What Management Scenario tests really tell us about leadership

I’m terrible at maths and hate numerical reasoning with a passion, but I enjoy management scenario tests. I think I’m quite good at them, plus they are hilarious…

I haven’t done any exams since my A-Levels, and I deliberately chose a degree that had no finals; but I now seem to find myself taking aptitude and psychometric tests in order to access development schemes at work.

After taking one recently, I began to question just what it was that I found so funny about management scenario tests. I generally find the characters and scenarios to be far-fetched, some of the decisions I have to make ludicrous.

But there was one question which really started me thinking:


“You have decided to allocate one of your team members, Susan, who can be problematic…”

I find the use of the word “problematic” to be, well, problematic.

It’s not descriptive. It doesn’t tell me anything about what is wrong with Susan’s performance. So when I answered this question I was forced to rely on lazy stereotyping about Susan in order to make a decision. I’ve written Susan off immediately. Susan could be an erratic “emotional” woman and that’s problematic. Maybe she’s got kids and her “heart isn’t in it”, that’s problematic.

But maybe she’s unmotivated and disruptive because she isn’t being stretched. Maybe she’s got work coming out of her ears and has made some silly mistakes. Maybe she’s a carer in a team which doesn’t understand that sometimes people simply have to leave on time. Maybe she’s dyslexic and writing reports all the time is really stressing her out.

As her manager, surely it’s my role to try and get to the bottom of that?

Compare with this description of Jonathan:


“…one of the senior team members, Jonathan, can be domineering and pompous at times, although he is otherwise very effective.”

In this instance I have detail about Jonathan’s behaviour, but I’m expected to let that slide because he’s “otherwise effective”? I’m sorry, what?

To me, the word domineering implies not listening, bending other people to your point of view. Could Jonathan be preventing other employees from learning and reaching their potential? If so, can’t let that one go, surely?

The best organisations I’ve worked in have been made up of collaborative, helpful and inclusive teams, where opinions are valued and open discussion helps to produce really great results. In my view effectiveness is based on the performance of a team and Jonathan is letting the side down.

When we take tests like these we’re usually under time pressure and it can be difficult to step aside and really question what it is you’re being asked and why. Actually, whether or not I’m successful getting onto the scheme, this has helped me learn a little bit more about what kind of a leader I would want to be. Questioning, not assuming, trying as hard as possible not to stereotype, trying really hard to do the best by my team.

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