One common component of leadership development programs is self-assessments. Self-assessments vary with respect to what they purport to offer, and this is often focused on the user. For example the popular Myers-Briggs and DISC state that they are designed to provide insight to the person’s behaviors and preferences, respectively.

It makes sense that self-assessments are integrated into leadership development programs since self-awareness is widely recognized as a significant component of being an effective leader. Bill George, et al., reported that when the 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness. Daniel Goleman found that, “truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness.” And a study by the Royal Navy found that self-aware leaders were better able to adapt their leadership style to the context of the organization.

With so many self-assessment products out there, it is easy to tell ourselves that if taking one self-assessment and learning some things about ourselves is good, taking many self-assessments and learning even more about ourselves can only be better. It is easy to get caught up in self-assessment overkill and lose sight of the learning from these tools. I worked with a coaching client once who, at our first meeting, showed me the results from all the self-assessments she had done: Myers-Briggs, DISC, StrengthsFinder, Personalysis. Self-assessments were part of her annual professional development plan, and with the encouragement of her managers, she participated in many over the years. She now had several reports, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do with them all.

What I told her was this: even though the purpose and structure of different self-assessments vary, the one thing they have in common is that each helps us understand how we operate in and view the world around us. They increase our self-awareness. Just as importantly, these frameworks also help us realize that other people may have different perspectives and M.O.’s – and this is normal and acceptable.

I wrote in a recent blog post about the importance of realizing that others have a different perspective from our own, and how this realization can improve the quality of our communication and relationships. Years ago, my husband and I were planning a two-week trip to Italy. I wanted to plan the details in advance – bookings for the train, reservations for a tour of the Vatican museums. He wanted to go with the flow – decide on the fly where to go and what to see. This caused some consternation for both of us in our planning. In the middle of this, I happened to take the Myers-Briggs assessment, which reflected back to me that I like things to be planned in advance – no surprises there. The big “a-ha!” moment for me was to understand that there were people out there, and a lot of them, who preferred to go with the flow, like my husband. He was looking at our trip in a way that seemed natural to him, just like I was. It was a huge moment for me to realize that people simply view and operate in the world differently, and this vacation planning was a perfect illustration of that.

Once I truly understood that other approaches were equally valid, it allowed me to feel less frustrated about our planning and more appreciative of my husband’s perspective. In the end, our plans ended up being a great blend of our two approaches. We pre-booked things like the Vatican tour, since we knew it would be popular, and bought our train tickets at the station, which gave us the flexibility for unplanned events, like lingering at an outdoor café to enjoy people-watching in the streets of Rome.

I have gained a great deal from seeing other perspectives as valid as my own. When we participate in self-assessments to learn more about ourselves, I hope that we will not overlook the valuable lessons that we also learn about others.

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