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Developing a Biographical Measure to Assess Leadership Potential

Stricker, Lawrence J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Biographical Inventories, Leadership, Measurement Techniques, Talent Identification, Test Construction


Biographical measures have some real strengths. In common with personality and interest inventories, and similar devices, biographical questionnaires sample a large amount of behavior economically and in a standardized way, and then quantify it objectively. But biographical measures have virtues that are not shared with any other device. They capture directly the past behavior of a person, probably the best predictor of his or her future actions. And they deal with facts about the person's life, not the introspections and subjective judgments that make up the content of personality inventories, and the like. As a result, biographical measures are likely to be less prone to misinterpretation, resistance, and distortion. For these sorts of reasons, biographical measures are widely used in industry and in the military. And they have been consistently found to have substantial value in predicting performance and trainability in a wide variety of jobs throughout the occupational hierarchy, as attested to by Owens' (Mumford & Owens, 1987; Owens, 1976) reviews of validity studies. In view of the popularity and proven value of biographical measures in applied settings—and in spite of the methodological research by Owens and his students (Mumford & Owens, 1987; Owens, 1976)—it is a curious fact that most biographical measures continue to be constructed and used in the same way that they were fifty years ago. More important, these measures continue to have the same serious limitations as their predecessors, limitations that are not inevitable and that prevent these measures from realizing their full potential.

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