I breathed in the scent of the 1989 Speedwagon’s wood paneling and tried to ignore the smell of my old wetsuit in the backseat. The Pacific Ocean glimmered to my left under the afternoon sun.
As Eddie Vedder’s voice echoed in my ear, I strained to hear what my Dad was yelling over the sound of the music.
I was learning to drive and as we practiced merging, he repeated over and over “check your blind spot, Caneel!” Rolling my eyes with typical teenage sass, I did as he recommended and slowly it became second nature.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized this bit of sage driving advice extends far past trying to switch lanes on PCH or the 405 freeway. You can’t see everything if you don’t change your perspective. And when you don’t check for blind spots in your leadership, accidents can happen.
You don’t always know how you are perceived by others. You may believe you come across a certain way but are actually mistaken. Your blindspots are often exactly that – blind to you.
This unawareness can lead to missing huge opportunities to make subtle shifts in your behavior and mindset that allow you to grow and change.
Leadership is perception. There is intrinsic value in finding out how you are perceived and received by people who view you from different perspectives – whether above you, beside you, or under you.
One of the things that leadership scholars know is leadership is difficult to measure and define.
That’s because what moves the needle in one organization isn’t what moves it in another organization.
Leadership is about how you are perceived. And perception happens out of your sphere of control. The perception of your leadership happens in the hearts and minds of those who are perceiving you, your followers, your peers, your managers, your board members, and your children.
Feedback has a powerful role in growth and leadership and its ability to accelerate a leader’s performance is often underutilized. Feedback is a tool for your learning.
One of the greatest feedback tools is the 360-degree review. This is considered a gold standard tool that many executive coaches including myself use from time to time with our executive leaders, our CEOs, our founders, all the way down throughout the organization.
How 360 Reviews Differ From Performance Reviews
Unlike a performance evaluation where you’re being rated by your manager or perhaps a couple of peers, a 360-degree review process is looking at you from all angles of perception.
This review would include input from your higher-ups. If you are in the C suite or you work with a lot of external partners, this might include your board. It might include investors, advisors, external partners, big customers, and clients.
It would also include the evaluation of those at the same level in the traditional organizational pyramid structure– your peers, or the people you regularly collaborate with or team up with.
It would also include those who report up to you, and I cannot tell you what a massive blind spot so many corporations have around this one.
You receive feedback from all those different levels and learn how you are being perceived differently by different angles and by different parts of the organization. Personal relationships outside of work are also valuable to tap into as part of this process.
Here’s where 360s and performance management differ: 360-degree reviews are not used to evaluate your performance relative to others, nor should they be used to assess if you are ready for a promotion or a pay raise.
The 360-degree review process is a personal and professional development tool and process.
The 360-degree process is incomplete if it is just referred to as data.
360-reviews act as a blind-spot buster. When you learn how others perceive you, you are presented with huge opportunities to grow and expand leadership through simple shifts in behavior or mindset.
Subtle changes like increased eye contact in the hallway, asking genuinely curious questions, and holding a boundary could really move the needle in a positive direction.
If you don’t have a chance to hear how you’re being perceived, you miss an opportunity to learn and grow if you want to. Whereas performance reviews are geared around expectations and areas to improve, 360s also include feedback about strengths you may not know you have.
You receive information about all blind spots- your weaknesses and strengths.
You will be able to see the patterns that exist in your personal life and your professional life. The discomfort of that wake-up call can spur change if you become willing.
Receiving this feedback in the context of a well-crafted and expertly conducted 360-degree review gives you a much greater chance of learning from it, because it’s much safer.
It feels safer to receive that information because the 360-degree review is intentionally designed for your growth and learning.
The 360 Review Process
Collect information through interviewing
I usually ask for between 8 and 12 interviews. It can be a time investment, but more importantly, it is a valuable leadership investment.
What’s really moving is how willing and excited people generally are to give that time. Anybody who is a stakeholder in that leader’s life is going to want them to have that experience because they want them to know their strengths. They also want them to have what they need so that they can make the changes they want to.
Explore Common Themes
After the interview notes are all compiled, I place information in a spreadsheet and look for themes. After looking at the entire collection of data and identifying key themes, I explore those and how they interact and sometimes find a higher-level structure or pattern that the themes all relate to.
Present the Results
The perceptions that are in this report are powerful to hear.
That is true regardless of whether you believe the feedback or not. That is true regardless of whether you think it’s positive feedback or negative. That’s true regardless of whether you think the feedback is conveying a strength or a weakness.
Listening to people reporting back about you, knowing that they spent their precious time investing in you and your growth that way, is moving, tender, and vulnerable.
It’s really important for you to take enough time and space to absorb it. We are really biased about the feedback that we choose to listen to and not listen to. We will systematically zoom past the same feedback again and again and again in our lives.
A great coach facilitating this process is going to notice that and they’re going to say, “Hold on. Let’s back up. I noticed you didn’t spend a lot of time focusing on the comments in these different sections that had to do with your creativity. What’s that about? Let’s go back and explore that.”
Create a Coaching Plan
The final formal step in this process is creating a coaching plan in response to the 360-degree review.
After you receive a report and you go through a few coaching sessions that focus on this feedback, it becomes a tool in your toolkit that you and your coach will keep coming back to as new situations arise. “Oh, this connects to that feedback from your 360 report. Let’s go back to that.”
This is also the part where you can set some goals and action items inspired by the report.
And YOU get to choose what you want to focus on. Someone’s perception is not necessarily true. It’s up to you to find what feedback impacts you and what changes you feel inspired and willing to make.
Ultimately the challenge (and opportunity) is deciding what you are absorbing from the feedback and what you want to do about it.
This article is related to my podcast episode on 360 Degree Reviews – Listen here.