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Mind the Leadership Gap with 360 Leadership

Tuulia Sinijärvi
6 min read
Employee Experience
Mind the Leadership Gap with 360 Leadership

360 Leadership has the power to transform organizations. With a strong, inspiring leader in place, teams are encouraged to work hard and reach their full potential. On the flip side, when leadership leaves much to be desired, workplaces can become toxic as employees disengage, reducing productivity and profitability along the way.

With great leadership at the top, cultures become stronger, employees are less likely to look for other jobs, and managers at all levels from the front-line to the C-suite become more effective.

At many organizations, however, leadership simply exists. Whether or not leadership is effective doesn’t seem to matter. The bosses are the bosses and they’ll remain in those positions until they decide to leave. Since leaders are on top, the company collectively assumes that these individuals are good at their jobs and know exactly what they’re doing. Unfortunately, in many cases, that sentiment is completely off the mark. It turns out there’s a massive leadership gap (in other words the difference between how leaders think they are performing and how they are actually performing).

This gap can have a tremendously bad effect on an organization’s performance. One of the main reasons employees leave jobs is because they don’t like the people they work for. Of course, when employees leave, productivity takes a massive hit; it can take new hires six months or even longer to become fully competent in their position. There are also significant financial considerations, too. Last year, for example, U.S. employers were estimated to have collectively absorbed $600 billion in employee turnover costs.

Tectonic shifts in the workplace

Work has changed significantly over the last several years. According to CEB, two massive tectonic shifts have occurred at organizations in recent years:

  1. Organizational structures have changed from top-down hierarchies to “flatter” organizations that don’t have as many managerial layers between front-line employees and the C-suite.
  2. The way we work has evolved rapidly, too. In the past, employees might work for one company for their entire careers. Today, employees hop from job to job and role to role on a regular basis. At the same time, management is changing, too. It’s increasingly common for people to lead cross-functional teams instead of standalone departments or groups.

Most people think about leaders as individuals who have direct reports. But in this new era of flat organizational structures and agile teams, new leadership functions are emerging. In fact, practically anyone in an organization can become a leader these days.

Measuring the new kind of 360 leadership

As the idea of leadership changes, measuring and assessing leadership requires a new approach. We believe that the approach starts with democratizing leadership feedback using a self-driven approach across teams and departments.

When it comes to assessing their employees, organizations are increasingly moving away from yearly surveys to feedback that’s collected and delivered on a more rapid cadence. More specifically, many leading enterprises are using 360-degree feedback systems that combine feedback from peers, supervisors, direct reports, and the individuals themselves. With 360-degree feedback, companies are able to paint a more complete picture of every employee—identifying strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth.

Seeing how 360-degree feedback can help employees become more engaged and more productive, many enterprises are using the model to assess leaders across the organization, too. With the right tools in place, organizations gain access to on-demand 360-degree surveys for all leaders. Based on the results of this continuous feedback, they can then devise actionable plans to figure out how to take all levels of leadership to the next level.


The benefits of a self-driven 360 model

Historically, feedback came from the top down. A manager would assess their direct reports’ capabilities at the end of the year and then offer a few parting words of wisdom after an hour-long meeting to discuss areas of improvement. This approach left much to be desired. If an employee was bothered by something in February and didn’t have a chance to share their thoughts and ideas until December, how could a company expect that individual to stay productive in the interim? The same holds true for managers. If a leader’s team was unhappy during the beginning of the year and that leader’s performance was rarely critiqued, how could a team perform at their full potential?

A self-driven 360 model helps organizations overcome these challenges by giving every employee the ability to offer feedback at their convenience. With a 360-degree feedback tool in place, organizations can work toward closing the leadership gap by:

  • Identifying gaps: Self-driven 360-degree feedback enables managers to assess themselves. It also enables all other stakeholders such as direct reports, their managers, and colleagues to do the same. Once the feedback comes in, leaders will be able to see how they perceive themselves and how they’re perceived by the people they work with. For example, a leader might think they’re great at communicating only to find out their colleagues think they are just average communicators.
  • Uncovering blind spots: Similarly, a leader might think they are great at fostering innovation only to find out their team thinks they’re actually really bad at it. Armed with that information, the leader can then take proactive steps to work on improving their skills in that area. (A side note: Don’t refer to these blind spots as weaknesses. They’re development areas!)
  • Discovering hidden strengths: At the same time, a leader might think they are really bad at supporting their team’s professional development only to find out the opposite is true. With that information on hand, the leader might decide to devote even more of their time on supporting professional development initiatives to cultivate an even stronger team.
  • Supporting continuous growth: By adopting an action oriented-approach to leadership development, the organization can support continuous growth at the top. As leaders become more and more effective in their roles, the rest of the organization benefits.

Examples of extraordinary 360 leadership 

Effective leadership has the ability to transform all kinds of organizations. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite examples of extraordinary leadership in action.  

  • Craig Berube is the coach of the St. Louis Blues, a hockey team in the NHL. In 2018, he took over a team that finished in last place the prior year. During his first season, the Blues ended up winning the Stanley Cup. His motto was simple: Give me your best every single day or I’m going to take you off the ice. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. Just do the best you can. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. Going from last to first is an extraordinary feat—and speaks very clearly to Berube’s effective leadership style.
  • When Amazon started out more than 20 years ago, it was an online bookseller. Fast-forward to today and the company is a massive player in practically everything—including cloud computing (Amazon Web Services) and grocery (Whole Foods). Jeff Bezos saw what the future looked like and worked hard to make Amazon one of the most innovative companies in the world. Suffice it to say he succeeded.
  • Supercell is a Finnish game design studio behind titles like ‘Clash of Clans’ and ‘Clash Royale’. The organization has a completely different structure compared to most; there aren’t any team managers and there isn’t any hierarchy, either. There are the CEO and loads and loads of “supercells”—which are powerful teams that can choose what they want to work on. Ahead of rolling out one of their releases, ‘Boom Beach’, the entire company wanted to ‘can it’. Except for the cell of five to 10 people who believed in it and refused to give in. Boom Beach went on to become a major hit.

For more information on how 360-degree leadership feedback can transform your organization, check out this on-demand webinar.

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