Ask an Expert: November 2015

Q:  In working with a client to debrief the Leadership Practices Inventory® (LPI®), several leaders had questions about how the percentile ranking is calculated.  Can you provide the background on this to help me explain? 

A: As you know, the LPI has been extensively applied in many organizational settings—academia and government, healthcare and technology, non-profits and for-profits. In fact, it is one of the most widely used 360-degree leadership assessment instruments available. And for over 30 years now, my co-author Jim Kouzes and I have continuously gathered and analyzed LPI data for ongoing study and to make refinements to the instrument. 

We recently released a new report, Bringing the Rigor of Research to the Art of Leadership that reflects data gathered through December 2014 (including LPI Online data gathered since 2004). The current database includes responses from approximately 2.5 million individuals and is used to produce the normative information contained in the LPI Feedback Report and to calculate the percentile rankings. 

As the Percentile Ranking page of the LPI Feedback Report explains, the leaders and observers who make up the LPI database include a mix of males and females (approximately 55% male, 45% female). They come from all levels within all types of organizations and from 72 countries around the world. When debriefing the LPI with leaders then, what you are seeing is his or her results compared to what is now more than 2.5 million people who have completed the LPI: approximately 18% completed the LPI Self while 82% participated in the 360-degree feedback process as Observers. Among the LPI Observers, Managers account for 11.9%, Co-workers 32.0%, Direct Reports 26.1%, and the remaining identify themselves as Others.  

The percentile rankings are benchmarking numbers, determined by the percentage of people who scored at or below a given number. For example, say your leader’s Self score for Challenge the Process is at the 70th percentile line. It means that his or her score (use of the six behaviors) is higher in that Practice than 70 percent of all the scores in the database—in the top 30% for that Practice. And remember, this is not about percentages but, rather, about percentiles. It’s about where the leader’s score falls on the scale in comparison to other leaders in the database—NOT how many of the items associated with a particular Practice the leader got “right.”

Regardless of job function, industry, hierarchical position, or geography—and despite possible individual differences of age, education, ethnicity, and gender—The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® have consistently been found by researchers to be related to positive employee and organizational outcomes, as measured and validated by the LPI. In addition to our own ongoing research, over 700 studies by other scholars and researchers have been conducted using the LPI as a research instrument and continue to confirm the relationship between The Five Practices and a variety of measurable outcomes such as job satisfaction, employee commitment, and sales performance. Because of the LPI's demonstrated psychometric properties—strong reliability and validity—educators and practitioners alike remain confident in using the LPI to further understand what it takes to be an effective leader.

Barry Posner is the Accolti Endowed Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, where he served as Dean for 12 years. Together with Jim Kouzes, he is author of The Leadership Challenge—now in its fifth edition—and over thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.

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