8 Leadership Assessment Tools to Uncover Hidden Strengths

Leadership Assessment ToolsLeaders are everywhere. They help build organizations, steer institutions, and govern our societies.

Yet recent governmental and organizational scandals across the globe highlight a worrying issue: Not all leaders have the required skills to lead successfully.

So how do we know whether a leader is doing well, and how do we help individuals become the best leaders they can be? One popular and effective approach is to make use of leadership assessments.

In this article, we outline what leadership assessments are, explain why they are advantageous, and highlight some of the more robust assessments out there.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Leadership Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or others adopt positive leadership practices and help organizations thrive.

Benefits & Uses of a Leadership Assessment

Organizations routinely track and measure the performance of their employees, and this does not stop at the employee level. Leaders too are subject to assessment; after all, organizational outcomes ultimately fall under the remit of leadership and management.

Using leadership tools can be instrumental in the following ways.

1. To gain self-awareness

Primarily, all assessments help shine a light on leaders’ abilities. This can include their strengths, behavioral patterns, preferred ways of communicating, and gaps in their knowledge or skills.

Self-awareness lays the foundation for future development efforts that seek to boost leaders’ effectiveness.

2. To identify future leaders

Organizations can use leadership assessments to identify employees suitable for future leadership roles. Building awareness of employees’ capacity for leadership allows organizations to safeguard against future cultural turbulence by having a clear plan for the transition of leadership roles. Similarly, some tools are used during recruitment to hire candidates with leadership potential.

3. To understand team dynamics

Tools such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder™ can be used to understand the dynamics of a team. These assessments allow organizations to leverage the diverse strengths of team members, which can be highly effective for collaborating on shared goals.

When leaders understand how their teams work best, they can build positive, high-performing teams.

4. To audit individual performance

Some leadership assessments, such as 360-degree feedback (see below for more detail), provide useful insights into an individual’s performance, such as how well they manage their team, how well they collaborate across functions, and how well they engage with stakeholders.

This feedback can be used to set development goals and evaluate long-term leadership competency.

5. To manage conflict

Assessments such as the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument highlight how individuals are likely to respond to a stressful situation, with individuals tending to either react assertively or cooperatively.

When leaders are aware of how their team members will respond to conflict, they can better mediate toward resolution and build psychological safety.

6. To assess organizational culture

Lastly, leadership assessments can be used to get a broad snapshot of how the practices of leaders align with the values and wider culture of the organization.

Studies suggest that how leaders conduct themselves has a significant bearing on company culture and values, including behavioral norms (Giberson et al., 2009).

Importantly, leadership assessment tools have uses far beyond developing individual leaders’ skill sets. They can provide unparalleled insights into how an organization is functioning and can act as specific guides when navigating through periods of transition.

Different Leadership Assessment Tools

Leadership Assessment ToolsGiven the popularity of leadership assessments, it is no surprise that there is an abundance of tools on the market.

These typically range from personality assessments and measures of behavioral tendencies and leadership styles to performance management tools. Below, we outline these approaches in more detail.

Leadership style assessment

These types of assessments usually focus on a leader’s behavioral patterns. Some popular examples include:

1. Situational Leadership Assessment

The Situational Leadership Model was developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969 and is used to help leaders adapt their leadership style to better account for the needs of their team at any given moment in time.

This approach understands that all situations are unique, and as such, flexibility is required from leaders to get the best responses and performance from their teams.

2. DISC Assessment

This assessment was based on a theoretical model proposed by William Moulton Marston (1928) and measures behavioral and communication styles of leaders.

The assessment categorizes individuals into four main types of leader:

  • Dominance
  • Influence
  • Steadiness
  • Conscientiousness

Within each category are priorities that individuals lean toward, such as stability and accuracy for conscientious leaders. In more recent years, DISC has further expanded to provide individuals with a profile on emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.

3. Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI)

James Kouzes and Barry Posner created the LPI as a leadership assessment tool in 1988. It assesses leadership behavior based on five practices:

  • Model the way.
  • Inspire a shared vision.
  • Challenge the process.
  • Enable others to act.
  • Encourage the heart.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) argue that these five behaviors are key to achieving exemplary leadership. By identifying where leaders are positioned in each of the five practices, leaders can focus their efforts on addressing any gaps or deficits.

360-degree leadership assessment

This assessment is a means of gathering feedback on performance from multiple sources, including team members, managers, and peers, to provide a well-rounded view of an individual’s work.

One of the reasons that 360-degree feedback is so popular is the widely held belief that receiving developmental feedback drives individuals to create positive change (Brett & Atwater, 2001).

However, it is also important to note the limitations of this approach, which primarily include the allocation of resources required to carry it out (e.g., time and budget).

Strengths assessment

Identifying strengths is another highly popular approach to leadership assessment. Whereas 360-degree feedback helps individuals understand how they are perceived by others within the organization, a strengths assessment is used to help individuals build self-awareness of their innate talents and show them how to leverage these strengths.

CliftonStrengths™, run by Gallup (n.d.), is one of the most rigorous and widely used strengths assessments out there, with over 32 million users worldwide.

Personality and emotional intelligence scales

These assessments typically measure aspects of personality and emotional intelligence such as self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are often more effective at managing teams and navigating complex interpersonal situations (Dulewicz & Higgs, 2003).

Organizations and leaders can combine different assessments and emotional intelligence scales to assess development and performance. Ideally, organizations should seek to employ a variety of these in order to create a full picture of their leaders’ skills and needs.

1. The Hogan Assessments

The Hogan Assessments (Hogan & Hogan, 2002) typically evaluate an individual’s personality and values. However, they also help identify any potential behavioral issues, which can lend enormous insight into leadership efficacy.

One of the greatest advantages of the Hogan Assessments is their basis in rigorous scientific research (see below for more information).

2. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI (Myers & McCaulley, 1985) is not specifically aimed at leaders; however, it is an inordinately popular tool and often deployed to help individuals understand their personality preferences, communication styles, and decision-making approaches.

Warning: Readers should be wary, as the Myers-Briggs is not a scientifically validated tool (more on this below.)

3. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)

The MSCEIT (Mayer et al., 2002) is a highly popular assessment used to determine an individual’s emotional intelligence ability. This is a promising test for leaders that positions emotional intelligence as a skill that can be sharpened. Despite its basis in academic literature and its widespread use, mixed results on whether it is a valid tool abound (Maul, 2012).

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These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or others to adopt positive leadership practices to help individuals, teams and organizations to thrive.

Scientifically Validated Leadership Assessment Tools

A quick internet search of the term “leadership assessment” will churn out a significant number of results. While there are plenty of tools leaders and organizations can use, that does not necessarily mean that all tools should be used.

In fact, the majority of assessments are not scientifically validated. This does not mean individuals cannot gain some useful insights from leadership tools, but it does mean results should be taken with a pinch of salt.

One of the most commonly used assessments that lacks scientific validation is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which enjoys huge popularity likely due to the catchy categories individuals are placed in. The DISC, while similarly popular, has also had its fair share of criticism, particularly around its psychometric properties.

Some of the more rigorous and scientific tools include the following.

The Hogan Assessments

These assessments have emerged triumphant against rigorous psychometric testing. Indeed, there are hundreds of published academic articles, white papers, and book chapters that explore the reliability and validity of the assessments (Hogan Assessments, 2024).

CliftonStrengths™

CliftonStrengths™ finder from Gallup has extensive research supporting its validation as an assessment tool. Numerous studies have found the assessment to be highly reliable and valid in helping identify individuals’ top strengths (Asplund et al., 2007).

The volume of different leadership assessment tools that are available gives an indication of how valuable leadership development is for organizations and institutions. This is a saturated market, with many companies and individuals seeking to cash in on the popularity of such assessments.

It is therefore important for leaders and organizations to determine which tools are the most rigorous and provide the best value for money.

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Interpreting Leadership Assessments

Once an organization has settled on the leadership tools and assessments they wish to employ, it is important to consider the most appropriate way to interpret the results before putting those results to work.

In many cases, completing leadership assessments leads to no real change. More often than not, this is because organizations simply don’t know what to do with the results. By following the points below, leaders and organizations can get the most value out of their leadership assessments and make progress toward positive change.

Below, we outline a general overview of the interpretation process.

1. Understand & contextualize results

It is always vital to first read the user manual and scoring instructions for any leadership assessment tool. This will help individuals understand their score in line with the assessment criteria. Once a score has been achieved, it is time to consider context. For example, who has taken the test, what is their role, what is the culture like, and what challenges currently exist?

2. Compare results

If possible and where applicable, it is important to compare assessment results to any available benchmark data. Doing so will help provide further insights and context for the results. For example, some results may appear negative or positive at face value but can change drastically when compared to industry standards.

3. Develop action plans & monitor progress

As soon as results have been absorbed, organizations should get to work on an actionable and personalized development plan. This means having specific goals and reasonable timelines for meeting those goals.

Once the plan is set in motion, it is vital to monitor any progress that has been made. Ideally, assessments should be taken periodically to observe changes over time.

4. Integrate & iterate

Leadership assessment outcomes are useless unless they are meaningfully integrated into existing frameworks of leadership best practice.

The most comprehensive understanding of any leader’s effectiveness ought to have assessments embedded into a wider structural model of how to lead. Importantly, organizations must also encourage leaders to keep iterating and improving within a given leadership model.

2 Tools to Further Develop Leadership

Servant LeadershipThe tools discussed so far are no doubt useful. However, as an organization or as a leader, you may want to try something a little different.

In this section, we introduce some lesser-known approaches to leadership that are fast gaining traction and support.

1. Compassion & servant leadership

Servant leadership is an approach to leadership that centers on the needs of the team and others before the leader themselves. Essentially, the leader’s goal is to serve rather than promote their own agenda (Greenleaf, 2002).

There is a significant overlap between the idea of serving the needs of others and leading with compassion, which requires leaders to lean heavily into empathy and kindness (Hougaard & Carter, 2022).

For leaders interested in this approach, a great place to start is by building self-compassion via effective practices such as mindful self-compassion.

For a wonderful illustration of servant leadership and the role of compassion, check out the following TED Talk by Simon Sinek/

Why good leaders make you feel safe - Simon Sinek

2. Authentic leadership

In recent years, the idea of leading authentically, of bringing your entire being to the workplace, has received a lot of scholarly and media attention. Brené Brown (2018) popularized the idea that leaders can create deeper connections with their team if they are able to simply be vulnerable.

Being an authentic leader is not easy, and it takes considerable effort to align your values with your behavior. However, a values clarification exercise is a good place to start.

In the TEDx Talk below, Lars Sudmann homes in on the importance of building self-awareness if leaders want to be successful in leading authentically.

Great leadership starts with self-leadership - Lars Sudmann

These two approaches have something in common: They prioritize a more human-centered way of leading. In such unprecedented times of economic instability, and with greater value being placed on prosocial behavior, organizations and leaders might wish to pave the way as pioneers in positive leadership practices.

17 Exercises To Build Positive Leaders

Use these 17 Positive Leadership Exercises [PDF] to help others inspire, motivate, and guide employees in ways that enrich workplace performance and satisfaction.
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Helpful Resources From PositivePsychology.com

If you are a leader looking for some useful resources to boost your leadership skills and knowledge, then look no further.

Why not start with the Maximizing Strengths Masterclass©, which offers a stellar route to boosting leadership skills? This masterclass comprises a six-module training program where leaders can expect to learn about strength theory, how to build strength awareness, and how to develop and use strengths.

The following worksheets may also be useful:

  • Create your own Johari Window
    In this worksheet, individuals are invited to build self-awareness by creating their own 2×2 Johari Window matrix. First, individuals choose five words from a list that best describe them, then they ask three colleagues to do the same. These are then added to the matrix to showcase what an individual knows about themselves versus what is hidden yet seen by others.
  • Identify overuse of character strengths
    This worksheet helps individuals build awareness of strengths usage by asking them to reflect on a time or situation when a strength was overused. Overuse of strengths can have unexpected negative consequences; therefore, being able to employ strengths at the right time and with the right frequency is a vital leadership skill.
  • Emotional awareness log
    One excellent way to develop the ability for emotional intelligence is to work on emotional awareness. This is a simple worksheet that provides individuals with a log so that they can track their daily emotions, along with information such as the situation that triggered the emotion, bodily sensations that accompanied the emotion, thoughts and beliefs that accompanied the emotion, and what behavior or action was triggered.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop positive leadership skills, check out this collection of 17 validated positive leadership exercises. Use them to equip leaders with the skills needed to cultivate a culture of positivity and resilience.

A Take-Home Message

Leadership assessments can offer individuals and organizations valuable insights into their performance and potential.

With so many assessment tools available today, the real challenge is for leaders and organizations to discern which tools are right for them. This means considering how robust the tool is from a scientific perspective.

Despite the shortcomings of those tools that have not been researched in the same way, they can still be helpful if they allow for enhanced self-awareness. However, results should not be taken too seriously.

Ultimately, these tools can only tell an individual so much; the important question is how leaders then use that information for positive action.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Leadership Exercises for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Leadership can be assessed in a number of different ways. The most common assessment method is 360-degree feedback, where leaders seek feedback on their performance from those they manage and those above them. Other ways to assess leadership are via psychological measurement tools such as CliftonStrengths™ finder.

The leadership legacy test is an assessment of an individual’s instinctive leadership style — that is, the natural behavioral tendencies toward ways of working and being. The test comprises 30 multiple-choice questions and was designed by Robert Galford and Regina Fazio Maruca (2006).

Leadership evaluation has many benefits, namely bringing awareness to performance and identifying strengths and gaps that can be focused on. But also, leadership assessments can help shape team dynamics and a positive working culture.

To prepare for a leadership assessment, take some time to reflect on your leadership approach and your ways of working. This should place you in a good position to answer assessments honestly and to make the most of any feedback received.

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