Feedback – Why You Need It and What to Do with It

Posted 11.06.2009

One of the things that I’ve come to count on over the past couple of years is that my blogging friend, Dan McCarthy of the Great Leadership blog will write consistently grounded and practical posts on how to be a better leader. His latest post, 10 Ways to Get the Most from a 360 Degree Leadership Assessment,  is the most recent example of the contributions he consistently makes. If you care about leadership, you need to subscribe to his blog.

As an executive coach, I read through a few hundred 360 degree assessments a year in my company’s Next Level Leadership™ group coaching program. From that experience and the experience of being the subject of six or seven 360’s in the 15 years that I was a manager and executive myself, I know that Dan’s advice is spot on. I also know from talking with my clients and HR professionals that have been around the block a few times that it’s often the case that not much happens when someone gets a 360. From the standpoint of your leadership development and your credibility in the organization, you’re almost better off to not get any feedback at all if you’re not going to communicate and act on what you learned from the feedback.Megaphonegirl It can be hard to admit to your colleagues that you’re not perfect, but guess what, they already know you’re not perfect. All of us have something we can improve on. By asking for feedback, telling people what you learn and then visibly acting on it, you get better and your organization gets better.

 So, with that in mind, I want to pick up on three particular points that Dan made and add a little bit of my own coaching perspective and advice to the mix:

Don’t try to figure it out yourself:  Dan makes a great point that most people are way too close to their own experience to be objective about the data they get in a 360. At the risk of sounding self-serving, when you get a 360, make sure you sit down with a coach who has read through a lot of reports over the years.  Much in the same way that a weather forecaster with 30 years of experience can tell you when a front is forming, an experienced coach can tell you what’s going on with your 360 data because they’ve seen so many patterns and connections in the data over the years. You need to walk through the data with someone who is experienced in seeing and pointing out the patterns.

Pay attention to and celebrate your strengths: Another great point, Dan!  Most of us who have been in the coaching business for awhile see the same thing again and again with high achievers. They’ll blow through all of the positive stuff in the report and immediately go to what they need to fix. Here’s the problem with that. Most of the time what needs to be fixed is related in some way to the strengths. One of the great truths in coaching is that a strength when over or under used can be a weakness. I think of strengths as being like a dial on a guitar amplifier (wanna’ be rock star that I am). As an example, if the dial on the strength of confidence is set just right then the leader shows up appropriately poised and ready to make a contribution. If you turn that confidence dial too far to the left, it can look like meekness or disengagement. If you turn it too far to the right, confidence can look like arrogance. Quite often the development opportunity for a leader is to recalibrate a strength in one direction or another with a particular audience or in certain situations. It’s a lot easier to make progress in that kind of situation if you take the time to actually process and understand your strengths.

Make a plan and take action:  In my company, we call it an Executive Success Plan™ or ESP. What are the one or two things you want to work on that would make the biggest difference to you and the organization in the next 6 to 12 months? Not 8 or 9 things, but the one or two behaviors that you can focus on day to day in what I call the school of real life. After all, your calendar is full of stuff every week you’re going to do anyway. If you’re going to do that stuff anyway, why not approach it with the additional intention of using that experience to try out some new tactics and behaviors that will make you a better leader? You’ll find that there will be a big ripple effect from working one or two opportunities really well.  As Dan suggests, then tell a manageable number (8 to 10 is good) of people what you’re going to work on and ask them for their one or two best ideas on what anyone who is working on that behavior could do to be better. Take notes on what they say and look for the patterns. For instance, if you decide to work on being a better listener and you hear five or six times from your colleagues that they think good listeners don’t interrupt people then your real opportunity is probably that you need to stop interrupting people. So, tell them that you’re working on not interrupting people and ask for their help in helping you notice when you do. Pretty soon, you’ll be a much better listener.

What’s been the best or worst experience you’ve ever had with a round of 360 feedback?  What difference did it make in your life and career? What’s your biggest fear around getting and using feedback? If you’ll share your thoughts and questions, I’ll do my best to address them in the comments over the next few days.