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Why Executive Assessment is Important

The last thing an executive needs in today's demanding workplace is someone or something telling them what they already know. The higher you move within any organization, the less objective the feedback you tend to receive; however, it becomes more critical personally and professionally. The better the quality of the feedback you receive, the better the decisions you can make. Executive coaching combined with executive assessments provides deep insights into areas that with attention lead to enhanced potential. According to outcome-based research, a coach's timely and appropriate use of executive assessment leads to improved personal and organizational outcomes.

The medical model can be a helpful analogy for understanding why executive assessments are important. Consider your last visit to the doctor. You weren't going to the doctor to be told what you already knew, but you needed answers or help with something you couldn't answer alone. You were likely going to the doctor as a reaction to something not being right or proactively to uncover something before it became a problem (or possibly because someone you care about told you to go). At the doctor visit, the assessments likely started with subjective questions, then progressed to more objective measures to pinpoint where additional review or attention might be helpful. Potentially, the doctor then ordered the use of advanced targeted assessments that required a specialist's technical interpretation.

As in the medical analogy, executive assessments come in various formats, providing subjective and objective feedback. Executive assessments have different degrees of sophistication, requiring different qualifications, certifications, or degrees for interpretation, like the difference between a thermometer and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Also, a battery of assessments can take more time to complete and reveal more insightful information than any single assessment alone.

When should You Use Executive Assessments?

The best time to use an executive assessment is typically around transition points in your career or at any time when you are looking for additional objective feedback. You should avoid using an assessment if you don't want feedback that may contradict your perspective, don't have the time to do anything with the feedback, or feel confident you already know everything you need to know. As for how frequently you should use an assessment, each instrument tends to have different spans of time when it is helpful to repeat. The rationale is because some attributes that are measured are more fixed. Think about the difference between our shoe size and weight. While our shoe size tends not to change frequently once we become adults, our weight will tend to fluctuate throughout our lifetime. Some items measured, such as stress, tend to change frequently because most stress drivers are situational.

Types of Executive Assessments

Not all executive assessments are created equal. What is essential to understand when considering different assessments is the:

  • degree of reliability (i.e., consistency)

  • validity (i.e., the accuracy of interpretation)

  • fairness (i.e., equivalence across different populations)

  • type of feedback (group norms or self-reported)

  • education requirements to interpret the results

While no one categorization system exists for executive assessments, the following is a helpful basic working framework:

  • 360 Evaluation – as the name implies, it is a tool to collect feedback from multiple directions relative to the executive's position within an organization about an executive's leadership performance, skills, and contributions. To learn more about 360 evaluation, check out this article on "1 Leadership Tool You Need to Try" or join an upcoming complimentary leadership development webinars.

  • Diagnostic – a type of evaluation that typically has a lesser degree of reliability, validity, or fairness and does not require specialized training to interpret. It may or may not provide norm comparisons versus self-reporting. Typically, you only need to read a book or whitepaper to make sense of the evaluation.

  • Assessment – a type of evaluation that provides normed feedback and may or may not be validated. Typically, assessments require some formal training to interpret.

  • Clinical Assessment – a type of evaluation or test proven to meet reliability, validity, and fairness standards. These types of assessments require advanced education in clinical psychology to interpret.

*Note: If an assessment provider claims their assessment achieves perfect reliability, I tend to walk away. Either they don't know their research studies, their research is not extensive enough, or they are overselling.

What do Executive Assessments Measure?

There are numerous executive assessments and more added all of the time. If you have ever wondered about answers to any of the following questions, there are assessments that can help reveal answers:

  • How can I better connect with others?

  • What are and how can I better leverage my strengths?

  • How can I reduce my stress?

  • Does my approach to leadership match my preferred leadership style?

  • How do I approach conflict, and how can I make conflict work better?

  • Does my approach bring out the best in others?

  • What are my blind spots?

  • How can I make better decisions?

  • How do I bring out the best in people?

Selecting an Executive Assessment

When considering which assessment to use and when to use it, there are many situational factors to consider in addition to what the assessment measures and its reliability, validity, and fairness, such as:

  • organizational culture

  • cost and budget

  • time and availability of the executive

  • the precision of feedback needed

  • the coach's qualifications

The following table lists a few executive assessments and what is measured.

In addition to selecting the right assessment at the right time and for the right reason, it is equally important to select a qualified coach to aid in your understanding of the results. If feedback is not used appropriately, it can lead to drawing the wrong conclusions and potentially do more harm than good. Typically, the more education and qualification, the better the interpretation you will receive, but education is not a replacement for experience. Be sure to get recommendations and learn about the character of the coach before getting started.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy reading our about “What is Executive Coaching?”


Athanasopoulou, A., & Dopson, S. (2018). A systematic review of executive coaching outcomes: Is it the journey or the destination that matters the most? The Leadership Quarterly, 29(1), 70-88.

Athanasopoulou, A., & Dopson, S. (2015). Developing leaders by executive coaching: Practice and evidence (First ed.). Oxford University Press.

Goldstein, G., Allen, D. N., & Deluca, J. (2019). Handbook of psychological assessment. Elsevier Science & Technology.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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