How leaders can get the most out of 360-degree feedback

Think you don’t need to participate in your organization’s 360-degree feedback round because you’re part of the C-suite or upper management? Think again. In addition to you helping you identify areas for growth, taking part in 360 reviews helps cement their importance for your teams and improves your profile as a leader.

Vulnerability is the new strength in leadership

When you gather 360-degree feedback, you typically collect observations from your superiors, your peers, and direct reports. For leaders, this might mean that you ask co-founders or board members to participate in addition to your peers and direct reports.

CEOs and other executives may exclude themselves from bottom-up critiques to shield themselves from criticism. This is a mistake. The quality of leadership, or sometimes even more importantly, the perception of leadership, can make or break an organization. The best leaders are those who open themselves up for critique and genuinely listen to the concerns, questions, and feedback in return. The truth is, our weaknesses will be exposed at some point, and our strength will come from facing them head-on.

Cultivating a growth mindset in your culture

If leaders view vulnerability as a weakness, there is no question that this attitude will trickle down to other leaders in the organization. Inevitability, this will have a sweeping impact on your employees, fostering a general failure to look at blind spots, be accountable for them, and make necessary changes. When leaders create a transparent work culture and model vulnerability, they create fertile ground for awareness and growth in the organization. When everyone feels that it is safe to let their egos down, ask for help, and be humble in the face of weaknesses, real change can start to take shape.

360-degree feedback questions for leaders

We have previously published content on the value of 360-degree feedback for employees and many of the same principles apply. Given the special skills required for great leadership, you may want to consider adding questions focused on leadership skills to your 360s and those of upper management. Here are some areas to focus on when gathering 360-degree feedback for leadership:

  • Leadership quality. Am I perceived as an effective leader? Is the company better off for my leadership? What changes would my team members like to see? Am I adding value and am I being effective in my role? What improvements could I make to improve my leadership abilities?
  • Communication. How effective are you at communicating with your team members? Do your employees trust that they can be heard and that their feedback is considered? Are projections, outlooks, and strategies clearly articulated to the organization? Do you have a good communication style? Are you a good listener?
  • Openness to change and learning. It is important that your team sees you as open to receiving input, including critique. What could I learn from my staff? How can I enhance my learning potential? Am I giving permission for others to challenge me? Am I properly channeling this understanding, data, or input to my team members?
  • Trust and delegation. Do your managers and employees feel that you trust them? How good are you at delegation? Can you freely turn things over at the right time and let someone else take the lead? Are you always directing or focused on the “right way” to do things? What can you do to improve the sense of confidence and trust you have in your team?
  • Inspiration and motivation. Do my team and organization see me as a visionary, someone inspiring, and motivating? Am I creating an environment where everyone is able to do their best work and feel successful? Am I creating any obstacles or are there ways to provide additional resources if they are needed?
  • Feedback quality. Am I providing the proper feedback and direction to my reports and employees? How can I make my own feedback more timely, relevant, or specific?
  • Personal skills and empathy. Empathy and emotional intelligence are the foundation of good leadership skills. All leaders should work to master their skills in empathy, improve their listening skills, and genuinely connect with their direct reports and employees when possible. Do you have blind spots in this area that might be impacting your company?

Guiding rising stars to the next level

CEOs should aim to create a psychologically safe space where their successors have the opportunity to learn from their weaknesses and mistakes. One way to open the door for those rising in the ranks is to share stories about leadership, including success, failures, mistakes, and uncertainties.

You can even go further by engaging directly. Have group discussions about your leadership decisions, provide opportunities for follow-up questions, and generally create a psychologically safe environment to address the concerns and fears of future leaders in your organization. Or you can go one step further and share insights from your 360-degree feedback with the entire company, as Brad Smith did when he was the CEO of Intuit.

Embracing radical reflection

Every leader has blind spots. Learning to see our strengths and weaknesses with clarity and being in tune with how we are perceived is the foundation of any leadership development plan. It would be impossible to grow and improve if we don’t know where to start. This kind of “radical reflection” is the best way to kickstart your skills as a leader and get your teams to the next level.