Leadership self-assessment tools to accelerate your development

A variety of tools are available to help promote self-awareness in the context of leadership. One of the most powerful of these is 360° feedback. The term derives from a full-circle (360°) view of an individual’s leadership behaviors as perceived by peers, subordinates, and supervisor(s).

Many types of 360° instruments are on the market, ranging from superficial to highly complex measures of management and leadership practices (see Appendix B for sample profiles from a 360° feedback instrument). In an ideal world, this type of intervention would be unnecessary, as we would routinely know how others perceived us.

The giving and receiving of feedback would be an everyday occurrence. But there is no ideal world of which I am aware. It is highly uncommon for communication inside organizations to be so open that perceptions are regularly exchanged. It is one of those fascinating human traits that we all want constant feedback to know how we are doing and yet we are all so reluctant to give it.

Many companies utilize 360° feedback as a part of their human resource development initiatives. If used wisely, it can strongly enhance leadership behaviors. If done poorly, the use of 360° feedback can backfire and cause significant damage within the company.

I have seen both best and worst practices in the implementation of 360s. An illustration of a best practice is seen in an insurance company that built the 360° instrument rollout into a five-day leadership development program.

A significant amount of training was provided both to the individuals who would receive the feedback and to all the feedback providers so that their input could be as meaningful as possible.

The feedback recipients were given a good deal of time, with coaching, to analyze the information they received. Then, these same managers participated in a program that integrated the 360° competencies into the course content. In this way, the managers could
focus on building their capabilities in a supportive classroom environment.

As a pretest-posttest measurement, the managers were given the opportunity to get another round of 360° feedback six to eight months later in order to assess their progress. In all ways, the use of the 360° instrument was viewed as a developmental tool, not an evaluative performance appraisal device.

Which brings me to a worst-practice example—a major corporation that paid seven figures for a “customized” 360° instrument from a major private consulting firm. The company spent all its resources on the instrument and did not build a developmental experience around the feedback.

Training to feedback providers was haphazardly done, so there was a minimal amount of consistency in the data collected. And the profiles were used for performance reviews rather than as developmental tools.

Therefore, the recipients selected those feedback providers who would make them look good, not those who would give good constructive criticism. Most importantly, the company was not ready for 360° feedback because it had a culture that fostered covert communications and was highly political.

The implementation was an unmitigated disaster and cost a number of people their reputations— and for a few, it resulted in their terminations. Fortunately, the company
realized how bad the situation had become, and it stopped using the 360° instrument until it could find a way to do it more effectively. The sad part is that it will take quite some time before the people in that company will trust a feedback-based instrument again—and they need it the most!

There are a variety of other self-assessment instruments that can provide additional insight for understanding leadership behaviors and styles—all aimed at enhancing self-awareness. The
Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is probably the most widely used personality indicator.

FIRO-B is another popular instrument that was often used by the Center for Creative Leadership. Among my favorites are the Birkman and the Learning Styles Inventory,
each of which offers a unique perspective for self–assessment. It is important to take some care in selecting the instrument(s) that would add the most value for you in this process. Look for:

  • A well-validated instrument—sufficiently tested and utilized
  • A tool that measures factors important to you and your job responsibilities
  • An instrument that is neither too superficial nor too complex to be useful

In high-quality leadership programs conducted by reputable institutions, it is common for participants to undergo an array of assessment instruments. In most of the programs that I have designed, we employ at least three tools, including the 360° feedback instrument. Each one provides unique information that can be helpful in the self-assessment process. But no tool is perfect.

All these measurements are “slippery” at best in that they involve human behavior, perception, and highly intangible variables. Thus, the use of multiple instruments, coupled with the individual’s introspective capabilities, enables the best opportunity for a comprehensive view of competency.

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