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How to use 360-degree feedback for leadership development

5 min read
What makes a great leader? Here's how you can use 360-degree feedback for leadership development to understand how your employees define leadership, as well as identify your future leaders.


What is 360-feedback for leadership development?

360-degree feedback is a multi-dimensional leadership development tool that asks for feedback from an employee’s circle of influence: supervisors, peers, and direct reports. It is most widely used for development, yet many organizations also use it for administrative purposes.

However, 360-degree feedback is also a great tool for leaders. Giving them clear, actionable feedback from their peers, employees and managers can help them to become better at their roles and therefore help the people they manage. Receiving 360-degree feedback is also more comprehensive and less prone to individual bias, since there are multiple perspectives.

For example, a leader or manager may think that the people they manage can’t follow instruction very well. But if other people outside of their reporting line give feedback that the leader has poor communication and gives unclear instructions then they’re more likely to take it seriously.

How to carry out 360-degree feedback for leaders

1. Define leadership

If the definition of leadership isn’t clear in your organization, or there are conflicting views, why not put the question to your employees?

As a leadership team, you’ll know your company’s strategy and vision – but your employees can tell you how you can achieve it. They can tell you whether your strategy is being implemented on the ground, and whether managers are walking the talk.

Managerial engagement is one of the biggest hurdles to changing a company culture and delivering on a strategic vision, and 360 Feedback can help you uncover the current state of play.

As part of a new or existing 360-feedback system, you can ask employees about the behaviors they admire in their peers, direct reports or managers. You can also use advanced AI technology to spot trends in how people are talking about leadership or, more specifically, leaders.

2. Assess leadership

When you’ve defined what makes a leader in your organization, you can use 360 feedback to assess your current crop of leaders and identify new high potentials.

You’ll be asking a leader’s direct reports, peers and managers to assess them against this leadership criteria. And from this, you’ll get an idea of a leader’s strengths and weaknesses, with clear areas for professional development.

You can then use the results of 360 Feedback to create tailored training programs for developing certain leadership skills.

3. Identify new leaders

It’s not just about reviewing your current leaders and whether they exhibit good leadership qualities. It’s about finding high potential leaders as well.

If you’re trying to identify new leaders, the first thing to do is work out where your company wants to be in the future. That will help you focus on the qualities and competencies that will help you get there.

You can then ask reviewers in a 360-feedback survey to comment on how much the person they’re reviewing exhibits certain qualities. Or, use AI technology and natural language processing to see which employees are being talked about in ways that suggest they have leadership potential.

With the results from 360 feedback, you might be able to create a development program tailored to those early in their career but with leadership potential. Or perhaps tailor an existing rotational program to fill the gaps in future leaders’ skills and competencies.

4. Monitor progress and growth

Leaders, by their very nature, don’t really like micromanagement. In fact, autonomy is listed as one of the biggest drivers for job satisfaction among leaders.

For that reason, combining performance measurement with allowing your leaders to do their thing is a real challenge.

360 Feedback can give you a regular but less intrusive way of monitoring leaders. The results can be more useful to leaders as well, as it lets them see how they’re perceived by others in the organization, versus having one-to-one appraisals with a manager or simply hitting targets.

It shows them how they’re actually perceived as leaders in the truest sense – how much they inspire, motivate and develop team members, or how their attempts to drive change and improvements are being perceived.

Want to learn more about 360-degree feedback programs? Download your ultimate guide to 360s