LPI Assessment: "Not Applicable" Is Not an Option

Barry Posner

Q: Why is there no option to select 'not applicable' when completing the LPI assessment?

A: As my co-author Jim Kouzes and I often say, "You cannot NOT communicate." Everything we do—and don't do—sends a message. This is especially true for leaders since they are always "saying" something by their actions or non-actions. Therefore, we don't provide an opt-out response of "not applicable" or "no opinion" on any of the LPI assessments for three important reasons:

  1. Answers to all 30 questions are required for empirical reasons. We've been testing and retesting the psychometric properties of the LPI for well over 25 years, and our data tell us that ALL of the 30 LPI items do, in fact, apply to any leader at any level. Nearly 300 other researchers also have conducted studies using the LPI and their conclusions are the same as ours. We know that each item accounts for a percentage of the statistical variance in why a leader is successful on a number of dimensions, including productivity, teamwork, employee satisfaction, and leader credibility. We also know that the more frequently a leader engages in each behavior the more positive the outcomes. Therefore, our tests indicate that each one of the 30 items that assess a leadership practice is an appropriate measure.

Additionally, the psychometric properties of each of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® are based on scales that include responses to six statements (not five or four items). We know that the more items used to construct a scale, the more reliable it will be—that is, the more likely it measures what it purports to measure. In addition, all of the normative data is based on responses to all six statements that measure each leadership practice. If an individual did not have a response to one or more statements that comprise a practice, we would be less confident in both the reliability and validity of their data.

  1. Participants completing the LPI assessment are responding to the question "How frequently does (the leader or self) engage in the behavior described?" and is asked to rate the frequency of each of 30 behaviors on a scale from 'rarely' or 'almost never' to 'almost always'. It is very important to keep this in mind because the rationale for not including a "not applicable" response is based on the nature of the scale. This is a frequency scale; it is not a rating scale about how satisfied the observer is with the leader or how well the leader thinks he or she displays the behavior. It is about how frequently the respondent sees or experiences the behavior. We use the frequency scale because it permits a rating under most conditions.
  2. LPI administrators and leaders are urged to select only those individuals who have "directly observed" the person in a leadership role to participate in the 360-degree feedback process. We assume, therefore, that observers will have enough exposure to the leader to be able to offer assessments of his/her behavior. If that is not the case, then the LPI assessments should be re-distributed to other individuals who have directly observed the leader's actions.

Given these three factors— 1) all 30 items are valid and reliable measures of leadership behavior; 2) behaviors are measured on a frequency scale; and 3) the observer has had direct experience with the leader—a "does not apply" response is not appropriate. If all three conditions are met, then a response from the observer should be possible.

Barry Posner is Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, where he served as Dean for 12 years, at Santa ClaraUniversity. Together with Jim Kouzes, he is author of The Leadership Challenge and over a twenty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.

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