Executive Leadership: Welcome Your 360° Feedback, Don’t Dread It!

By Gilly Weinstein, MS, PCC

If you have, are currently, or will soon be working with an executive coach, chances are your coach will run some 360° exercise at the onset of the engagement. By harvesting a wealth of feedback about you from all directions — peers, direct reports, your boss, even your boss’ boss using an online tool or a series of confidential 1-on-1 interviews — your coach will distill a set of themes that feed into your executive leadership learning development journey.

Why is Doing a 360° Exercise Important

Why is this important? It is only by taking the time to understand and discuss how others see and experience you, that you and your coach can get a handle on those perception gaps (aka blind spots) — your perception of yourself versus others’ perception of you — across specific executive leadership learning and personality dimensions.

Through these conversations with your coach, you will start to grasp how the ways you behave, interact and react to situations. They will also examine how this contributes to, or erodes, your executive leadership learning effectiveness. 

As logical and straightforward as this may sound, I am always struck by how much worry and even undue stress the mention of a 360° exercise can elicit. I feel it’s worth taking a deep breath to remind ourselves of what a 360° does and how it is, fundamentally, a gift.

Let’s Start with What a 360° is Not

The enduring belief I regularly need to dispel with many leaders I coach is that a 360° is this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for your colleagues to air their grievances about you, and just have at it on everything that annoys them. Wrong.

If this is the spirit with which you approach a 360° feedback exercise, I may end up coaching you on where this assumption comes from. Of course, there are things about you that are easier to express in writing, anonymously, or in confidence to a third-party external stranger (your coach). But the feedback people volunteer will rarely be something they haven’t shared with you before, in some form. Whether what they said to you actually landed, or made a dent, or was even stored in your memory — or actioned in any way — is another story.

A 360° is not a report card or an inventory of the things you do wrong. “I will finally find out, black on white, everything I’m really bad at,” a new coachee recently lamented, when it came time to launch his 360°. This is not a useful or productive outlook. It does not indicate a growth mindset. We will talk about what that is and why a fixed mindset is a liability — especially in today’s reality, where embracing uncertainty and flexibility is a requirement for all leaders.

An Example of Your Executive Leadership Learning

The data (yes, there are actual numbers to unpack in a 360° report) and observations you and your coach will have in hand typically provide some energizing wake-up calls, more often than not, on sides of you (attitudes, behaviors, actions) that your colleagues’ value, and the strengths inherent to those, that you could be leveraging. 

For example feedback such as, “Chris always makes me feel heard and understood when I bring problems to the table,” points to what Chris does naturally and well.

How cool for Chris to be aware of this! Did Chris even know he possessed this trait? And now that he’s been made aware, how might he leverage this? How might that free up more energy to focus on other areas of his personal growth? Incidentally making people feel seen, heard, and understood is a powerful executive leadership learning skill that not everyone is born with!

The 360° exercise your coach runs will require time from each of your colleagues (30 minutes minimum), attention, and thoughtfulness. Just their willingness to contribute those three things for the sake of your development is a testament to how much they value you.

One More Myth to Bust

There’s one final myth worth shattering: debriefing your 360° report is going to be painful and hard. If you’ve elected to entrust your development to a qualified and experienced coach, they are seasoned and agile enough to take you through the results of your 360° feedback in a way that points to the opportunities. They will sit with you as you take in what people have shared, no matter the nature of the feedback, and help you reflect on where this may be pointing to. Ultimately, they will weave the threads together into a plan of action.

A 360° is an Opportunity — A Gift to You 

Behind every morsel of feedback lies an invitation to step up into a more empowered, aligned, robust, and even inspiring version of yourself. In those morsels, my coachees typically find colorful confirmation of things in themselves that they kinda’ already knew, or suspected, or have been avoiding aggressively for years — to the tune of emotional strain, energy depletion, internal frustrations, under-the-surface-rage, sometimes ulcers or insomnia, or worse.  

Opening up our eyes, ears, and heart to hear, really hear, what impact we have on others is part of how we grow as leaders. If you are fortunate enough to be working with a coach who will run a 360° with you, it will probably be unlike any form of feedback session you have experienced in your organization(s). If you fully trust your coach and yourself and embrace the entire process as a gift, it could truly change your life.

Take the Next Step in Executive Leadership Learning

To learn more about executive leadership learning, and exploring your mindset, assumptions, and behaviors to become a stronger leader, contact Gilly for a consultation.