Tales of Terror: Three Scary Moments in 360 Feedback (and How to Fight Back)

Ideally, every coachee could start the development process feeling confident, open, and ready to achieve deep self-awareness – fearlessly. In reality, though, the idea of candid 360 feedback can strike fear into the hearts of even an experienced leader. Finding out how you are perceived by others could be one of your client’s greatest fears come to life. So how do you make sure they see you as a trusted partner in their development… and not like the boogey man? To start, be aware of these three potentially terrifying aspects of 360 feedback, and make sure to mitigate their effects in your work.

Eek! It’s like looking in a funhouse mirror!

Of course 360 feedback can reveal some surprising feedback – after all, if your subject already knew exactly how they were perceived, a 360 wouldn’t be necessary. The process may reveal blind spots, and this can be one of the most enlightening parts of the feedback process. Ultimately, however, the results of a 360 should create a portrait of your subject that feels authentic, accurate, and recognizable.

What may give your client the chills is an oversimplified assessment. These can return results that make a client feel like they’re almost looking at themselves… but something’s not quite right. If a tool relies on categories that are too broad, your client may be confused by ill-fitting descriptors. Simplistic questionnaire design could also yield a creepy, not-quite-right profile. If observers feel trapped by limited options, can’t indicate degree of emphasis, or lean into stereotypes to answer transparent questions, your client may find themselves looking at a profile that feels off. The effect can be eerie, and it can leave your subject’s trust in the process a bit shaken.

To build 360 feedback on a strong foundation, make sure you are using an assessment tool with a scientifically sound questionnaire design, and a one that offers a rich and nuanced profile. While completing the questionnaire and interpreting the feedback may require a greater time investment, it will pay off in a more authentic experience for both client and coach.


Aack! Attack of the clones!

Imagine it: a mob of identical leaders closing in on you. Same thoughts, ideas, approaches, priorities, styles – no variation or individuality. Scary, right?

While most of us would agree that an organization led by clones is a spooky thought, some development processes are designed (perhaps unintentionally) to produce exactly that. If an organization commits to a single, rigid definition of successful leadership, this will translate to a leadership development process that rewards conformity and treats diversity as a flaw to be corrected. Leaders who don’t fit the mold are encouraged to fall into lock-step – even when it’s counter to their natural strengths – or get left behind.

For the organization, this can result for a scary lack of diversity at the top, limiting their ability to innovate and putting pressure on individual leaders to “do it all,” rather than play to their strengths. (Effective shared leadership when all your leaders are the same? Forget it.)

Avoid the clone syndrome by embracing a model that honors the individual. In reality, there isn’t a single “right” way to lead – strong leadership comes in many forms, and it’s often agile, adjusting to fit changing circumstances and evolving business needs. Organizations benefit from having a wide breadth of leadership skills across the top level (and within the ranks). Avoid assessments that strongly encourage every leader to fit into the same mold, and look for a tool that allows for multiple paths to successful leadership.


Oh no! Am I the villain here?!

Some of the scariest stories have a shocker of a plot-twist: the villain isn’t who you thought it was at all. Now imagine being a client, sitting down to get your feedback, hearing yourself described in harsh terms, and having this creeping realization: I think I’m the bad guy! Spooky, right?

When an assessment delivers feedback in strongly negative or positive terms, it quickly puts a leader on the defensive. Getting a high score on something with negative connotations can be scary and unsettling, distracting leaders with ideas of being disliked, unappreciated, misunderstood, or just plain bad at their job. That’s hardly an ideal foundation for building trust for a coaching relationship. Getting a low score on a trait with strong positive connotations – especially one that a leader considers personally valuable – can shake their confidence so hard that it can be hard to recover.

But isn’t that the point of 360 feedback? To see yourself as you truly are? Yes, accuracy is vital, but the vocabulary we use to paint that picture can make an enormous difference in how receptive your client is to the feedback, and how eager they are to move forward with an action plan.

Use an assessment tool that delivers feedback in value-neutral terms – words that are descriptive, but not evaluative. The LEA 360™ measures 22 behaviors, each of them value-neutral. Scores simply indicate the degree of emphasis on a behavior; low scores are not inherently bad (nor high scores inherently good). The resulting profile is complex and nuanced – just like the leader you’re coaching.


Don’t let your clients get spooked by the 360 feedback process. By placing the individual at the center of the development process, we can help them face this sometimes-scary world of professional development bravely – and make sure they triumph over any adversity that comes their way.

About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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