Leadership And 360 Assessments
Several decades ago, when I was training to become a facilitator of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” for The Covey Leadership Center (now Franklin Covey), I had to undergo a 360-degree assessment measuring how well I was living up to those seven habits that Stephen Covey laid out in his book.
I had to identify direct reports, colleagues and my own manager who would be willing to complete the assessment anonymously and email the results back to the Covey people. The survey included 100 questions and a space at the end for narrative comments. After the results were tabulated, I received a detailed report summarizing all the data.
I remember being nervous as I opened that email and started reviewing the results.
What would my teammates say about my leadership traits?
How did colleagues, granted anonymity, view my strengths and weaknesses?
And what would my supervisor, Georgetown Law’s Dean, say about my management and leadership skills?
Fortunately, much of the feedback I received was positive. There were themes running through the data that surprised me and others that delighted me. I created an action plan for myself, areas I wanted to work on based upon the data. To help hold myself accountable, I shared my goals with my CLE team and asked them to help me live up to those goals.
That was my first personal experience with a 360 review. Several months later, I remember seeing Stephen Covey speak at a seminar in Washington, DC. He praised the value of 360 reviews, but warned that not all leaders were ready for them. In fact, he relayed several anecdotes where executives for whom he had been consulting became physically ill when they were presented with the results of their 360 reports.
Why? Because their own perceptions of how they came across to colleagues, clients and direct reports were so at odds with how these other people viewed them. They were in shock. They had been forced to look in the mirror, and they did not recognize what they saw.
Skip ahead 15 years. I was still serving as an Assistant Dean at Georgetown Law and I was interested in helping improve the leadership culture and effectiveness at the law school. One day I sat down for a serious conversation with the head of the law school library who was also playing a significant role in HR processes at that time.
I suggested to her that the Law Center adopt 360 reviews for senior administrators. She smiled ruefully. “Larry,” she said, “I agree with you that 360 reviews can be very useful in certain organizations. I just do not think Georgetown Law is one of those organizations right now.”
I was surprised. “Why not?” I inquired. “If you believe in the effectiveness of 360s, why refrain from suggesting them here?”
“To be honest with you, Larry, given our culture right now, I don’t think many leaders here could deal with the results of their 360s. I think many people would be angry, upset and disillusioned. I also think many people would go into denial. Unfortunately, I don’t think this place is ready to make 360 reviews part of the feedback process.”
That conversation ended my effort to help introduce 360 reviews at Georgetown Law. However, the more I read and studied, the more I was convinced that 360 reviews can be very effective in improving leadership cultures if they are conceptualized, implemented and used in the right manner.
We need not start with the most sophisticated 360s, such as the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP), perhaps the 360 tool most recognized by professional coaches. In my office, we started with the MBPI – The Myers Briggs Personality Indicator. That instrument opened up people’s eyes to a host of differences among teammates – in how people preferred to handle tasks, view problems, tackle time management, relate to others, and digest information.
A common statement after the MBPI was “Oh, now I understand why you do things that way! I had no idea.” People assume that others – including teammates – see issues and problems the same way they do. This assumption leads to so much conflict in the workplace.
Once we understand that our teammates see things differently, and we can appreciate those differences rather than denigrate them or merely tolerate them, new avenues of communication can open up on a daily basis.
Just this week, I was reviewing a qualitative 360 review for the leader of a not-for-profit organization for which I volunteer. The data was presented in a comprehensive, thoughtful, incisive report. I discussed the results with a lead staff member of the organization and its president. We debated next steps for the esteemed leader who had been the subject of the review.
Should we discuss the results point by point with the leader?
Should we ask the leader for a written response to the report?
Should we bring in a coach to work with this leader?
Should we ask the leader for an action plan about how his blind sports or challenge areas would be addressed?
Many questions. So far, no concrete answers. Nevertheless, the meeting and discussion started me thinking about the value of 360 reviews again.
They can be extremely helpful for all leaders who wish to continue their growth along the leadership path.
Have you benefitted from a 360 review lately? If not, I suggest that you strongly consider it. All it takes is an open mind and a little bit of courage!