The trouble with blindspots

Posted January 26, 2010 in Career Management, Communication, Latest News & Insights

Recently, I had a conversation with a client about the evils of 360 feedback (for the uninitiated, this is when you get feedback on your performance from your boss, peers and direct reports and see how it stacks up with your own self perception.  A humbling experience for many and a downright nightmare for some).  Apparently, my clients’ organization had rolled  out some 360 tool and it was a disaster.  People were alienated and bad feelings were rampant.  Needless to say, my client isn’t in much of a hurry to put leaders through another 360 any time soon (and I’m sure they weren’t lining up to do it either!). 

Now, readers of this blog know that we are big proponents of 360 assessments…lack of feedback is the biggest threat to any fast tracking leader.  But here’s the thing… the effectiveness of 360 tools, like anything else in corporate life, is all in the execution.

Bad execution looks something like this: the results of your 360 arrive on your desk in a sealed envelope with no debrief from either your boss, a coach or someone in HR; the survey allows people to “slam” you; or you can tell who said what by how questions were answered.

From this LeaderTalker’s perspective, the most helpful type of 360 feedback is the developmental kind (we like the MRG Leadership Effectiveness Analysis tool but there are lots out there).  As leaders, we need to understand our overall leadership approach (our behaviours) and what’s useful about that approach and what’s limiting.  These limitations – or behavioural blind spots – are the things that you are likely not to be getting much feedback on in the workplace.  And, sadly, it’s these blind spots that often lead to career derailment or to being passed over for opportunities.

As leaders, we need to move beyond building up our knowledge and skills, and star thinking about building up our leadership behaviours.   This is a much taller order since building up your behavioural toolkit takes time and a big commitment.  But, it’s worth it.  Here’s why:

If you and I were on a golf course together, and you had a Junior Miss starter set of clubs and I had the Tiger Woods super deluxe set, there would be some shots that I would be better equiped to take for the simple reason that I have more tools (clubs) in my golf bag to draw from.

It’s no different with leadership.  If you’re up against someone who has more tools in their leadership toolkit, they’ll have a better shot at the promotion or the lead on the project or the high profile job assignment than you.  And that’s the plain truth.

So… don’t be afraid of 360 feedback.  Just be afraid of not getting it.  And, if your organizations gun shy on providing 360’s, try doing your own. Start with this simple set of questions (and remember, if you embark on this, be sure to listen with an open mind, check your defensive reactions and seek to understand the perspectives coming at you):

  1. What are three things that I do really well as a leader?
  2. What is one thing that is less effective?
  3. What suggestions do you have for me that would help me improve?

People may be a little hesitant to share their thoughts with you at first, but stay with it.  You’ll get more comfortable hearing it and, when they see the changes you commit to making, they’ll be more comfortable giving it.  Plus, major side benefit… you’ll be role modelling that feedback isn’t something to fear with your team. 

Happy leading!


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