Why 360-Degree Feedback is Important for Senior Leaders

Contributors: Charles Rogel and Matthew Wride

As leaders rise through the ranks of their organizations, they tend to receive less feedback about themselves and their performance. This tendency is attributable to the dynamic where colleagues are afraid of displeasing those in leadership positions above them. Therefore, they give less than frank feedback on a leader’s performance, and the feedback they do provide tends to be shallow and superficial.

This tendency is a large part of why 360 feedback is important for senior leadership. 360-Degree Feedback assessments do a good job protecting confidentiality, which gives feedback providers the chance to be more candid in their evaluations. Honest feedback is vital in helping a leader understand how others perceive and experience them in the workplace and allows subordinates the opportunity to improve the organization by speaking truth to power.  

3 Ways 360-Degree Feedback is Vital

When a 360-degree feedback program is administered correctly, there are three clear benefits for advancing senior leaders:

  • Increased Self-awareness: Senior leaders can gain a better understanding of what particular areas to focus on with behavioral statements to guide feedback.
  • Increased Accountability: By inviting others to give you feedback, a virtuous cycle of genuine interest and accountability is formed.
  • Increased Performance: Seeking and giving honest feedback with the intent to help each other grow and get better helps build connection among an organization’s core leaders.
A Manager Giving Feedback To Your Employees

How 360-Degree Assessments Work

During the 360-degree assessment process, the leader, along with his or her peers, supervisors, direct reports, associates, customers/clients, and other stakeholders (like board members) rate the leader on a specific set of behavioral statements. These behavioral statements are associated with leadership competencies that are crucial to ongoing and upward success.

By using behavioral statements, feedback gathered during a 360-degree assessment tends to be more useful as raters are more apt to know when they experience positive (or negative) behaviors as compared to a process that simply asks raters to give unstructured feedback and suggestions. For example, answering the question, “What can Emily do to be a better leader?” is far more difficult than evaluating whether Emily exhibits a behavior such as, “Remains accessible and calm in times of stress.”

Using 360-Degree Assessments with Senior Leaders

It is unlikely that leaders have reached their positions in an organization by behaving in a random way. They intuitively have some understanding of appropriate leadership behavior and probably have a good idea of their own strengths and needs. However, as leaders progress and are successful, they may assume they have the formula figured out. They start to over-rely on their strengths and sometimes they fail to see when their leadership style needs to adapt and grow to meet market changes, cultural changes, and changes in employee sentiment.  

It has been suggested that humans are the only animals capable of self-deception. 360-degree feedback is a disruptive process that will help a senior leader stop, take a breath, and re-evaluate what is working and where changes would be helpful. 360-degree feedback helps us uncover our blind spots, and we may even find we have strengths we did not know we had.

Feedback’s Virtuous Cycle

When we ask others to give us feedback, we send an implicit message that they matter. We signal that we value their thoughts and ideas, and that we are humble enough to accept and use them. In addition to this benefit, when others give feedback in a 360-degree assessment process, they become invested in the process of our improvement. Thus, subordinates and peers are more likely to continue to support a leader’s development when the senior leader consistently asks for their feedback, acts on their feedback, and follows through with them afterwards. Hence, a virtuous cycle has been established.

Conclusion

When senior leaders ask for and effectively use feedback through a 360-degree assessment process, they are perceived as more authentic and genuine. We see them as wanting to grow and improve. Their willingness to be vulnerable helps others feel like they belong to a culture that values ongoing improvement, something leaders want the entire organization to mirror for the benefit of its stakeholders.

In the end, seeking and giving honest feedback with the intent to help each other grow and get better helps build connection among an organization’s core leaders and those that work with them. Leaders who have experienced the 360-degree feedback process find that it is one of the most influential leadership development experiences in their careers and does more for their professional growth than any other single activity.

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