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"Everyday Leadership Acts of Courage: 360-Degree Feedback" originally appeared on Forbes.com.
“Leadership Acts of Courage” is a series of articles I started on Memorial Day 2018 as I reflected on my gratitude to those, past and present, who have chosen to be leaders in serving our country. While most of us may never serve as leaders in this way, I got to thinking about some of the leadership acts of courage that I see in the workplace.
So, this is the first article of the series for existing and emerging leaders on courage. Not the “lay down your life” acts of courage so common to those in the military, but the seemingly simple — though not necessarily easy — acts required to improve one’s organization and achieve important goals.
I’ll begin with Winston Churchill. Churchill was a world leader at a very difficult time in history. He was far from perfect and had quite a few leadership wins and losses during World War II. But historians have said that part of the reason Great Britain (and its allies) ultimately prevailed was that Churchill always sought and listened to the advice of his generals. How often do you ask for honest feedback from those who work with you? Have you ever?
Too many leaders/managers in business today still think they must have all the answers. The reality is you can’t. The people in the field, doing the work, are the ones who really know whether a strategic move is likely to work on a practical, doable level. Great leaders/managers have the courage to ask their opinions and use their expertise.
My company has been developing leaders since 2003. Our program is over 12 to 13 months and includes 360-degree feedback surveys at the beginning and end of their “LEAP Year.” When we sit down to coach them using this feedback for the first time, I always ask whether they have ever participated in a 360-degree survey before. Virtually all of them say no; this is the first time in their entire management careers that they have received any real feedback from not only their bosses, but also peers, direct reports and others such as key customers, board members or colleagues in other business units.
I can usually see the trepidation on a leader’s face, wondering what people will say, how survey respondents will rate them and whether they are doing OK. I always tell them that they are among a relatively few courageous leaders simply because they have asked for this type of feedback, and I promise it will be beneficial.
One woman remarked that it opened her eyes to a couple of blind spots that never would have surfaced otherwise and to a few strengths that she had no idea were so helpful to those she worked with and managed. She told me recently that she’s still using that feedback 10-plus years later and has achieved her greatest career desires.
So, what makes issuing a 360-degree survey, and acting on the feedback gathered, an act of courage? Well, some might say that undertaking such an initiative is an invitation to chaos. No longer are you adhering to the simple model of “supervisor reviews employee.” The process now involves many voices from a variety of perspectives. And it’s not hard to imagine a cacophony of feedback rather than a simple conversation.
What’s more, no one in leadership — or at any organizational level, for that matter — can say that they unconditionally welcome feedback on their performance without any worry. Everyone cringes at the notion of receiving criticism from those around us, even if it’s constructive. And it’s especially hard for long-time leaders who have never experienced 360-degree reviews before in their careers.
But, at the end of the day, a 360-degree feedback survey can be a powerful tool because it creates better leaders, improves organizational culture, and more accurately reflects the performances of individuals and teams. Employees have more clarity and feel empowered and confident. Meanwhile, the C-level executives guiding their people along the leadership journey report major increases in innovation, better problem solving and more effective overall management.
POST WRITTEN BY
Founder, Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and the LEAP Leadership Acceleration Program
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.