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On the Ethics of Psychometric Instruments Used in Leadership Development Programmes

Wilson, Suze; Lee, Hugh; Ford, Jackie; Harding, Nancy

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Suze Wilson

Hugh Lee

Nancy Harding


The leadership development industry regularly claims to aid in developing effective, ethical leaders, using 360-degree psychometric assessments as key tools for so doing. This paper analyses the effects of such tools on those subjected to and subjectivised by them from a Foucauldian perspective. We argue that instead of encouraging ethical leadership such instruments inculcate practices and belief systems that perpetuate falsehoods, misrepresentations and inequalities. ‘Followers’ are presumed compliant, malleable beings needing leaders to determine what is in their interests. Such techniques pursue productivity and profitability, rather than ethical leadership. We examine the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire, a widely used 360-degree tool that measures transformational leadership, as an illustrative case study to substantiate these criticisms.


Wilson, S., Lee, H., Ford, J., & Harding, N. (2021). On the Ethics of Psychometric Instruments Used in Leadership Development Programmes. Journal of Business Ethics, 172(2), 211-227.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 18, 2020
Online Publication Date Apr 29, 2020
Publication Date 2021-08
Deposit Date May 13, 2020
Publicly Available Date May 13, 2020
Journal Journal of Business Ethics
Print ISSN 0167-4544
Electronic ISSN 1573-0697
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 172
Issue 2
Pages 211-227
Public URL


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (798 Kb)

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Advance online version This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

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