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Gray Rule
October 2017 | VOLUME 18, NUMBER 4
Gray Rule
The Power of 360-degree Feedback Assessments: Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness
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The Power of 360-degree Feedback Assessments: Improve Your Leadership EffectivenessBy Diane Lietz-Stuart, Talent Management and Development Adminstrator, American Family Insurance, Madison, WI, and Karen Nell Smith, Adjunct Consultant, LawVision Group, LLC, Boston, MA
Leaders who use the power of 360-degree feedback build self-awareness, eliminate blind spots, and focus on continual improvement. An effective 360-degree assessment tool provides honest, constructive, and balanced information from diverse viewpoints, which is critical to a leader's success. This allows leaders to create a development plan with specific goals, clear and measurable outcomes, and detailed action steps. Leadership skills can be developed and teams powerfully transformed thanks to the 360-degree feedback assessment.

Everyone can agree on the importance of leadership in an organization. We can also agree that important things should be measured. The higher you rise in a firm, the more difficult it becomes to elicit honest, unfiltered, and constructive feedback. We are frequently faced with information gaps about our leadership performance. As new skills are needed, these gaps can have a significant impact on career growth. So how do we, as leaders, inform ourselves on the impact we have on others? How do we monitor and measure our effectiveness as a leader? An important leadership tool is a 360-degree assessment that measures impact and effectiveness in a valid and reliable way.

Harvard Law School lecturers and consultants Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen write:

"Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback. And, of course, as you move up, candid coaching becomes increasingly scarce, so you have to work harder to get it. But doing so, sets the tone and creates an organizational culture of learning, problem-solving and adaptive high performance."

Effective leaders request feedback from others at different levels in the organization. Securing different perspectives helps leaders develop their self-awareness. Being ready and willing to hear another person's perception of their leadership is both a powerful and eye-opening experience. Receiving constructive feedback can be can be an invaluable component to a successful leadership development plan.

There are many 360-degree feedback tools in the market today. To choose the assessment right for you, articulate what kind of information you want your raters to provide. For example,

  • Do you know your leadership style, but would benefit from understanding the impact that style has on others?
  • Do you know your personality preferences, but want to understand what message your thinking and behavior is conveying to others?
  • Do you need to understand how your style is hindering your team's problem-solving capabilities?

Once you have a clear expectation of the information the tool will provide, you are able to choose the right one. For example, the assessment tools from Human Synergistic, including Leadership/Impact (L/I) and the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI), can be used by a firm's leadership team to create a culture of greater collaboration by conducting individual and team development work simultaneously. The leader's plan focuses on the impact they are having on the organization's culture, and the team's work is centered on changing the team dynamics deemed important by the group.

Done well, 360-degree feedback can have a transformative effect on leaders, their teams, and the company as a whole. For the best results, use assessments that are statistically valid, and which have a "planning for change" component to the report. This guidance points leaders in the right direction and gives them the ability to measure how effective their efforts have been over a defined period of time.

How should I approach a 360-degree feedback tool? Use a 4-step process:

Step One: Establish the Benefit

Tools provide information—they don't change a person's motivation. It takes courage and strength to accept the honest perceptions of others. 360-degree feedback tools will show you where your leadership vulnerabilities lie. First and foremost, you need to define why changing your behavior is important to all parties. Be specific and concrete about the outcomes you desire in tangible ways that allow you to know whether you are having the impact you seek on others.

If you can't articulate why it's important for you to change a particular behavior, and if you don't truly believe it is going to make a difference to your leadership, you aren't ready for 360-degree work.

Without constructive, balanced, and often anonymous feedback, your development efforts may miss the mark on an important behavior change. Preparing yourself to receive the feedback you are asking for is the first step in successful development work. Using a valid, reliable tool will help you trust the data and identify the strategies and areas for development that will advance your success in the organization.

Secure a coach whose job is to be both supportive and challenging. An outside pair of eyes will help to process the information you receive. They can see opportunities for you to stretch. Use your 360-degree feedback tool to jump start conversations around areas you both see are important to your development. Set your expectations for the coach. Require them to open your eyes to exploration, curiosity, and enrichment opportunities.

Step Two: Face Your Fear

Daniel Goleman points out that "there may be nothing more essential than recognizing our deepest feelings about what we do—and what changes might make us more truly satisfied with our work."

We've all experienced successes and failures when we've tried to change a deeply-ingrained habit. Habits are hard to break. Emotions often get in the way. It is generally known in neuroscience that the most effective way to break a bad habit is to replace the less effective behavior with a specific, positive behavior. It still takes 12–16 weeks to adopt a new daily habit without thinking about it anymore, but it takes longer if we simply try to eliminate the behavior without substituting a new positive behavior in its place.

We all have developed strategies that work for us when we run into obstacles. For example, a common response when encountering resistance to a new idea is to describe the resistor as uninformed and uncooperative. Once aware of this pattern of thinking—and the emotion that drives it—you can develop a strategy to overcome it in a more productive and collaborative way. With practice, a situation of resistance can be met with inquiry rather than defensiveness. Asking questions helps you consider different viewpoints, understand the resistor's point of view, and engage in collaborative problem-solving rather than defensive discounting.

When creating your development plan, face your fears. Identify the potential obstacles you may encounter as you change a behavior. Have a success strategy in your pocket to use when you encounter those obstacles.

Step Three: Specify & Adopt Behavior Change

A leadership development plan is a living document. It should be grounded in the feedback you receive and integrated into your development goals and the organization's vision of success.

In this step, focus on the "action" part of action planning. Outline who, what, when, where and why you are doing what you're doing. Talk about it. Share your behavior-change efforts in terms of individual, group, and organizational outcomes that are going unmet, which you deem are important to remedy. Practice your new behavior in as many different situations as you can, with as many people as you can to improve your leadership effectiveness.

Effective leaders share their development plans with others. They ask for help. For example, a practice group leader wished to improve her listening skills. She'd been given feedback that people perceived her as not "fully focused" on the speaker. She shared her plan with her department head, her peers, and direct reports and said this:

"I am working on improving my listening skills, particularly in giving my full attention to a conversation. I want to know when you feel I am not doing that and here is how I'd like you to bring it to my attention."

She then asked them to use a particular phrase, which she said would help her stay open to the feedback and be non-defensive. It worked! Trust and cooperation were built as people shared feedback in real time and she accepted it non-defensively.

Step Four: Measure Your Achievement

Set goals and measure performance. Peter Drucker, often referred to as the founder of modern management, is quoted as saying "What gets measured, gets done." So, is that all we have to do? Measure something and it will magically happen? Of course not. Create an action plan with specific behavioral measures. How will you know you've replaced an old habit with a new, more effective one? Who will see the behavior change? When are you going to ask them what they see?

Leaders who use the power of 360-degree feedback build their self-awareness, eliminate blind spots, and focus on continual improvement. People respect leaders who make themselves vulnerable to others and welcome the learning that happens as a result of the feedback they have been given. This honest aspiration for excellence cascades throughout the team, making everyone more effective.


  1. Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books, 1995. 149.
  2. Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. New York: Penguin Books, 2014. 10.

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