Ask an Expert June 2019

Ask an Expert

Q: I have had questions from Observers before about why there is no N/A option on the LPI®. But recently I received feedback that was a bit more strident in tone as this colleague described why he was unable to complete the assessment: “It asks questions that I cannot answer because they relate to her (the leader’s) day-to-day work, but does not give N/A as an option nor permit me to leave a question unanswered; these questions are inappropriate for a 360 directed to an external peer.” Can you help me respond?

A: From the 30+ years of research, we know that all of the items are relevant and applicable to people who are attempting to lead. The LPI® was established to measure how frequently each of the 30 behaviors have been observed, not to judge how well each is done or how applicable each is. This frequency score provides valuable feedback to the leader being assessed.

Many times respondents want to substitute N/A when they do not feel they have the opportunity to observe the leader’s behavior. “I have no way of knowing if this leader gives people freedom and discretion in how they do their work, so the question is non-applicable.” The question is still very applicable to the leader. So based on the survey design, the accurate response would be to indicate that “I rarely or infrequently see the behavior.” My belief is that people want to resist providing these lower scores (1-3) to people they care about, and N/A eliminates the feeling of hurting someone with low scores. That may benefit the respondent, but does little for the person being assessed.

That being said, if respondents truly believe they have not had ample opportunities to witness a leader engage in these leadership behaviors, they should not complete the survey.

Personally, when asked to complete an LPI® 360 for a colleague or peer with whom I interact frequently, but not on a daily basis, I try to assess the frequency of all 30 leadership behaviors as accurately as possible. If I feel that a statement does not apply to this particular leader, it is typically because I don’t see or experience the behavior personally. That doesn’t mean that the leader does not engage in the behavior; I am indicating simply that the leader does not engage in the behavior around me. In that case I assign a rating of 3 or lower and then offer some explanation of lower scores in one of the narrative questions.

For additional thoughts and guidance on how you might respond, check out author and researcher Barry Posner’s response to a similar question—one of the most frequently asked about the LPI®. Read More.

Steve Coats,
Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge, is managing partner and co-owner of International Leadership Associates, a leadership development education and consulting firm. For over 25 years, Steve has taught, coached, and consulted with executives and all levels of managers around the world in leadership development, team development, personal growth, change, and business strategy. Steve can be reached at



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