They told what they think of you – now what?

Indirect feedback

Jacqui** is a leader who has just received her first 360-degree feedback report. She brings it to our coaching session with a mix of frustration and interest. The 60-page report shows her how her boss, her peers and her direct reports scored her leadership – and it also compares their scores to her own self-assessment. It’s a lot of subjective data and personal commentary – delivered via an objective online process that protects the confidentiality of peers and directs. Jacqui is interested in self-improvement and she wonders how best to benefit from the information.

Tempting as it is, don’t waste time guessing who said what. The only way to check is to inquire – which immediately puts responders on the defense. Sometimes we want to attribute data we dislike to someone we dislike. Don’t invalidate any response. Remind yourself that this is their experience of you. Receiving it with grace doesn’t mean you have to agree to change.

Strengths are leverage points for increased effectiveness too. Notice the good as well as the bad. One or two scathing written comments can be especially cutting, feel undeserved, and enlarge on re-reading. Step back enough to see the whole picture.

Expect surprises: A key aspect of most 360s is that people have a chance to be honest without fear of reprisal. Therefore, you may be getting feedback that you’ve not heard before. Countering that is the feedback may be non-specific or feel non-actionable to you. Still, respect that confidentiality is a way to access your sensitive blind-spots.

Consider what was happening at the time of the survey. You don’t operate in a vacuum and others rightly tie you and your leadership to the organizational life they experience. What was going on that would impact the respondents’ reading of the question or their feedback to you? Getting a glowing report from directs who just got big raises might have little to do with you. History too reverberates: Often you can think of one very visible incident that still haunts your results.

Having done that, now see if you can separate out the comments about the business’s policies, products, customer relationships and culture. As a leader, you may want to take the advice and make some changes in your functional area or open the possibility of more research and conversation. What you don’t need to do is take it personally.

Of interest is a comparison between respondent groups: Look for how aligned or different yours, your boss’s, peers and directs appear. Get curious about stark differences. As leaders, we “show up” differently in our different work groups. What does your team experience of you that your peers never get to access? What does your boss appreciate about your performance that the team never sees? Often, in the thick of the work, busy leaders don’t make enough time for their peer relationships. Do the scores from peers reflect that? Set an intention for which relationships you need to strengthen.

Determine to work on one or two aspects of your leadership. Frame it in term of improvement – if the survey were re-done in a year, which scores from which groups would you like to see higher? A coach or good development textbook can help you target the knowledge, skills and abilities you might grow. Whatever you choose, skills in communicating and connecting are foundational to managing your impact on others.

Says thanks for the feedback and indicate how you are taking action to respond to it. Cynicism about the follow-up to 360s is rampant and for good reason – many people feel that their feedback is ignored. Whether it’s a formal meeting to discuss your development plan, an written thanks to respondents or an off-the-cuff comment, let others know you received their input. Trusted leaders are those who admit their imperfection and show a desire for self-improvement.

As we wind up the coaching session, Jacqui is considering ways to get more frequent, face-to-face feedback. She’d like to hear from people directly, and be able to explore what they most need from her to succeed. Her new habit is to ask “How am I doing?” and “What can I do differently to better support you?”

**Coaching scenarios are fictional to highlight common leadership challenges and opportunities.

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