Earlier this week, a coaching client asked me if I had a recommendation or two for assessment tools he could utilize with his leadership team. I’ve never been a big fan of these, to begin with, and the last one I had done was years ago. I suggested StrengthsFinders, the book, and survey that’s included in Tom Rath’s book of the same title.
I shared that if I was to work with any of these, it would be this one for two reasons. First, I like the focus on leveraging our strengths as opposed to “fixing” our weaknesses — or in corporate-speak our “opportunities.” Perhaps more importantly, I noted that this tool doesn’t provide a formulaic type based on the results of the test.
If you’ve ever done assessments like Myers Briggs, you know they tell you for example, that you’re The Inspector, The Crafter, The Protector, or one of 16 very unique personality types. Yes, very, very unique….Another new and popular one is The Enneagram which will let you know that you’re one of nine different types such a Reformer, Helper, or Individualist.
For clarification, my wife reminded me that in fact, StrengthFinder maps participant strengths into 34 sub-themes i.e. analytical, futuristic that are part of four overarching themes including Strategic Thinking, Relationship Building, and others. So much for my memory since I hadn’t done these for a while.
The more I thought about this concept and the growing industry of putting people in convenient little boxes and personality types, the more I realized what a strong need and desire we have for tidiness, convenience and efficiency. What’s even more concerning than this approach being utilized in workplaces is that our children are subject to this experience.
I’ve been away from this world for a while (I’m the proud dad of a 25-year-old daughter) but a google search quickly brought me to a plethora of these tools such as the HighScope COR, Teaching Strategies GOLD, and the Work Sampling System. Wow — all that before they even get to high school and the real fun begins. It’s all about measurement whether we’re 4, 14, 40 (I don’t know why I picked the 4 thing but I went with it)
I see this labeling or typing approach as truly damaging as it goes against our true nature. We’re born innately healthy, creative, resourceful — and able to handle occasional or even lots of messiness and inconvenience. In fact, those moments are often ones where we have the most clarity. Why do we need to classify it?
By making declarations out of a momentary response to a survey — or what is ultimately a thought — we’re shaping futures in the most limiting way possible. That may sound dramatic but I don’t think I’m overstating the impact. When the score, or rating, or typing comes back and we let a child (or an adult) know that they ARE this or ARE NOT that, what a box we’ve put them in! Once someone without a lot of evidence to the contrary is told they’re creative but not analytical (or include any either this but not that), the story is created. That individual’s truth is formed.
What’s the alternative? I’m honestly not sure. But I have been awoken to the need to work on one both for the sake of young people as well as adults. I have a feeling it starts with a willingness to slow down and see the essential gifts of every person and NOT immediately think how to LEVERAGE them. It starts with communication and the patience to listen for the sake of truly hearing instead of immediately choosing a path. And it starts with the realization that it doesn’t matter how many types, strengths, and strategies someone may fit — they are unique and whole — with or without an assessment.