How to Become a Better Leader When your 360-Degree Assessment Report Shows you are Self-Aware on your Leadership Abilities

How to recognize there are opportunities to improve when both you and your colleagues share a similar belief on your leadership abilities

Garrett Mintz , Sat 30 January 2021
A 360-degree assessment is a unique survey that uses input from self-assessment and from colleagues’ assessments to understand a professional’s strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. By gathering feedback from your colleagues alongside your own perspective on those same questions, we can get a deeper look at how your self-perception compares to the way your colleagues see you. 

With this data, we can break down the results of a 360-Degree Assessment into three outcomes: 

1) Somebody has underestimated their abilities (self-rating lower than colleagues’ ratings), 

2) Somebody has overestimated their abilities (self-rating higher than colleagues’), 
 3) Somebody is self-aware about their abilities (self-rating matches colleagues’).

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who are self-aware of their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

Overestimating - People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management 

Understanding Self-Awareness for 360-Degree Assessments

When somebody is self-aware about their abilities, this means that they gave themselves a similar score as the score their colleagues provided on the same skill. 

Initially, self-awareness may seem to be a cut-and-dry positive outcome but looking a bit deeper reveals some potential issues. After all, the goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and close the gaps between one’s self-perception and the perception of their colleagues. However, we find that there are opportunities for growth within a self-aware 360-degree assessment report and this article will review those opportunities.

At Ambition In Motion, our 360-Degree Assessment has 5 core components: 

a.                People Management
b.                Innovation
c.                Leadership Ability, 
d.                Communication Skills, and 
e.                Financial Management.

While self-awareness is likely the best outcome relative to the other two possibilities, I’m next going to explain how you can leverage self-awareness to grow as a professional and identify blind spots in your professional perspective. I’m going to show why self-awareness on your 360-Degree Assessment is more than just a pat on the back, even if you and your colleagues share similar views on your performance. 

Leadership Ability

Leadership ability is an important skill for any professional, regardless of whether you hold an official leadership position. Leadership ability is based on one’s ability to set proper expectations for their work and communicate those expectations clearly and effectively. Skilled leaders demonstrate their ability to motivate others towards a purpose that benefits everyone, their willingness to take accountability when things go wrong, and the modesty to give credit when things go right.

If you gave yourself a score that was consistent with what your colleagues said of you, it can mean that you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues agreed with you or you gave yourself a low score and your colleagues agreed with you.

Self-Awareness but poor performance

If you gave yourself a relatively low score on your leadership ability and your colleagues agreed with you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad leader and your colleagues have confirmed it. Oftentimes, we give ourselves a low score on our leadership ability out of humility and recognition that leadership is a trait that can always be improved. However, when our colleagues feel like we aren’t strong at leadership either, this can typically be attributed to our ability to communicate.

People tend to perceive others as lacking leadership abilities NOT because of their inability to speak up, but more often because when one does speak up, it is perceived as self-centered and only benefiting the person making the request. Simply, leadership for yourself instead of for the team.

Here is an example of this situation. Many years ago, I was a server and bartender at a restaurant. My manager was a well-intentioned guy who read all the leadership books and constantly talked about how he wanted to improve his leadership abilities. I didn’t give him a 360-degree assessment, but I would imagine that his self-rating on leadership ability would be somewhat low because he recognized that there were areas for growth in his leadership repertoire. The issue was, although he understood the theory and high-level ideas from his books, his implementation of information was off. He never had a pulse for how we, the people who reported to him, felt about his management style and the processes he wanted to implement. To convey the importance of organizational citizenship and helping fellow servers and bartenders, he told all of us a story of a time that he pulled over to help somebody fix a flat tire. His goal was to convey that helping others is the right thing to do and can have a positive impact on the team. However, we noticed that the story was just about him. To us, it felt like he was just patting himself on the back, and because he never gave a resolution (e.g., the person he helped never spoke with him again), it was relatively unclear as to why helping others can have a positive impact on the rest of the team. 

The point is that sometimes we can be educated about the theory of what it means to be a leader, but our efforts to implement those leadership strategies may not fully resonate with those we work with unless we ask for feedback and be open to making adjustments after learning the feedback.

Another reason you may have given yourself a low leadership score (and your colleagues agreed with you) could be because you don’t actually believe you are a strong leader and your role doesn’t necessitate that you be a leader. 

But being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have a placard or title labeled leader. Leadership abilities can include helping set expectations for your work with those you work with, taking accountability for mistakes that may happen, and giving acknowledgement to others when they have helped you.

Leadership ability transcends titles and enters into the realm of just being a good professional to work with. Thinking you aren’t good at these skills and then having your colleagues confirm these beliefs can be tough. But it’s no help if you start thinking there is nothing you can or need to do about it. If you don’t work on these components of your professionalism, you become an energy-taker instead of an energy-giver. People will resent working with you because they will perceive you as being selfish and uninterested in the outcome of the team. And if you are actually selfish and uninterested in the outcome of the team, then perhaps it makes sense to reflect on yourself and on your time to figure out the best use of it. There are plenty of jobs out there. If you are working at a company with a team, or just doing work that is uninteresting to you, then perhaps it is time to consider another line of work because the time you are spending doing your current work doesn’t appear to be serving you or those you work with.

Self-Awareness and high performance

If you have a relatively high leadership ability score and your colleagues agree with you, that is excellent, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have achieved the pinnacle of leadership ability. 

Leadership ability is an interesting concept because the ultimate measure of success as a leader is both: how does my team feel about working with me AND what outcomes are we achieving as a team.

If you rated yourself highly and your team agrees with you, you can check off half of the box. However, how is your performance? Finding the right balance between output and keeping people satisfied, both doing the work and in your leadership ability, is the key to being the best leader you can be.

Therefore, when it comes to the question of output, you must assess comfort versus optimization. In terms of comfort, the question is: are you and your team achieving a performance level in which 1) the business can operate effectively, and 2) people are satisfied with their compensation? If the answer to either part is no, then you have a big problem. This means you are a supportive leader and your leadership style is appreciated, but it also means that you haven’t set the bar high enough. Something needs to change so the business can run at a level where everyone is comfortable.

There is a tv show on Hulu called Ramy. It is an interesting show about a man in his late 20’s trying to figure out his life. At the beginning of season 1, Ramy is working at a startup. He and his colleagues recognize that they aren’t paid the best, but they believe in the mission and they like the people they work with. Unfortunately, the company performance leaves much to be desired. Eventually, the company isn’t able to drive the revenue or fundraising it needs to survive and everyone gets fired.

This is a small story within the tv show, but it shows that Ramy appreciated the founders of the startup at one point in time (e.g. would have given a high leadership score to the founders), but once the company started to fail and everyone was fired, they all left with a salty taste in their mouth about the entire experience. 

There are many factors for why a business eventually fails, but sometimes for fear of being perceived as a bad or overly aggressive leader to our team, we set lower bars for those we work with, even if it means the business can’t run comfortably. 

However, if your work exists comfortably (either from a leadership perspective or as an individual contributor), and your leadership ratings are mutually high, then you have to ask yourself if your work is running optimally.

If you are an individual contributor, the incentive may not be as clear as to why you would question this or pursue improvement to the optimum level. You are not necessarily getting compensated any more to make these improvements. As a leader, the motivation for this is pretty obvious – e.g. the better your team performs, the more valuable you are to the company.

But as an individual contributor, a big reason for wanting to improve your output to an optimum level, while maintaining a high level of respect from your colleagues as they perceive your leadership abilities, is control and autonomy. If you show a desire to push the status quo and improve the company’s output, you become substantially more valuable to the company. Being able to identify more efficient and innovative methods while keeping it easy for your colleagues to work with you because you set proper expectations and help them see opportunities that they may not have already seen, you become substantially more valuable to the company.  If your company can’t live without you, you will have the control and autonomy to try new things that the company would not trust others to try. 

If you ever had a shared family car growing up, this would be like always making sure you return the car to your parents with a full tank of gas (and occasionally a car wash) after you borrow it. Later, when it comes to borrowing the car for a concert 4 hours away, you have a track record of responsibility and respect for your parent’s car. 

The key to getting performance to an optimum level is not sacrificing the way your team feels about your leadership ability. The real key to being the best leader you can be is finding the balance between optimum performance and having the respect and support of your colleagues.

Overall, having a self-aware response on your 360-degree assessment report isn’t a free pass to give in to stagnation. It simply shows that you and your colleagues are on the same page. But, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement. The implications from having a self-aware score are not wholly positive or wholly negative. Instead, it is a snapshot of your current performance which can help you make informed decisions about where you need improvement. As long as you possess an open-mindedness about making improvements and are willing to measure whether the new changes worked, you can ensure that you are on a positive track towards continual growth and improvement.