Great leaders. We know them when we see them, but how can we identify those high-potential employees who will one day run their organizations? Workforce planners have been warning for years of the impending wave of baby boomer retirements. Many organizations are finally heeding those warnings and taking steps to identify and nurture leadership talent.
While professionals in psychology have been in the forefront of leadership assessment for many decades, some fascinating new approaches have recently emerged that allow organizations to maximize the use of technology, and these are gaining broad acceptance in corporate America and in local, state, and federal government organizations.
In this article, we provide a brief overview of leadership theory and research, some background on the traditional assessment center process, and detailed descriptions of three of the latest approaches to leadership assessment, along with case studies drawn from public and private organizations. We conclude with some suggestions for new directions in leadership simulation design.
The first of the new approaches we shall describe is the Telephone Assessment Program (TAP), which was created by one of the authors of this review, Seymour Adler, PhD. TAP was one of the earliest attempts to take the complex and costly assessment center process and make it more efficient.
A later innovation that will be described here is LEADER, which is a mini assessment center on computer. Aon Consulting was the first company to market the fully automated leadership simulation developed by Kirk Rogg, PhD. Sadly, Dr. Rogg passed away in 2007, ending a brilliant career much too soon. This article is dedicated to Dr. Rogg, as well as to Dr. Mark Lifter, the former head of the Aon Consulting Talent Solutions practice, who supported the LEADER research.
The third approach we describe, Video-Based Assessment Centers, is another attempt to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of an assessment center process by using videotape in creative ways. David M. Morris, PhD, JD, president of Morris & McDaniel and the designer of this innovative, streamlined assessment system, is also one of the authors of this review.
What Does the Leadership Research Tell Us?
We are fortunate to have an excellent summary of the history of leadership theory and research in the form of a 2007 special issue of the American Psychologist. (1) This issue begins with a compelling quote by Robert Sternberg: "The United States became a great nation because of the leadership skills of the Founding Fathers. Whether it will remain a great nation will depend, in large part, on the leadership skills of those in power today." (2) So, with the success of our organizations, our government, and our future depending upon our leaders, what should those responsible for developing tomorrow's leaders be assessing?
Assessing the Person
Zaccaro has summarized the evolution of trait-based leadership theories. (3) He began with the earliest leadership studies and their emphasis on the unique attributes of leaders that were inherited and part of leaders' genetic makeup. (4) Zaccaro indicated that this perspective, suggesting that leadership qualities were traits that were largely immutable and not amenable to development, guided the preponderance of the leadership research into the 20th century until Stogdill and others suggested that trait-based leadership was insufficient to explain leaders' effectiveness. (5) Zaccaro added, "This rejection [of trait-based leadership] was widespread and long lasting, and it echoed in most of the major social and industrial and organizational psychology textbooks for the next 30 to 40 years." (6)
Zaccaro noted that in the 1980s, charismatic and transformational leadership models again surfaced, emphasizing extraordinary qualities of individuals as determinants of those people's effectiveness. …