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Avoiding Bias When Evaluating Executives

I read an excellent article by Ron Carucci that appeared in the Harvard Business Review in December 2018. It discussed the need to go beyond symptoms when dealing with a leader who causes conflict.

The author advises looking at contradictions and breaks in the individual’s patterns of behavior to identify factors that might be affecting his or her performance.

He also notes that, when evaluating an individual, coaches need to be aware of their own personal biases. I agree this is critical. We all have life experiences and past relationships that lead us to false conclusions, and, based on this, one might conclude that any coaching relationship should begin with “objective testing”.

Interestingly enough, however, I’ve found that I can also be biased by seeing the results of a personality assessment before I meet with the individual.

Although such tests are developed with the goal of increasing objectivity, coachees will sometimes fill them out with a view to providing the “right” answers.

By meeting with leaders before they take any assessments, I have a chance to form my own impressions without being influenced by test results.

This isn’t to say that assessment tools aren’t valuable; in addition to coaching, I’ve done over 3,000 assessments. But, when coaching, I try to avoid letting any assessment set the framework for my understanding of the individual.

There’s another reason that I like to talk with executives before they fill out personality assessments. If we’ve been able to connect and they’ve become more relaxed about the coaching process,they’re more inclined to give candid answers on the test. And this makes the results more useful.

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