Why I Don’t Rely On Assessments in My Executive Coaching Practice

I’m anti-assessment in my executive coaching practice. 

Yes, I have a consulting business with a thriving assessment component, using the Predictive Index assessment suite to align team dynamics and individual skill sets with business goals. For the record, I know of no more powerful tool for hiring, team building, succession planning and bias removal. It’s downright magical. And yes, I also use the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Assessment instrument with my Vanderbilt negotiation students. I’m even a card-carrying Enneagram 2 dying to know what number you are. But no, we’re never going to start our one-to-one executive coaching engagement with an assessment.

As many writers have noted, “we see the world not as it is, but as we are.” We cannot help but be the product of the stories we hold to be true about ourselves. Some of these stories serve us in living the lives we want (e.g., I am a commitment to good health), and others do not (e.g. I am not good enough). One of the most important bodies of work in any coaching engagement is understanding our own stories.

Like the green glasses worn by the citizens of Oz in the Wizard of Oz, these stories are the lenses through which we experience the world. They color everything we see while remaining invisible and, as such, are nearly impossible to discern on our own. That’s where good coaching comes in.

One of my favorite client stories is that of a wonderfully intelligent and highly accomplished lawyer who was working with me to define her leadership style in preparation for assuming a very senior executive role. At one point, I called her smart, then watched her smile fall and the color drain from her face. I got curious about what happened in that moment, and haltingly, she shared that she is in fact not smart. At all.

When I asked where she learned that, she began to cry and admitted that in fifth grade, she hadn’t been accepted to the gifted and talented program. In that moment, a 10-year-old girl felt judged as not smart, and 35 years later, that story remained her reality. Much of our coaching engagement was spent undoing that narrative, freeing her up to live into her considerable intelligence.

In our work together, I want to uncover your stories so we can keep the ones that serve you, and free you from those that don’t. The very last thing I want is to feed you new ones, a risk that comes with the territory of assessments. We’re going to take a look at you as you are – what you care about, what you want in life, what might be holding you back from living into the reality you desire.

So our paths might cross on a Predictive Index engagement, and I’ll interpret with gusto the significance of your B drive, for example. You might be a student in my Negotiation class, and we’ll look at TKI’s interpretation of how you handle conflict. But if you and I are working together in a one-to-one coaching engagement, we’ll have no assessments. Because that assessment you took? It might be the very thing standing in the way of your realizing your dreams.


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