The Shocking Truth About 360-Degree Feedback

When your leadership assessment doesn't reflect what employees are telling you.

The leader and I sit quietly dissecting the 360 report she holds in her hands. This is an esteemed and seasoned leader who had spent years managing others and was now a manager of managers. She sits across from me, trying to understand the feedback in the report. I sense her distress when she says:

“This information must be wrong. I have great feedback conversations with my stakeholders. I ask them frequently what I am doing well and what I can do better. They tell me I’m doing well and that doesn’t match up with the negative information in this report. Is this really my report or could it belong to someone else?”

She was trying to make sense of information that doesn’t seem to match up because it came through different ways of assessing her behavior. The fact of the matter is that the feedback she receives by either method won’t tell her the “truth” – they are a snapshot of the perceptions of her stakeholders. What matters is what she thinks and does with the information.

First, she needs to spend more time after this initial debrief to review the report again and to think. When she’s digested the report and had time to think more about it, her results can become the beginning of some illuminating conversations and an action plan.

Assessment results can be disconcerting, and every leader who deciphers the results reacts differently. Some will agree with the strengths and disagree with the weaknesses that are highlighted. Others feel the results reflect well how they show up, warts and all. All of it is the start of something.

After you receive your report, begin the conversation:

  • With yourself. Spend some time going through your report again. Recognize that nobody gets perfect scores. There is always something you can do better or differently. As you look at the information, consider the balance – you’ll have plenty of strengths that show up too. Ask yourself: What surprised me? What am I proud of? Where do I go from here? Put yourself in your stakeholders’ shoes and ask yourself whether you can imagine why they might have scored you low in some areas of your report.
  • With others. Note that 360 reports do not always pinpoint the exact behaviors that can result in lower scores in some areas. Have a conversation with trusted stakeholders who can tell you exactly what behaviors they observe that might be causing the lower scores. Listen well and ask questions about when they see the behavior, who you are with when you exhibit it, and what they observe you doing.  It’s hard to be vulnerable in this way, but it’s also important to know the specifics so you can make the changes that will transform your leadership from good to great.

It can be difficult to receive critical feedback, but when you see it as a learning opportunity and the beginning of conversations that can make you a better leader, you just may be on your way to greatness.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.

(Image via asezo/