Q: Could you tell me how to interpret the completed LPI Observer questionnaires? For example, if the final mark is 50, what does that really mean? Is it possible to simply say (just an example) 30-40 is poor, 40-50 is acceptable, 50-60 is outstanding?
A: A reasonable question—such as a scholar might approach the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI). However, from a practical standpoint or for purposes of leadership development, we do not categorize individuals or their responses to the LPI questionnaire using words such as "above average" or "below average" or "weak" or "strong." The important thing to remember about the LPI assessment is that it is based on a frequency scale—a ranking that measures how often a leader engages in any one of the 30 behavioral statements. It is not a measure of how pleased one is with their own performance or how satisfied an observer is of the behavior of the leader being assessed.
Our view is that results data from the LPI, overall, represent a baseline for each individual on how frequently he or she currently exhibits key leadership behaviors. Wherever that line is—whether it is 50 or 20— it is not a measure against an ultimate number, say 100. Leadership is more like a race in which there is no finish line, and the best leaders are constantly learning and striving to do better (engaging more frequently) in these leadership practices.
That said, researchers have looked at the distribution of scores for each practice (because the mean and standard deviations for each vary) and have attached labels to them. And you, of course, are welcome to do the same. However, it would be most accurate to refer to these descriptively in empirical terms, rather than terms that describe effectiveness (e.g., poor, acceptable). In this way, you might refer to responses as "above or below the mean," rather than low or high scores.
Barry Posner is Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, where he served as Dean for 12 years, at Santa Clara University. He is co-author of over twenty books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development, including The Leadership Challenge (now in its 4th edition).