For the past seven years, I’ve been an academic administrator in two Christian universities. I’ve served as the dean of a school within one university, and I now serve as another university’s provost (chief academic officer). I manage a leadership team of about a dozen direct reports. I also teach courses in the field of leadership and periodically speak to various groups and organizations on the topic of leadership.
In my world, we talk a lot about assessments. Many of these assessments are related to personality types. Others address particular skills. Still others are related to concepts like Emotional Intelligence. Since my context is explicitly Christian, we even talk about spiritual gifts assessments.
I think assessments are often useful tools for helping individuals understand how they are wired, develop as leaders, and learn how to navigate team dynamics. I’ve taken assessments, administered assessments to others, and taught students about the value of assessments. The best assessments use common grace insights and sometimes even overtly biblical principles to help individuals grow in their personal and professional development.
But there can be an unintended dark side to assessments. I’ve known individuals who have struggled with low self-worth or been paralyzed as leaders because they wished their assessment results were different. I’ve known other individuals who have used their assessment scores to provide cover for bad habits and even sinful tendencies. I’ve known still others who treat assessments as if they are infallible pronouncements rather than tools that may or may not be helpful.
As believers, we need to think Christianly about assessments. When I teach on assessments, I share the following four principles with my students:
- First and foremost, your identity is found in Christ rather than assessments. If you are in Christ, you aren’t ultimately defined by your personality type, your strengths, or your Enneagram score. You aren’t even defined by your spiritual gifts. You’ve been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). You’ve been adopted into God’s spiritual family (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5). Your old self has died, and now your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). You are so much more than the scores on your assessments. The most important thing that can be said about you is that you are united with Christ by grace, through faith.
- Assessments can be valuable, but even the most helpful ones are never infallible. They are instruments created by people. They aren’t inspired by the Lord. This means that assessments can be wrong. Sometimes, they are wrong in their worldview assumptions. Other times, the scores you receive might not accurately reflect your personality, strengths, etc. Here is the thing to remember: assessments are never substitutes for the Bible, which alone is our ultimate authority for faith and practice. When you have doubts about an assessment, put it aside and look to the Scriptures.
- Input received from others around you is often more valuable than assessments. No man is an island. We were created for community. It is often the case that our co-workers (including those who work for us) have better insights into our personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses than an impersonal assessment. Also, we all know there is a temptation with assessments to offer the answers you think you should rather than the ones that are actually most accurate. Here is a good rule of thumb: when an assessment tells you one thing, but most of the people you work with tell you something else, listen to the latter.
- Assessments aren’t unchangeable prophetic words pronounced over you. Here’s the thing: people change. We learn new skills and sharpen existing ones. We train ourselves to act contrary to our personality’s “default factory setting” when necessary. We are resilient and adaptable. And as believers, we are being sanctified. None of us is trapped by our assessment results. And none of us has a right to be lazy or unteachable because of assessments. We should always be growing—for God’s glory, our good, and the sake of those around us.
I’m thankful for quality assessments. They can be a valuable window into who you are and how you lead. If you are wondering, I’m an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs assessment. My Enneagram type is 5w6. My top five CliftonStrengths are (1) Intellection; (2) Learner; (3) Input; (4) Maximizer; (5) Context. And I have the spiritual gifts of leadership/administration and teaching. But this is only a partial and imperfect snapshot of who I am as a man and a leader. God is at work in my life. And I’m sure of this: that he who began a good work in me will bring it completion through Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6) as he conforms me to the image of his Son according to his eternal purposes (Rom. 8:29). That is far better news than anything an assessment will ever say about me.