Selecting a team of skilled negotiators, researchers, and leaders? We have some good examples of application processes that aim to find leadership potential. Adam Grant helpfully dissects the weaknesses of the current academic world, with an eye toward industry and even espionage as models.
The O.S.S. engaged a team of psychologists to establish an assessment unit. In 1944, the psychologist Donald W. MacKinnon ran Station S, where for 15 months he oversaw the assessment of hundreds of recruits, putting them through exhaustive personality tests and field trials. Over three and a half days, each candidate had to build up and maintain a comprehensive cover story. The candidates falsified their names, ages, professions and residences, and Dr. MacKinnon’s team evaluated their effectiveness, sending the highest-scoring spies on covert missions.
In 1956, the psychologist Douglas W. Bray pioneered the use of the assessment center in a corporate setting. At AT&T, Dr. Bray and several colleagues developed reliable techniques for evaluating new managers on attributes such as leadership skills, motivation and optimism, and succeeded in predicting the managers’ advancement rates and effectiveness.
Today, at a typical center, applicants spend a day completing a series of individual tasks, group activities and interviews. Some assessments are objectively scored for performance; others are observed by multiple trained evaluators looking for key behaviors.
We should learn from the spymasters and assess students in person.
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