What do successful leaders do? Six years of research by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., determined that the most successful leaders created meaningful change – they achieved increased performance. The research focused on what great leaders do – not what their qualities were, not their character, nor their competencies. Just what they do!

The research also showed that the most successful leaders used a wide range of leadership best practices, many of which they had to develop because they didn’t come naturally. Great leaders are highly adaptable – willing to expend effort to develop new skills.

The Value of 360-degree Feedback

We have all worked with leaders who have been oblivious to the negative impact they are having on those around them. They not only lack self-awareness – many of them lack the willingness to learn and adapt. In my experience their leadership effectiveness can only be improved by providing feedback that will actually be listened to.

The reason that a lot of 360-degree feedback does not result in changed behaviour is because it comes across as negative feedback. Leaders are told that what they are doing is not working and to stop doing that and do something else. Worse, they receive quite damning, subjective literal comments from peers or direct reports who see this as an opportunity to get even, or be hurtful under the cloak of anonymity.

Most people do not react positively to criticism – even when it is under the guise of constructive criticism. There is no such thing as “constructive criticism” in my opinion. Criticism is criticism. The only people who think that constructive criticism is a good thing are those people who believe it is their right to give it to others!

How Would You Design a Better 360 Assessment?

Here are my thoughts on the ingredients of 360-degree feedback for leaders that would not only be welcomed by the recipient, but also acted upon:

1. Base the assessment on thorough research that has identified the best practices that the most successful leaders use to create change.

2. Measure only whether leaders are using leadership practices that contribute to effective leadership – don’t measure negative behaviours!

3. Focus behavioural change on what leaders need to do more of – not what to stop doing. When leaders start putting more effort into using best practice behaviour they naturally stop using ineffective behaviours. Ask raters to give the leader feedback about what they want them to do more of rather than focus on what they scored lowest in.

4. Get rid of literal comments from raters. This is where the biggest “sting” comes from in traditional 360 assessments. Harmful comments build resentment – they are usually just one person’s opinion, and therefore tend to get dismissed as irrelevant.

5. Replace literal comments with a databank of constructively written selectable comments that raters choose for each of the leadership practices. It is very affirming to have several team members choose the comment: “She is always willing to listen when I want to share an idea.” It is also quite confronting and humbling to have 8 raters select: “I find him to be intimidating at times.”

In summary, the keys to effective 360 degree feedback are to make it constructive rather than destructive; make it realistic – it relates to the leader’s job; and focus on what the leader needs to do more of. Leaders respond more positively to a request to do more of something.

A Real Life Example

I was asked to coach a leader who is an SC style in DiSC. That is, he’s quite reserved, his primary focus is on stability and his primary leadership approach is that he primarily uses a Humble leadership approach. As a leader in his consulting company, part of his job is to find new business opportunities and generate new ideas to grow the business. But he doesn’t naturally do that, in fact his natural tendency is to maintain the status quo.

His peers and direct reports chose Promoting Bold Action as the leadership best practice that he most needed to do more of to become a more effective leader. During our coaching session he revealed that he had some ideas that he believed would help one of his clients grow their business and that he had held back on saying anything because of his natural tendency to be more reserved.

He identified a situation when he would be meeting with that client where it would be appropriate for him to “promote his bold ideas” and prepared a plan for presenting them. The result was that client embraced his ideas and achieved significant cost savings – it also resulted in increased work for the consulting firm.

Without the clear path identified by the 360 degree profile and the ability to identify a real life situation where the need for adaptability could be applied – this successful outcome for both the client and the consulting firm would not have been achieved.

There is a Better Way

Leaders go to work and lead their teams in a way that they believe to be most effective. They have good intentions about what they plan to do and how they will lead. But the people they are leading only see their behaviour, they don’t see their intentions.

A lot of leaders have a big blind spot – they are totally unaware of the impact they are having on others.

The value of a well-designed 360 degree assessment is that it’s like holding up a mirror, its saying these are the leadership behaviours you are using and these are the leadership behaviours you are not using.

To find out more about our Everything DiSC 363° for Leaders Profile

Keith Ayers

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