Clear vision comes from understanding of self

By Timothy Bentley
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/19/2002

A lack of self-understanding is one of the greatest causes of failure among leaders. It’s not a matter of inadequate technical skills — an inability to read a balance sheet or write a good strategic plan.

Some of the most brilliant executives have tunnel vision — they’re blind to the personality forces that drive them, unaware of their impact on other people. Eventually those limitations can lead to serious trouble or stall their careers. For these executives, leadership coaching has turned out to be the most reliable route to enlightenment. And the foundation of its value is a thorough assessment.

The shared process of assessment

Assessment is a process of discovery. Both coach and coachee work as a team to understand what makes the coachee tick. Although coaching begins with a formal period of assessment, it doesn’t end there. Throughout the process, the coaching team should continue to assess and re-assess. The more complete the assessment, the more effective the coaching. It enables leaders to view themselves from a more panoramic perspective. They learn to read the logic of their own confusing patterns and understand how others see them. As a result, they approach issues with newfound clarity and greater effectiveness.


Just as a swimmer checks out what’s below the dark surface of the water before diving in, the coaching team sets out systematically to uncover key data, which will empower the coaching process. This includes:

•structure and politics of the workplace (opportunities and restrictions);

•official scope of the coachee’s job — and the unspoken but real responsibilities;

•inner strengths (frequently unrecognized) that will propel the coachee through the challenging journey of growth;

•personality factors that have tripped up the coachee in the past, or might derail future development;

•impact of home and family on performance in the workplace;

•level of self-awareness;

•awareness of a coachee’s impact on others; and

•ability to handle conflict and uncertainty.


To support this discovery, there are three invaluable sets of assessment tools.


The guided interview.

Professional coaches generally use a written guideline for assessment interviews. Its most practical form is a wide-ranging questionnaire, with plenty of blank space for the coach to fill in details as the interview proceeds. Many coaches invest a great deal of effort upfront to develop guides, making them sufficiently comprehensive and applicable to virtually any coaching situation.


Self assessments.

A number of powerful tests can be administered and interpreted by the coach including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, situational leadership questionnaires, leadership IQ tests, and negotiating and conflict style profiles. In general, these rely on the individual to do a thorough self-assessment.


360-degree feedback.

This tool widens the horizon of the coachee’s view of self by answering two questions: How do others in the workplace see the coachee’s strengths and weaknesses, and how well does the coachee see what others see? 360-degree feedback presents information from peers, direct reports, supervisors, and others who know the coachee well.

Timothy Bentley is co-author (with Esther Kohn-Bentley) of

Leadership Coaching for the Workplace

(Irwin Publishing: 2002), and Chief Operating Officer of PanoramicFeedback Inc. For more information contact or 1-888-790-6793.

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