Leadership Ability in a 360-degree Assessment: Why Underestimating your Abilities Hurts Your Impact

Being a self-aware leader means that you have to believe it too


Garrett Mintz , Sun 24 January 2021
The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance. 

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:

Self-Aware - People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management

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

Understanding Underestimating your Abilities for 360-Degree Assessments

When somebody has underestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a lower score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ score of them. At first glance, this may seem like a positive thing: “If my colleagues believe that I’m better than my self-assessed performance, then I must be doing pretty well!” This is partially true, but this article will shed light and provide examples of how underestimating your abilities can be an opportunity for improvement.

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include our 360-Degree Assessment (and its report) to each participant. We’ve found that our members use these insights to reveal the areas most in need of improvement. This has helped members identify the best course for professional growth and helps provide a major launching pad for helping them open up and be vulnerable in their mentor relationships.

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-degree assessment are People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

This article is one in a series of articles focused on why underestimating one's score on a 360-degree assessment report based on the 5 core areas listed in the paragraph above is not necessarily advantageous for one’s career.

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 lower score than your colleagues on your leadership ability, that could indicate a lack of awareness for your own effects on the workplace or a lack of understanding of what is expected of great leaders compared to your own ability.

Lack of awareness

When seemingly great leaders (according to their colleagues) rate themselves lower than expected, they tend to do so because they are unsure which actions convey strong leadership in the eyes of their colleagues. To some, it’s the humble superhero sentiment of “anyone would have done what I did if they were in my shoes.” But the reality is that everyone has their own style when taking on the tasks that embody a leader and your colleagues seem to have noticed your abilities. 

Lack of understanding what is expected

The other major reason why somebody gives themselves a lower score on their leadership abilities compared to their colleagues is that they believe what is expected of them to be a leader is greater than the way they have performed up until this point. Similar to lack of awareness, typically this person doesn’t know what is expected from the leader and they tend to set the bar of what they believe a leader is way too high. They still fulfill the role of leader, but might not realize it. Or they think that they could be doing better and don’t give themselves enough credit. Similar to the dissatisfaction Michael Jordan had during the peak of his NBA career with his own game (and wanting to always make improvements), people in this category set an unattainable bar of leadership that is impossible to achieve.

There are several possible solutions to help close the gap in one’s leadership ability. The first is to contemplate and think about the possible reasons why your team considers you to be a strong leader. You might not give yourself credit for it, but your colleagues do! So, try learning to trust their judgment by considering what exactly your team sees that you don’t. You can also try creating a list of all of the times this past year where you stepped up and helped your team as a leader (even if you think anyone would have done it). You need to give yourself credit for the times you stepped up as a leader and try to create some form of celebration (no celebration is too small) for when you practice effective leadership and step up to the plate.

Counter-argument

The eternal counter-argument to this is “I just set the bar really high and I feel like I am not where I would like to be in this area.” If that is the case, then you are not effectively communicating your standards to those you work with. If your colleagues don’t know your standards, then they can’t properly assess your abilities in relation to those standards.  

Overall, the goal of a 360-degree assessment and report is to identify the gaps and blindspots one may have so then they can improve their performance. The goal is to be self-aware, thus enabling you to work towards excellence in each area. Underestimating your performance might feel good at first because it shows others think highly of you, but continually failing to meet your own expectations means that you risk burning out or losing engagement. So, try being honest with yourself and setting honest goals. Professional growth is a slow process that takes dedication, consistency, and honesty, but by following the path, we are all capable of becoming our best selves.


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