After being in this business for over two decades, it continues to irk me that many assessment, leadership development firms and academic institutions are still peddling what I call “fluff.”

When we started CDR on October 5, 1998, we began with this quote (which we edited for gender parity in 2017)

The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him, or her, their own.”

– Benjamin Disraeli

Through our 20 years in business, we have proudly used the following phrases:

  • “We don’t teach fish to fly.”
  • “Find your true talent.”
  • “Take a deep dive into your own self-awareness.”

We continue to use these statements to explain our assessment results and unique approach to leadership development and coaching.

For us, it is most important to provide accurate insights that are clear, thorough, deep, candid, and honest. What continues to astonish me, however, is that many of our competitors do not deploy this same level of directness and candor.  Or, perhaps, their assessments do not accurately measure leadership capability.

Time and time again, I hear of competing assessment and leadership development companies telling potential clients that they can train anyone to lead.  In fact, two firms we were competing with for a project both told the client that “we can train anyone to lead better.”  This, of course, is not an entirely false statement.  But, it is quite misleading and lends itself to selling unnecessary or misguided “training and coaching” services.

Sure, it is true that you likely can help an individual to do a little better at some select leadership skill.  That modest improvement, however, does not equip the person to be an “effective” leader.  For example, if someone’s ability and comfort level in making decisions is one of many leadership competency gaps for them, or let’s say an “F” rating (in academic terms). With training and individual effort, this might help them improve but only slightly to say a “D” or even a “C”.  The result is this person remains ineffective as a leader overall, though they may have attained a slight improvement in one aspect of leadership.

So, despite some assessment companies, consulting firms and academic institutions claiming they “can train anyone to lead better,” – better– in many cases is still well beneath the level of the minimally acceptable leadership proficiency required.

We’ve had several “leaders” participate in our Authentic Leadership Initiatives, that include coaching, who scored less than 10% (out of 100%) on “Leadership Energy.”  During the coaching and (safe) workshop activities, these individuals readily admitted they were not happy with leadership duties.  They were frustrated and missed the technical aspects of their work.  They found the leadership duties of their job to be drudgery that took them away from what they enjoyed.  They were reluctant to speak up though they were at high levels in their organizations.

Compensation systems often reward the leadership ladder better than technical ladders. So, this is an attraction – more pay.  In addition, companies sometimes promote technical experts because they may communicate proficiently and have mid to high “Sociability” and/or “Interpersonal Sensitivity,” while their “Leadership Energy” is well beneath the needed threshold.  This ability to communicate well as a technical expert makes them shine and stand out, as many technical types lack natural strengths as communicators. Yet, without needed levels of Leadership Energy, they struggle.

So, my caution is, be careful.  Are assessment firms, coaches, and training organizations just telling you what you want to hear or are accustom to hearing?  Or, are they telling you the truth about talent and giving an accurate prediction of success?

Bottom line, not everyone can lead effectively, regardless of how much time and money is spent in the way of training, development, or formal education.  You cannot teach fish to fly.

I’ll bring you back to another eye-opening case to show you what I mean.  This is an excerpt from an article published in WALL STREET JOURNAL where author Jared Sandberg writes about his experience taking assessments and having coaching feedback.

“A personality-assessment test seems unsettling…
…I took three of them, handicapping my chances to swap a cubicle for an office.”

For Sandberg’s research, he took three assessments with:  TTI Performance Systems and Innermetrix, Korn Ferry, and CDR Assessment Group, Inc.

He explained, “Lisa Aldisert of Pharos Alliance who administered the TTI assessment told me ‘You have a high capacity to lead others.’ 

Gary Hourihan of Korn Ferry told me, ‘you are well suited to a management job.’

Nancy Parsons, who debriefed my CDR results, did not agree with the other two assessment providers regarding my leadership ‘potential’.”

Here’s what Jared Sandberg had to say regarding his feedback with CDR:

“The Risk Assessment part of CDR’s tests reveal the me I most recognize. I scored 100% on Hypermoodiness. This means I’m ‘emotionally unpredictable’ (guilty) and expect the worst (guilty). As a leader, I’d create ‘a tenuous environment where associates have no idea what temperament to expect next.’ (Isn’t that required?)

My second-highest risk was Worrier, at 96%. (I have a danger-seeking son and I read the news, what’s not to worry about?) As a manager, I might slow staff progress due to reluctance to make a decision. (That hasn’t stopped anyone before me.)

Lastly, CDR tested Leadership Energy. I scored an abysmally low 6%. That and my low competitiveness grade explains the conclusion of CDR’s Nancy Parsons. She breaks it to me gently: ‘Not everyone should be in a leadership role.’

That puts me, or us, on the list of millions.”

Our unique approach of being direct with people about their “real” potential and talent is something that sets us apart from many. Since 1998, we have held onto the idea that the best way to help people is to honestly identify their true inherent strengths and motivational needs and build on those.

What may shock you is that people truly love this honest feedback. They absorb it, connect with it, and are able to use it through the course of their lives to guide their performance and career path. Our clients have courage. They don’t want spin, fluff, or to be “BS’d.” They appreciate the truth and candor that comes from the accurate assessment results we offer.

Simply put, we aren’t for everybody. We are for those who know that a keen sense of self awareness is the key to leadership and performance success.  We are for those who want to honestly look within in order to perform authentically, in their own shoes, with success and satisfaction.

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