goals.
Successful 360s begin with the selection of colleagues to interview. "I always suggest that executives pick a cross-section of people who know them pretty well, including one or two with whom they may have had some difficulty, so that we can get a wide range of opinion," says Chrys Kasapis, Ph.D., a psychologist and member of the WJM Associates coaching and assessment faculty.
WJM Associates offers 360 interviews as part of the firm's Leadership Proficiency Evaluation, which also includes a personality assessment and psychological interview.
During the 360 interviews, no one's comments are attributed and only comments that come from more than one person are considered for the report that is shared with the candidate.
After all of the interviews have been conducted, the psychologist and coach meet with the executive to go over the feedback.
"The power of that meeting comes from the fact that it is very collaborative," says Kasapis. "It is almost like a brainstorming session that feeds into the coaching. And we quickly can sense if the person agrees or disagrees with the feedback."
Executive coaches find many ways to use the results of the 360 interviews with their clients. Ed McDougal, a former business executive and member of the WJM faculty, encourages the individuals he advises to thank their colleagues for participating in the process.
"Tell them that their feedback, while not attributed to anyone, was really valuable," he says. "Let them know that you received really good insights that will help you become more effective. This helps overcome any institutional resistance to the behaviors that you want to change and creates an environment for mutual learning."
McDougal also tries to use the findings from the 360s to leverage his clients' managerial assets.
"Realistically, you can only ask people to change in a couple of areas," he says, "and there is a reason people are in the organization in the first place -- they are there because they have talents. When I approach a coaching assignment, I like to build upon people's strengths, so that the impact of that person's talents have greater influence in the organization."