Infinite Potential

Our secrets aren’t so secret

November 7th, 2023

Here is a secret (not really) about 360 feedback and really all constructive feedback for that matter.
You probably think people don’t see and know your personality, that there are parts of your personality that you are able to hide from others. There is comfort in this belief but in my years of debriefing 360 feedback I can now see that this is a lie we tell ourselves. Why? Perhaps to maintain some sense of control and safety in our interpersonal world.

I would say that one of the greatest benefits of 360 feedback and any other quality feedback is that we can learn that others actually DO see those parts of ourselves we think we are able to hide from others. In my experience this happens much more often than “blind spots” being revealed. And there is an incredible liberation that lies in the knowledge that other actually see those parts that we think we can hide, because when we relinquish our belief that we are hiding those things it paradoxically frees us to embrace every part of ourselves and not try to be something we are not. And we know how impactful authenticity is in leadership.

From this liberation also comes the empowering opportunity to accept responsibility for every part of ourselves. This positions us in a place of choice about what we are going to do about ourselves and who we will choose to be in our life. It allows us to embrace all that is good about ourselves and commit to being better about those parts of ourselves that are not as flattering. In the area of personality, maybe we judge others too quickly or become impatient. Or maybe we are great at strategic thinking but not so great at tactical execution (or vice versa). Whatever the “weakness”, acknowledging it helps us “name it” and it immediately has less power over you.

There is research (Walker & Smither, 1999) suggesting that if a leader identifies things they want to work on to be a better leader and they share those things with the people who rated them, it tends to result in higher subsequent ratings in the future. Of course, this does not “magically happen”, it is more likely that the vulnerability of sharing what you are working on will make you more accountable to YOURSELF to change things that you see are important to being a better person (and leader). The act of vulnerability itself invites your raters to extend some trust toward the relationship. This can also make it easier for you to devote time and energy to positive change in your life. But be aware that if change is not observed over time, there might be a net negative for being vulnerable in this way. Others may start to think it is in words only that you shared such things. Such are the high stakes of leadership.

Of course this type of commitment to yourself has consequences. As a client of mine said last week, “It takes time to change people’s perceptions”. So true. Sharing in this way with others is a commitment to working on becoming a better person for however long it takes for perceptions to be changed. Of course, it probably does not need to be said that we do these things because it is the right thing to do, not primarily to change the perceptions of others.

If you are the kind of leader who wants this type of growth (or you work with leaders who do), reach out to me for a round of 360 feedback and the professional debriefing that can help you identify both the strengths you should be fully leveraging and what positive change looks like for you. If you also decide to access the kind of support that makes this type of change more attainable, the benefits are endless.

Walker, A. G., & Smither, J. W. (1999). A five-year study of upward feedback: What managers do with their results matters. Personnel Psychology, 52, 393–423.