Q. The original concept for the LJI assessment is over ten years old now. How did the idea for this situational judgement test first come to be?
BW: Michael and I met when we were each running our own separate independent management consultancies. We came from different backgrounds and disciplines but shared certain values about effective leadership and its importance in the lives of people and organisations. Initially, we started meeting for our own personal development. The reading and research that we were undertaking and the discussions that we were having inevitably influenced the work we were doing with clients. Their feedback has been really important both in developing our own thinking and establishing the need for the situational judgement test which became the LJI. Initially, we used it in our own consulting work, then it was used by colleagues who recognised its value. It was, therefore, a working instrument when we started to talk with Hogrefe about it being published.
ML: After realising the very different yet complementary skills we both brought to the table we decided a useful focus for our future dialogue would be ‘leadership’; we agreed it could become a vehicle that we could use as a way of cross-cultivating ideas and pursuing a joint journey to make organisations healthier places. We agreed that organisational health could be defined as the sum of dynamic interactions that go on at any one point in time between the leaders and the people who report to them. We then set out to search for a methodology that would allow us to both measure and influence ‘organisational health’ and we came upon the PhD thesis of Richard Field. His thesis, ‘A test of the Vroom-Yetton Contingency Model of Leadership Behaviour’ was an incredible find and one that set us firmly on our journey. Richard’s PhD introduced us to a unique type of situational judgement testing which is based upon a set of rules for effective leadership behaviour; Richard showed that the Vroom-Yetton model was particularly good at predicting when leaders could be at their most effective when dealing with practical, real life situations.
Q. In your opinions, how has the practice of assessing leaders changed since that time?
BW: On an optimistic day, I hope that fewer organisations are suffering from executive whim – something that a participant on a training programme that I was running described as ‘focusing management attention depending on articles in in-flight magazines’. More organisations consist of people from a wide range of cultures and people are becoming more informed about the importance of recognising this. The use of the LJI and other psychometrics has helped hugely in helping people realise that genuine measures can improve the results which had previously relied entirely on “gut feeling”.
ML: Since Bob and I started working together and exploring how to effectively assess leadership, we have observed a burgeoning array of tests and tools for colourfully assessing leadership traits, style and competence. However, there is still a dearth of measures that seek to assess the wisdom that leaders employ when engaging with their reporting colleagues. SJTs get closest, but all competitors adopt an entirely different approach to scoring than our principle-driven methodology.
Q. The LJI Suite now consists of assessments covering standard leadership, global leadership and sales leadership, as well as a nifty interactive tool called the Leadership Judgement Assessor. How did you first see the utility in a number of different assessments?
ML: It must be emphasised that the leadership decision-making Suite is built upon very firm foundations. The Suite is built upon a set of principles for effective leadership decision-making. The scenarios within the LJI have been written using those principles so that they are each ‘pure’ types of the eight possible styles within our decision-making taxonomy.
The LJI Series seek to assess a person’s current Judgement and Preferences for those styles (i.e. the person’s present status and achievement in leadership decision-making). The LJI takes a number of different forms (e.g. Sales, Global, etc) so that respondents can be gauged against peers with whom they identify using scenarios that hold good face validity. The LJA provides another important and complementary assessment. The LJA asks the person to examine their own leadership behaviour within their own workplace. It then explores their willingness and ability to grow in their leadership judgement and practice – whether the person is prepared, willing and able to grasp the principles and use them in a way which shows that they do this thoughtfully and developmentally in the real world. Thus, the two approaches are complementary to each other. The LJI looks at the person’s current state whilst the LJA explores what they can possibly achieve in the future. The underlying principles, upon which they are both built, then provide the methodology to help the person grow in their leadership decision making.
BW: It’s very straight forward; it has come from client needs. The G-LJI was developed in response to a need from a global chemical company who were already making significant use of the standard LJI. They wanted an instrument based on the same model which would help them explicitly address the development of more senior managers who were facing the challenges of leading in a global environment. Similarly, the S-LJI resulted from sales directors saying things like ‘I know it’s all about leading people but Sales is different’. In order for people to engage, it was important to have scenarios in the S-LJI that reflected the types of challenges which sales leaders faced.
Q. LJI is used in both selection and development. Can you speak to the importance of assessing leadership in both areas?
ML: Some time ago I was talking to the HR Director of a large company. We were studying the psychometric results of the Marketing Department following a period of recruitment. Fascinatingly, we were able to compare and contrast the profiles of a newly appointed marketing director with the successful candidate who had recently been appointed to a product manager position. The marketing director and the product manager were both as bright as each other on the aptitude tests administered. Moreover, it was also not surprising to see that they had very similar personality structures; people drawn to marketing often have similarities of personality that draw them to this profession. Nevertheless, it was very clear that, when observed within the business, the marketing director and the product manager behaved very differently, especially in their use of power. The marketing director was much more sophisticated and effective in her leadership of people.
So what was the differentiating factor? This was only evident when the results of the LJI were studied. Then it was very clear that the Judgement of the marketing director was significantly stronger than that of the younger and less experienced product manager. The LJI showed this graphically, not only with the Overall Judgement score but also with more elevated scores in each of the four main styles. Although leadership ‘judgement’ is an ‘ability’, it is not a fixed entity like IQ is purported to be. Leadership judgement is seen as something that can be developed; therefore, the product manager still had the opportunity to grow and develop in their leadership judgement.
BW: In talking with Hogrefe’ s customers, I don’t need to emphasise the importance of assessments being rigorous and psychometrically robust. When selecting candidates for key roles, getting the best possible evidence to help predict the likely future behaviour of the candidate is obviously critical. At Formula 4 Leadership, we have a fundamental belief that the effectiveness of a leader can be developed. Properly presented, the LJI results can help a person to recognise the current and predictable impact that their leadership approach is having both on their colleagues and themselves. My experience is that this helps people to recognise and articulate more clearly their development needs. At that point, the clarity of the conceptual model and its underlying research based principles, help the development process. The LJI’s unique approach in identifying preference and judgement scores for each style is an enormously powerful support.
Q. Finally, who have you looked up to as a leader – personally or in the public forum – and what style of preferred leadership would you have imagined them having?
BW: The most powerful impact comes from people you really know. It’s interesting that this is not just a personal anecdotal response but one which is confirmed by research which shows that the most powerful impact on individuals’ engagement is the relationship which they have with their immediate line manager. Consequently, three of the strongest influences on me have been my father, my history teacher who taught me when I was 14 and my first ever boss. Suffice it to say that they have had a long-term impact on my approach to things.
In a more light-hearted fashion, ever since I was a boy I have been excited by the stories about Nelson as a leader. His ability to build the famous “band of brothers” amongst the sea captains who reported to him must have been extraordinary, given the extreme challenges they were facing and the limited opportunities for regular communication.
ML: In answer to this question I would like to talk about my mentor, boss and task master, Roberta Grimes. Roberta was the Pastoral Deputy Headteacher in a very large upper school where I was the Head of Year. It was a 13 form entry school and I had approaching 400 students in my care. Roberta provided leadership to me and helped me grow and develop in my own leadership over the 400 students and 18 members of staff who reported to me on the pastoral side. I am someone who is, in the language of Meredith Belbin’s team role typology, a Plant, so I had a great desire to develop and introduce new ideas into my practice. I believe that I was able to do this, and that it was facilitated by the leadership that Roberta was able to exert. She was a wonderfully empowering leader who gave me the space and opportunity to express myself professionally. However, she was also able to exert control at appropriate times in order to put a ‘touch on the tiller’ so that I could, where needed, adjust my approach to maintain a direction that was always in keeping with the ethos of the school and which supported the academic staff and the educational development of the students in my care. Roberta provided that leadership and undoubtedly helped me develop to the point where I was ready to embark on the next stage of my career, in my training as an educational psychologist.