The Questions We Ask Get to the Source of Leadership Behavior
Most 360 feedback instruments produce an assessment of people’s leadership behavior, provide people with the feedback and a few prescriptions for how they should change.
The 360 feedback process I have developed at Masterful Coaching focuses not just on their leadership behavior, but more importantly on what is driving that behavior, which opens the door to the 360 producing a real alteration.
We get at this by asking questions in five categories:
1. Aspirations. Most executives don’t wake up in the morning saying, “I want to change my leadership style.” They wake up in the morning thinking “I would like a promotion or a raise in pay,” or “I want to change the world in some way.” So we start our 360 process by asking the person what their aspirations are, specifically what job titles they would like to hold, the difference they would like to make, or the results they would like to get.
This guides us in the 360 process to ask questions and provide feedback so that people are more likely to say, “You’ve got my attention,” as well as to be motivated to make changes in leadership thinking and attitudes.
2. Winning Strategy. Most leaders have a “winning strategy” that has been the source of their success. As a result, they tend to approach every situation from their winning strategy, often being unaware how it has become a limitation. For example, someone’s winning strategy might be to “set low goals that you are certain you can reach,” “put playing politics above initiating change,” or “withdrawing and distancing yourself from the larger organization and driving results in your own department.”
The problem is not just that people have a winning strategy, but that they become their winning strategy. It becomes a box that they can’t think, talk, or act outside of. The idea behind the MC 360 is to provide people with feedback that helps them to break out of that box. Suddenly the person who was stuck in setting low goals comes up with a vision of an impossible dream; the person who plays politics decides to focus on performance; or the person who is just focused on getting results in his department learns to love politics and is able to maneuver in the larger organization.
3. Best Behavior. I see my job as a coach is to bring out the best in people, not necessarily to fix, solve, or change them. So I like to start my 360s by asking questions designed to figure out what people are like when they are at their best. That way I can provide feedback that helps people to recognize and be able to call this forth in more situations.
For example, “Joe is the kind of leader who provides a greater goal that gives everyone in the organization a sense of purpose,” “Joe is great at doing a deep dive and slicing through problems that are like Gordian Knots,” or “Joe is great at including everyone in the team in the dialogue.”
4. Stress and Pressure. One CEO told me, “I’m under pressure to grow my business and grow it faster, but my board doesn’t like me to take risks that might drive growth. It’s giving me a lot of stress.” The point is that when leaders are under stress and pressure, they often shift from their “best behavior” to “defensive behavior,” which can be very counterproductive.
For example, a person under stress and pressure may suddenly resort to excessively pleasing behavior with their boss, acting heavy-handed with their staff, or suppressing important dilemmas at team meetings. The problem is that, often they are unaware that they are doing this and unaware that they are unaware. The 360 feedback we do helps them to develop this awareness so that they can step back when they are under stress and pressure, reflect on how they are showing up, and snap out of it.
5. Underlying Needs. We also ask questions designed to get to the underlying, and often emotional, drivers that shape people’s behavior—either positively or negatively.
For example, one marketing director in a company in an emerging market told me that Ricardo (someone I was doing the feedback on) was always coming to him with a problem and attempting to engage him in conversation. For the first few times, the marketing director told me, he was happy to act as a thinking partner, but Ricardo kept bringing problems until one day he snapped and told Ricardo, “You have to learn to think for yourself.”
I gave Ricardo feedback from his boss and looked with him at what was the underlying need that drove this counterproductive behavior. He sheepishly grinned and admitted he just wanted his boss’s attention. My advice was twofold, why not invite your boss to lunch every once in a while, and secondly, never bring your boss a problem without a solution.