It seems obvious but it is worth reiterating - one of the chief benefits of 360 feedback is the ability to compare and contrast perceptions of our workplace behaviour from different quarters. This can reflect how we may behave differently when we are managing up, down or with our peers. One of the more powerful comparisons, however, is how we see ourselves compared to the view of others.
A simple yet helpful process when unpacking 360 feedback is to draw up a 2x2 table of our strengths and development areas as rated by ourselves and others. We can sometimes be pleasantly surprised by strengths that others see in us, and a little unsettled where others don't think we are as good as we think we are – our ‘blind spots’. While this is challenging on a personal level, it's really interesting when we see this phenomenon for a whole cohort of leaders.
Voice Project recently presented research looking at the 360 ratings of 112 Australian school principals and other senior school leaders (How can leaders be more effective in schools? Presented at ACEL National Conference, Oct 2014). The leaders had all participated in Voice Project’s Quality Leadership Profile for Schools 360 survey, with combined feedback from over 3,400 staff.
Both leaders and their work colleagues agreed that their key strengths lay in school leaders’ personal capability, being good role models and representing their schools well in the wider community. In terms of ‘known weaknesses’, leaders acknowledged that they didn't provide as much performance feedback and career guidance as their staff would like.
But there were also some key differences in leaders' own perceptions and those of their raters. On the whole, school leaders (like leaders in many industries) were slightly harsher judges of themselves than others were of them. In particular, they were not as confident as others in their strategic capability to navigate the complex educational environment.
This general trend of harsher self-ratings makes the ‘blind spots’ stand out even more. Consultative leadership and people management were the few areas where school leaders rated themselves more favourably than others have rated them. They included:
- creating an environment of trust and safety for speaking up and debating issues
- listening to staff and being open to new ideas, and
- responding sympathetically to staff needs.
This discrepancy provides a challenge for school leaders to re-think how their interactions with staff are viewed by others. Leaders have often risen to their positions because of their excellent communication skills and confidence speaking in organisational and public forums. Perhaps they are unaware of how difficult it can be for some people to speak up at work, and how much encouragement is required to elicit genuine involvement in decision-making. Of course, the issue may not be one of self-awareness, but a disagreement over the level of consultation that is desirable or necessary. Although leaders may be comfortable with their level of directing versus listening, staff would like to see more listening and empathic responding.
Either way, to improve their leadership effectiveness as perceived by others, opportunities exist for school leaders to more actively seek out and listen to staff, and to look for ways in which they can promote the development of a more supportive and open work culture.
The findings are an interesting challenge to all of us. How well do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Are you confident that your colleagues at work see you as you see yourself?
Thanks to Cameron Dougall, Sebastien Berlioz and Malcolm Lamb for conducting and presenting this Voice Project research.