Strong leadership is the foundation of any successful business. When the right people are given managerial responsibility, companies typically see a boost in employee morale, increased collaboration and productivity, and higher staff retention rates.
All of this stems from natural leadership ability. Those born to lead possess key competencies like effective communication, problem solving, delegation, decision making and motivational skills.
Unlike technical competencies and business specific knowledge, these skills cannot be taught, but rather are inherent to the individual.
The problem many employers face is identifying these qualities in candidates for managerial roles. They're difficult to measure through CVs and interviews alone, which is where aptitude tests add value to the recruitment process.
Through this complementary method of assessment, employers can gain deeper insight into an applicant's instinctive leadership abilities.
Aptitude tests are designed to measure a number of things. They can tell you about an individual's natural capabilities and capacity for learning, as well as giving an indication of how well they perform under pressure.
They're commonly used in recruitment and selection to narrow down the candidate pool, and identify those with the greatest potential.
It is because of their ability to uncover what is otherwise difficult to judge that aptitude tests are such a valuable tool for assessing leadership skills. Tests like numerical, verbal and logical reasoning can show up competencies including communication, critical thinking and analysis, problem solving, and attention to detail – all vital for effective leadership.
Also commonly used are situational judgement tests, which measure practical intelligence and behavioural tendencies. These can offer real insight into a candidate's managerial style by giving them that level of responsibility in a hypothetical scenario.
Aptitude tests are often used alongside other forms of psychometric assessment, like personality questionnaires, to establish a well rounded candidate profile.
What this gives the employer is context. An applicant may look strong on paper and give an impressive performance at interview, but in reality lack the natural abilities needed to fulfil the role effectively.
Assessing leadership skills
A bad hire for a managerial position can prove a costly affair. Recruitment expenses, loss of productivity and the salary paid to an unsuitable employee all mount up, so it's vital that leadership skills take precedence in the selection process.
To measure these, employers need to adopt a multilayered approach that covers core skills, personal attributes like emotional intelligence, and managerial styles. They should also look for results based evidence of a candidate's leadership abilities.
Aptitude tests cover many of these areas, but they are not the only method used to assess leadership skills, nor should they be. They should form one part of a wider process, in which the interview still plays an integral role.
Questions to assess leadership skills
When constructing questions to assess leadership skills, aim for competency-based questions that give real world examples of how a candidate:
- Motivates a team to achieve a common goal
- Manages conflict between team members
- Collaborates in the creation of new ideas and achieves buy in
- Keeps track of workloads and delegates fairly
- Takes ownership of strategic decisions and shows integrity
Here are some examples of questions that can uncover a candidate's true leadership qualities, regardless of whether they have past management experience or not.
Tell us about a time you were involved in a project that went off course. What were the failings, and how did you get it back on track?
Every candidate is likely to have experience of a team project that didn't go to plan. Those with leadership skills will avoid placing blame, take ownership for their own part, and demonstrate creative problem solving and collaboration.
Give us an example of when you've experienced ineffective leadership. How would you have handled things differently if in the leadership role yourself?
For those that lack managerial experience, this question gives them the chance to explain their understanding of what constitutes good leadership by identifying its opposite. It also gives an opportunity to demonstrate their preferred approach.
Explain a scenario in which you motivated a coworker to achieve their highest potential.
Good leaders encourage others to be the best that they can be. This question gives the candidate a chance to prove they're capable of motivating others, and that they're more interested in inspiring achievement than selfish gain.
Using aptitude tests to assess leadership
When considering whether or not to use them as a way of assessing leadership qualities, it's important to understand the pros and cons of aptitude tests so you can make an informed decision.
They offer objectivity - though interviews are a critical part of the recruitment process, their outcome can be swayed by unconscious bias. You may have a preference for a candidate on a personal level, but that doesn't necessarily make them the strongest applicant. Aptitude tests allow you to measure leadership skills objectively.
They level the playing field - one of the key benefits of aptitude tests is that they indicate potential. Instead of basing your decision on past experience, which may or may not be as impressive as it sounds, you can judge candidates based on natural ability. It's a fair method of assessment that helps identify top talent.
They match culture fit - a leadership style that was effective in one organisation may not transfer to another. The right people to lead your teams will not only have the skills, they'll also share your company values and align with your working culture. Situational judgement and personality tests are a great way to ensure the right fit.
They don't give the whole picture - though aptitude tests can highlight many of the skills required for effective leadership, they do have some holes. Consider things like self confidence, public speaking and presentation skills. These are all qualities a leader should possess, but since they can't be measured through aptitude tests they'll require an alternative method of assessment.
Anxiety can be a contributing factor - for some, the pressure alone is enough to affect their performance on an aptitude test, and their results may not be a true reflection of their capability. That said, if a candidate struggles in stressful situations, they may not have what it takes to be an effective leader.
They can be misinterpreted - aptitude tests are based on principles of psychology and need professional analysis to avoid misinterpretation. The best way to overcome this downside is to work with a reputable test provider.
Are aptitude tests reliable?
The continued widespread use of aptitude tests, particularly among leading global corporations, indicates a level of high reliability. When used effectively, they form a valuable part of the recruitment process, assisting employers in making well informed hiring decisions.
The key is to understand them for what they are - complementary assessment tools that work hand in hand with traditional techniques. Provided you use them wisely, and assess candidates from a holistic point of view, aptitude tests can indeed be relied on to identify those with true leadership potential.