360 feedback can be an incredibly valuable tool to help you grow and develop as a leader. This type of feedback is essential at gaining more self-awareness and developing a deeper understanding of how your behaviors, communication style, and leadership style affect those with whom you work. After all, if you don’t ask, how will you know?
It’s not always easy to remain open and receptive to feedback, but some of the most challenging endeavors will teach you the most. Those who genuinely have a desire to learn more about what they’re doing well and what they can do differently to improve, and those willing to act upon the feedback, will ultimately become significantly better leaders.
Taking the step to initiate a 360 assessment process can be tough, but what to do once you have the results in hand can present an even bigger challenge. How do you interpret the feedback? How do know which feedback to act on? Which areas are the priorities? What if you don’t agree with the feedback?
After all, you know the WHY behind your actions; and those working with you may not. How do you stop yourself from becoming defensive and remain open to the feedback? Often, the anxiety that one feels about getting the results is the toughest part of the entire process.
Keep in mind that all leaders are different, their leadership styles vary, and their situations are unique. I’ve been serving as an executive leadership coach for more than 20 years, and I have yet to meet two leaders who are exactly the same. Thus, I’ve also never seen two 360 feedback reports that are exactly the same.
Although everyone is unique, with their own unique set of circumstances, and their own unique teams in their unique corporate cultures, one thing is the same across the board. If all of these leaders follow best practices for making the most of their 360 feedback, they will be perceived to be more effective. Positively. 100%. We have the data to prove it.
Following are best practices followed by those who are most successful at leveraging this feedback to improve their leadership and their performance:
1. Get out of the weeds. By quantifying the perceptions of others, we are attempting to help you, the leader, better prioritize the behaviors that are making the most significant impact – positive or negative – on those around you. Although the all-important numbers – the averages, the distribution of ratings, the significant gaps – help to better understand which messages are more or less common among your raters, these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The data points are like small pieces of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. If you look at only one piece, you miss the big picture. It’s important to review them collectively to get the full effect. So, don’t get hung up on one single rating from one Peer, if that rating is an anomaly. Don’t lose sleep over one comment that you believe was a bit too harsh. Instead, focus on the overall messages, the common themes and the key take-aways.
2. Don’t fly solo. Even if you consider yourself a pro at receiving feedback, it’s not recommended that you ‘go it alone’. Receiving feedback can be an emotional process, even for those who go through the process year after year. The experience of participating in regular 360s helps you see the value in the process and make it even more worthwhile each time you receive feedback, but even the most constructive opinions can still sting a bit.
Reviewing your 360 results with someone who is experienced at interpreting this type of data will give you an unbiased sounding board and make it easier to focus on what’s most important.
360 Feedback Coaches know how to spot themes in the data, understand how the competencies are connected, and can help you deal with the emotional reactions to the feedback. They also help hold you accountable for using the feedback to set goals and improve as a leader.
3. Anticipate ambiguity. Interpreting the feedback can seem like an impossible task; especially if your direct reports, team members, etc., all have very different opinions and interpret your behaviors differently. This is quite common. After all, no two people are the same. So why would a leader expect to receive the same feedback from everyone?
The benefit of a 360 assessment is to highlight the similarities AND the differences in others’ perceptions. The differences are critical – welcome the variety of feedback with open arms. Embrace the differences of opinion and think about why these differences exist. Do you vary your approach or your communication style depending on the person, or do you demonstrate the same behaviors consistently to everyone? Even if you attempt to “treat everyone the same”, that likely doesn’t work. Why? Because everyone is different. And recognizing these differences in others can help you determine HOW to vary your approach to give each person what they need.
All of you parents out there – do you treat each of your children exactly the same? If so, how’s that working for you?
4. Open your mind. It’s not so important whether you agree or disagree with the feedback. Many people try to explain why the feedback is what it is; they have reasons excuses, explanations, justifications, very unique situations, special circumstances, etc. The bottom line is that feedback is a person’s perception – an opinion. It isn’t right. It isn’t wrong. It just IS.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to receive the feedback, really hear it and try to understand it from another’s perspective, without making excuses. Only then can you use the feedback to become more effective.
For example, if your direct reports collectively indicate that they believe you would be more effective if you “were more available and accessible to them”, don’t dismiss the feedback and blame it on your heavy workload, your crazy travel schedule or your endless series of meetings.
Your team is likely very aware of the reasons you aren’t available. The best response to this feedback is, “Thank you! I understand that you would like more of my time and I will come up with ideas for how I can block more 1:1 time with each of you. I welcome your specific suggestions as well.”
By the way, you can also use the feedback to determine how best to empower your employees and you just might find that you free up some of your time for what’s really important – leading your team.
5. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…. USE the feedback! That’s right; it sounds simple enough. But this, my friends, is where many leaders fall short. Now that you’ve asked, and now that you’ve interpreted and understood, it is time to take action.
What goals will you set for yourself that will help you address the higher priority areas from your feedback? What plan will you devise that serves as your GPS for getting you where you want to be? How can you become the quintessential leader that is referenced in all 72 of John Maxwell’s books? Use the feedback.
People spent their valuable time and energy providing you with feedback. Ideally, it was balanced – with some acknowledgement of how you “knocked it out of the park when you led the last marketing project”, as well as constructive feedback about how you could be even more effective if you would “share your experience and knowledge with your team so that we can learn more and further develop our skills.”
This is a gift! And not the plain-white-boxer-brief-underwear-birthday-gift-from-your-mom type of gift, but a thoughtful, generous, uniquely-you gift that can help you grow personally and professionally.
As with all thoughtful gifts, it is important to accept the gift with gratitude and to be intentional with how you use it.
Incorporate the best practices above to get the most value out of your 360 feedback.
For more information about our world-class 360 assessment process, visit our website or follow us on social media. Our 360 process includes easy-to-interpret reports, online results that you can filter & prioritize, integrated online action plans, 1:1 virtual 360 coaching with one of our experienced, professional coaches, follow-up assessments to measure improvement and some of the best service you’ll ever experience.