While assessments can play an important role in revealing your blind spots, it can be difficult to gain an honest pulse into your behavior through only self-assessments. 360 feedback instruments and processes are designed to gather feedback and perspective from the people who work closest to the leader, and then reflect those perceptions back in an anonymized report and / or debrief conversation.
This kind of multi-view feedback supports learning and development for the leader, enabling high-powered leaders to get feedback that would otherwise be difficult to receive. Here are three different approaches and four tools to getting 360-degree feedback, depending on your budget and needs. I’ve also included advantages and drawbacks for each recommended method.
Anonymous Interview-Based 360 Feedback
This process is where you hire an executive coach or leadership consultant to inquire about and discuss your leadership blind spots with others on your behalf. In the signature 360-degree process I lead, I sit down with a client to decide who to interview to kick off the 360-degree process. I typically interview a mix of stakeholders, colleagues, direct reports, peers, and partners to get to the essence of how the leader I am coaching operates and is perceived in the workplace. This supports us in gaining a full picture of their strengths, development needs, and blind spots. Together, we co-design the questions I will ask the interviewees to ensure they feel comfortable with the process, and we are focused on the key leadership areas that align with their overarching goals.
I use this feedback to generate an anonymous summary report and/or to conduct a debrief conversation, which we use in our coaching to design a development plan. Having an external, third party get to know the individuals they work with – without power dynamics at play – is incredibly helpful in disarming interviewees enough to hear the truth about the subject. Sometimes the truth about a leader’s behavior is hard to share with them directly. “Don’t bit the hand that feeds you,” is the expression I have often heard.
Anonymizing the feedback in the process further helps interviewees disclose helpful examples and perspectives without fearing backlash. This collaborative process supports us to gain a more complete picture of their leadership, and reach their individual and organizational goals more effectively, and can lead to a higher level of performance and positive impact.
- Advantages: Having someone you trust build rapport with your team and uncover blind spots in an conversation is a great way to get the most complete picture of how you are perceived in the workplace and what more your organization and team need of you.
- Drawback: Because this is a time-consuming process for an external executive coach or leadership consultant, it can be expensive.
Survey-Based 360 Feedback Assessment Tools
There are a variety of tools available that expedite and automate the process of gathering feedback about an individual from multiple raters. While the interview-based 360 is highly customized and personalized, survey-based tools are much faster to implement, which can expedite results and lower costs.
The advantages are related to saving on cost and time. The drawbacks are that people are often burnt out on online surveys and therefore they may race through the questions, not giving it the appropriate level of thought or attention to make it insightful, or even accurate. Additionally, it can be difficult to underscore the most important issues at hand in a survey tool. I often hear that participants do not trust online tools to keep feedback confidential as well – fearing the data is stored online somewhere – which may influence how much a participant shares.
Here are four survey-based 360 feedback tools I recommend, as well as the advantages and drawbacks of each tool.
Benchmarks 360 Suite of Assessment Tools
The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) created several different 360-degree assessments, depending on the level and needs of your leader or organization. There is Benchmarks for Executives (c-suite), Benchmarks for Managers (senior-level leaders), Benchmarks for Learning Agility (high-potential individual contributors and global managers), and Benchmarks by Design (customized to suit organization). CCL pioneered the 360 assessment, and their database is massive, which means that their assessments have been scientifically validated across many thousands of leaders over decades.
- Advantages: Easy-to-read reports and tailored to level of leader participating. Scientifically validated and normed according to the specific level of leader.
- Drawback: Can be pricy, depending on the level of leadership and customization. Must have someone trained in the tool to initiate, understand, and debrief it.
Leadership Versatility Index
The Leadership Versatility Index (LVI) is a 360 feedback tool based on the two key aspects of leadership – the interpersonal how of leadership, and the organizational what of leadership. While some assessments focus on one or the other, LVI embraces both – Forceful and Enabling behaviors address how a leader interacts with and influences others, while Strategic and Operational behaviors address what a leader focuses the organization on.
- Advantages: Applicable to all levels of leadership and focuses on behaviors rather than competencies – serving as a consistent development tool for a leader to use over time in their career and common language for leaders across the organization. Easy to understand and address areas for development. This is instrument is ideal for building versatility, flexibility, and balance in leaders.
- Drawback: Costly to do at scale. Must have someone trained in the tool to initiate, understand, and debrief it.
EQI 2.0 360
This 360 combines your own perceptions of your emotional intelligence with those of the people who you choose to rate you, such as manager, direct reports, colleagues, and even personal contacts. The EQ-I 2.0 model measures 15 individual competencies that fall into five main categories of emotional intelligence: Self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal skills, decision-making skills, and stress management. It is often illuminating to see how your perception in these areas differs or aligns with others who work with you. This awareness tends to drive increased emotional intelligence, particularly when paired with executive coaching.
- Advantages: Focuses on emotional intelligence competencies, which I consider to be crucial for leadership. Report is simple, actionable, and easy to follow and learn from. Potential for a large number of raters, and they can be separated by category (i.e.: Manager, direct report, personal contacts, colleagues, etc.)
- Drawback: The focus on emotional intelligence might not be comprehensive enough for some leaders or organizations. Must have someone trained in the tool to initiate, understand, and debrief it.
This 360-Assessment measures your creative competencies, as well as your reactive tendencies. Their robust profile gives a leader insight into not only what they are doing that is impacting their leadership, but also how they are thinking. The profile compares self-ratings to how others rated you in the various aspects of leadership, and increases your awareness so you can clearly understand what is working in your leadership, what is not working – and how to address it.
- Advantages: Robust and incredibly insightful for a survey-based tool.
- Drawback: Expensive and complex. Because the model is a little complicated, you must have someone trained in the tool to not only initiate, understand, and debrief it – also to support your continued leadership development using the model.
Informal, Transparent 360 Feedback
While not a formal assessment tool, one way to get feedback is to simply ask your direct reports, superior, partners, and colleagues what they think are your strengths and areas for opportunity and growth. If there is trust and psychological safety in your working relationships, this can be a great way to continue to build a culture of transparency and candor.
You can run this as a one-time process either verbally or via email, and then continue to embed two-way feedback loops in an ongoing fashion on your team. This would look like building time into your one-on-one meetings for giving and receiving feedback to open up a two-way dialogue on a consistent basis.
- Advantages: You can easily run this type of informal, transparent 360 process on your own for free, or with support from an executive coach. See exercise at the end of this article for guidelines on how to get started.
- Drawback: You might not get the honesty and transparency you need to gain a complete picture of how you are perceived in the workplace if you are asking yourself.
Exercise: Informal Transparent 360 Feedback
One way to fill in the picture of how you are perceived as a leader doesn’t involve a survey or tool at all; it simply involves asking for feedback. If you are generous with giving feedback, those you work with are more likely to be candid with you as well. With practice, you can become more comfortable asking for, receiving, leveraging, and offering direct feedback in the spirit of learning and development.
Directions to initiate informal 360-feedback:
- Identify 10 people whose opinions you respect. Include diverse relationships – a mix of managers, former supervisors, colleagues, consultants, stakeholders, direct reports, peers, partners, or even family and friends.
- Explain the context for them, and emphasize how much you will appreciate their candid, honest feedback so you can get a full picture of your strengths and development areas. Explain that you will be using the responses to help you create a leadership development plan. You want to really encourage those involved to be open and honest, even when it may sting.
- Decide on 5 questions to ask. Here are some thought-starters:
- What are my strengths? What do you think I’m naturally good at?
- What qualities or abilities do you think I should improve on that would help me most in my work success?
- What is the quality or qualities that you most admire about me?
- What is my superpower?
- What traits / qualities do I bring to relationships?
- What are my blind spots? What are the biggest areas that hold me back?’
When you receive the feedback, you can bring it together and look for patterns, trends, and surprising perspectives. If you are working with an executive coach, they can help you use the exercise as a tool to explore your relationship to feedback and help you use the feedback so it will be most valuable for you in reaching a higher level of performance and success.
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As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.