Ask an Expert Posner February 2015

Ask an Expert

Q:  I recently completed the LPI®360 and was interested to learn where I could use improvement in my own leadership practices.  However, I must tell you that I found completing the Observer assessment very frustrating. Why does it seem that I’m asked to respond to the same general questions over and over, each one worded slightly differently or with a slightly different meaning? And why 10 response choices and not a simple 5? 

A: My co-author, Jim Kouzes, and I always appreciate feedback on the Leadership Practices Inventory®—from leaders AND observers—as we continue to investigate the best way to both frame the questions and the responses.  So thank you for that. We’re pleased that you found the LPI360 feedback useful in learning more about your own leadership practices, but sorry to hear that you found completing the LPI challenging. To help explain a bit more about how the instrument has been constructed, here are some observations about the questions you raised: 
  • The general pattern of the questions contained in the LPI instrument repeats each of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® in five-question sequences.  For example, questions 1, 6, 11, 16, 21, and 26 measure Model the Way; questions 2, 7, 12, 17, 22, and 27 measure Inspire a Shared Vision, and so on.  

    This pattern and your reaction to being asked “the same general questions…each one worded slightly differently or with a slightly different meaning”, is based upon sound psychometric properties—most notably the concept of reliability.  That is, a single data point (or question) is not very reliable (think "consistent" or open to multiple explanations) vs. a series of data points that continue to focus on an equivalent idea.  

    Empirically, there are measures of internal reliability that evaluate how well several questions hang together (are correlated with one another). As Jim and I have been analyzing LPI data now for over 35 years, our studies consistently show that the six items from each Leadership Practice scale have quite high reliabilities, making us extremely confident that the items on the LPI are indeed measuring the same thing and not different things. The other common statistical rule that we consider is one of “large numbers,” meaning that the more times you ask a question the more reliable the response. If you watch detective shows on TV, for example, you will often see suspects expressing the same frustration about being asked the same question or slightly different ones over and over again. Police investigators are following a similar rule of inquiry. 
  • Regarding your question of using a 5- vs. 10-point scale…you should know that the LPI originally had a five-point response scale. However, most people told us that this didn't allow them enough space to differentiate between their responses. So instead of going for a “meat cleaver” approach with this instrument, we revised it to be more of a “scalpel” using a 10-point scale. In addition, we and others have empirically tested the lineup of these responses and most folks are okay with their order, even if sometimes being uncomfortable with teasing out the difference between, for example, “seldom” and “rarely” or “frequently” and “often”.  

    From a reliability perspective, the more chances Observers have to use this scale  the clearer it becomes whether an individual Observer is leaning one way or the other in his/her response. For the leader, there are multiple opportunities to see which way people are “leaning” overall on these numbers/responses.  Having multiple Observers also increases the reliability of the feedback using that same “law of large numbers” principle.  

    We recently completed an extensive review of the LPI, over two years, involving more than 150,000 respondents.  While we found that the vast majority of statements on the current LPI are commonly understood and applicable across a variety of circumstances, we found that we could tweak the wording of a few questions and increase not just the empirical reliability of the measure, but also the conceptual and practical understanding.  We will eventually be releasing an exciting new update to the assessment. In a future review, we’ll also be revisiting the response scale and will take into consideration feedback, like yours, from users of the LPI that can continue to earn us the claim “as the most trusted source when it comes to developing leaders.” 
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 a thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.


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