In recent coaching engagements, I’ve been struck at how surprised my clients were to hear some of the unrestrained praise I collected about them from their closest colleagues and superiors, as part of my 360-degree feedback interviews. The positive energy and motivation such feedback generates in a leader is an enormous pay off that many organizations underestimate or simply forget to tap into. Compared to praise and appreciation that comes from just one employee or manager at a time, the collective themes that can emerge from a 360 assessment are especially validating.
Offered up an open question from a neutral party (me), in a private conversation, one of my client’s colleagues described the individual as “a miracle worker… remarkable… with the toughest job of anyone… admirably finds common ground where others could not…” and another executive was described by board and staff as “an excellent visionary leader… (who) inspires and supports his staff… a passionate spokesperson for the mission … worth his weight in gold… I adore him!” We rarely hear such candor and expressive views in our face to face interactions.
In neither case was the individual a perfect manager. I did also hear suggestions around improvement opportunities, and I noticed that some respondents were greater fans than other. But what an amazing boost to one’s sense of self and of purpose to know that a few respected colleagues think you generally do an amazing job in certain aspects of your work! How often do managers hear such encouraging feedback as they help their teams mediate disagreements, manage setbacks, and juggle the competing agendas of their stakeholders? How often do YOU hear the good stuff – about what you are doing very well, and the distinctive ways in which you are generating value for your organization? Are you overdue for a read on collective perceptions? Generally, the more senior a manager is, the less frequently explicit feedback (praise and appreciation, as well as criticism) will reach him or her.
Subjecting oneself to a 360 review takes courage. Sometimes the feedback is extremely tough to take, and we must be open to learning from constructive criticism and revealed blind spots as well as embracing the positive. But the upside of hearing authentic praise echoed by multiple people in terms of strengthened confidence and commitment is tremendous. The best 360 feedback processes in my experience are elegantly simple, not excessively tailored, involve a truly neutral facilitator/coach to help with the debrief, and are fully confidential (not part of performance evaluations). It’s a modest investment in leadership development and talent retention worthy of periodic consideration.