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7 Limitations of 360 Assessments and Feedback

360 assessments executive coaching leadership development Mar 08, 2016

360 Assessments were intended to be more “objective” by including a larger range of “subjective” assessments by peers, team members and external stakeholders in addition to the single assessment by a person’s business unit manager. However the 360 process also has significant limitations and the potential to inhibit rather than promote leadership development.

1. 360 Assessments are largely "Conventional"

Most 360s cover capabilities that only go as far as the final conventional leadership stage of an Achiever focusing on the customer, results, teamwork, pragmatic solutions and effective project management. They are anchored in Business-As-Usual whereas at senior levels it is essential to shift to the post-conventional leadership capacity of Catalysts and Strategists. 

The emergent capabilities at Catalyst which consolidate at Strategist extend leadership capacity from customers to broader responsibility for the whole community, from positional authority to personal authenticity, from a 3-year time horizon to 10-years, from cause-effect to wider known and unknown implications and repercussions, from transactional relationships to transformational leadership, and from negotiating challenges and constraints to navigating volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (our VUCA world).

The new strategic and holistic qualities of Catalysts and Strategists emerge through trial and error before they manifest as embodied character. This requires a shift into the post-conventional growth zone, something that many executives avoid and particularly if their leadership effectiveness is measured by confidently demonstrated capabilities. We must unlearn before we can develop, and experiment with increasing conscious awareness in order to grow as transformational leaders.

Developing qualities such as compassion, personal ingenuity, resilience, courage and visionary purpose, is more conducive to post-conventional leadership development at senior executive levels. It is these qualities that enable us to become more inspiring, strategic leaders with the capacity to innovate, collaborate, persist despite immense personal challenges and ignite the aspirations of others.

2. The top end of the scale is not necessarily “best”

In most instruments landing at the top of the scale is the presumed goal. For instance, to be “strategic” often requires an “analytical” approach rather than an “instinctive” one. But what if we were taking the emergent intuitive approach of a postconventional leader? How would we score?

Being “persuasive” is generally described as “convincing others” and “selling ideas”. But what of the multiple stakeholder engagement process where ideas and feelings are sought out within a strategically framed context in order to emerge with a shared transformational solution? How would this type of person operating at Catalyst or Strategist score?

And what of being “controlled” rather than “spontaneous”? Again, at post-conventional levels highly effective transformational leaders are spontaneous within a broader strategic aspirational framework and invite others to be the same. This lends itself to ingenuity and inclusiveness, innovation and collaboration.

3. The time many people put into making the assessments

A 360 takes up the time of many people time. It is a task that must be accomplished quickly given the “busy” nature of most organizations. Little considered thought is often given.

A much-preferred approach would be an in-depth confidential conversation with an executive leadership coach on a person's perceptions and attitudes, feelings and concerns, challenges and opportunities, doubts and aspirations.

Rather than focusing on the capabilities of an assessment tool, the focus is the holistic nature of the person that underlies those capabilities, leading to new insights and new approaches to their development as more inspiring, strategic leaders.

4. The psychological transference involved in assessments

Transference is a psychological term that refers to the unconscious projection of feelings or desires from one person to another. The longer I’ve been working as an Executive Leadership Coach, the more I see this in the situations clients face.

What we perceive, judge and express is often a lot more about us, than the other person. When we take things personally, it’s about our own emotional wellbeing, and not necessarily the effectiveness of others. What we focus on, give attention and expression to, is also largely geared to our own self-awareness. 360 Assessments mask this.

5. The politics in making “appropriate” assessments

360 Assessments are also situated amidst the interpersonal dynamics of relationships. In most organizations where there is rivalry and competition rather than transparency and trust, the 360 becomes yet another political tool.

A more objective assessment such as the Global Leadership Profile and Mature Adult Profile, both based on the Washington University Sentence Completion Test, is significantly more insightful and avoids any political dynamics. It is a projective test that a person completes independently of others to reveal their perspective.

6. The focus is on the gap instead of leveraging strengths

A gap fits into the same folly as most academic examinations. The focus is on what we don’t know, don’t get right rather than what we do.

I prefer to consider a person’s leadership profile in terms of strengths, stretches and stressors. Awareness and recognition of our strengths increases our self-esteem, while a focus on our stretches to extend our strengths and on our stressors to resolve emotional blocks facilitates our leadership development.


7. A focus on the role rather than the whole person

The final aspect of 360s is that often the results are compared to current role performance. Again this carries an inhibiting energy rather than a developmental one.

To grow beyond conventional leadership it’s essential to expand the strategic context of your role so you have the space within which to expand your own leadership presence. Development then becomes person-oriented in terms of realizing our potential rather than being limited by our current role.

This is the nature of initial post-conventional leadership development. It’s all about understanding ourselves, why we do what we do, and learning to develop self and social awareness to release reactive patterns and aspire to becoming our best self in our own personally authentic way.

We cannot inspire others if we are not personally inspired by what we do and what we wish to accomplish. It’s also essential to develop a strategic focus on how we invest our time with whom to realize mutually beneficial bold aspirations that will lead to a more sustainable, enlightened world.

For your senior executive leaders, I highly recommend moving away from 360s and turning towards executive leadership development individual and group coaching programs, so they have a real opportunity to make the shift to transformational leadership capacity that only emerges at Strategist. 
To find out more about the fast track to developing post-conventional leadership capacity, download my new Make the SHIFT! Leadership Program. 

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All the best,


About Antoinette Braks

Antoinette Braks is a Transformational Executive Coach in Strategic and Holistic Leadership with 25+ years global experience. In recent years she has coached more than 50 Senior Executives, led many Strategic Offsites for Executive Teams, and Leadership Development Programs in organizations with outstanding results.

Antoinette has an MBA from London Business School and is currently completing her PhD at the MGSM in Leadership Transformation. Previously she has led Leadership Capital Solutions with Korn Ferry Asia Pacific, People and Culture with Shell in Latin America and Africa, and as GM People with Vector in New Zealand.

Antoinette is also the bestselling author of Executive SOS outlining the 7 Proven Steps to Set Up Your Own Strategic Operating System. This book shows you how to rise above the noise, get off the treadmill and lead your division and stakeholders as an Inspiring Strategic Leader, showcasing a number of success stories from her executive clients.

The breakthrough Make the SHIFT! Leadership Development Program for Senior Executives!


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