This Is Only A Test

How to go mad taking a 298-question quiz

By Lisa Bergson

I knew it would take more than a strong business plan, stellar sales, and powerful advanced technology to secure our Series B venture-capital round. What I never expected was that our VCs would require me to take an online psychological profile that caused much angst and cost my company more than $5,000. "All our CEOs take it," the founding partner told me.

It worried me that, despite my positive references and more than 20 years' experience running tech companies, the VCs needed a "leadership assessment" to vet my capabilities. As weeks passed and the deal evolved, I kept hoping they had forgotten about the test.

In September, I received an e-mail from two coaches the VCs had hired to interpret my test results. They immediately pressed for an expanded role in my company -- working with our board, developing our management team, helping me realize my potential, and so on. They constantly invoked their influence with the VCs. I fretted that if I didn't hire them, it might affect my report.

Stressing "authenticity," they recommended I take the test when I felt relaxed and go with my first responses. Instead, I plunged through all 298 items at 3 a.m. one jet-lagged night during the Semicon Taiwan Show. In a cold sweat, I ticked off the no-brainers. "After a bad day, do I need a drink?" Sober since '87. Guess whether I would "rather be a writer" or a claims adjuster?

On other questions, I fought my desire to impress. Do I "like" to have things in order before starting a project? My desk is a mess, and I rarely enjoy the luxury of order, so I chose "mostly false." Later, my answers to such questions plagued me.

"Don't over-analyze," my husband said, knowing I would continue to obsess.

"It didn't ask if I need order, but I like order. I just don't require it."

"It's just badly written," he said.

Weeks later, I received a big white binder. Told not to examine it before the phone session with my coaches, I took a little peek. Sixty-odd pages of graphics in primary colors, with lots of bar charts and headings like "Emotional and Physical Stamina," intrigued me. The coaches, in a taped two-hour call, probed my reactions to their findings.

The report picked up on both my sociability and my need for solitude when I'm feeling run down. I can work comfortably with groups or on my own and have no trouble giving direction. I love change and innovation. All true.

Other findings seemed contradictory or just plain off. I do not require clear, detailed directions, as they later reported to the VCs. (Thanks, guys.) Their final "synthesis" report also stated that I prefer the "tried-and-true" while repeatedly referring to my "readiness to try new things."

Plenty of emphasis was placed on coaching options for the VCs, the board, my managers, and me. After the coaches' presentation to the investors, I asked one of the coaches how it went. He was pleased, noting that the VCs might now take the test. Turns out neither they nor their other CEOs had done so.

"Why do you think they wanted me to take it?"

"They were concerned about your coachability," he replied.

Lisa Bergson is president and CEO of both MEECO Inc., a 35-person manufacturer of trace analytical equipment, and its spin-off, Tiger Optics LLC

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