by Susan Cramm

EXECUTIVE COACH: Better Leadership Through Peer Reviews

Nov 01, 20064 mins
IT Leadership

Meet Mr. Average CIO. He is of average height, build and age. He is also, according to his recently completed 360-degree assessment, an average leader. Initially, Mr. Average was disappointed to hear his results. But over time, he became sanguine; after all, what’s the point of getting worked up over survey results that are confusing and don’t jibe with his strong job performance reviews?

Mr. Average’s situation is a common outcome of the 360-review process, in which an individual is evaluated by customers, peers, direct reports, his supervisor and himself. It should be no surprise that when you average the responses of 15 reviewers to 60 or so questions (each testing a different leadership competency), the mathematical process often leads to results that cluster around the norm.

To gain meaningful insights as to his specific leadership strengths and weaknesses, a CIO who has undergone a 360 review must objectively analyze hundreds of feedback points. So it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.

Mr. Average doesn’t know it, but there’s good reason for him to be concerned about his results; since he doesn’t have any competencies rated in the top 10 percent (scores greater than 4.5 on a scale of 5), he’s in the 34th percentile of all leaders. You see, it’s not the average score that counts on a 360 review. It’s the number of competencies rated in the top 10 percent, according to The Extraordinary Leader, by John Zenger and Joseph Folkman.

The good news for Mr. Average (and all of you) is that it takes only five highly rated competencies to be considered a great leader, as long as two other conditions are met. First, the competencies need to be distributed evenly across five leadership sectors, defined by Zenger and Folkman as personal capability, character, interpersonal skills, ability to focus on results, and willingness to lead change. Second, Mr. Average cannot have any fatal flaws, which are defined as an inability to learn from mistakes, a lack of core interpersonal skills, openness to new or different ideas, accountability and initiative.

A handful of extraordinary strengths separates great from average leaders. And great leaders outperform average ones on productivity, turnover, customer service and employee commitment. By building on his strengths and eliminating fatal flaws, the average leader can become extraordinary. Armed with this knowledge, Mr. Average can pluck meaningful insights from the mountain of 360-degree data. With relatively simple analysis, the feedback can be understood—and practical, focused development plans can result.

Mr. Average should begin by identifying “good” competencies that can be improved to “great.” Fortunately, he has five competencies with solid ratings (around 4 on a 5-point scale) and they are balanced across the leadership sectors.

  • Character—Mr. Average “walks his talk.”
  • Personal capability—He can deal with technical issues.
  • Focus on results—Our man spends time working on issues that are important to the organization.
  • Interpersonal skills—Mr. Average has built a strong team.
  • Leading change—The business sees him as a key partner.

Mr. Average must build on these strengths to move to the top tier of leadership. He should do so by focusing on what Zenger and Folkman term “competency companions,” behaviors that, if improved, cast a positive halo effect. For example, by improving their interpersonal skills—that is, if they can explain what they know in a way that is “heard” by others—individuals can improve the way their technical skills are perceived. The competency companion approach to development is the best way to move perceptions from good to great.

Next, Mr. Average should analyze his 360-degree data to spot fatal flaws in any of the five leadership sectors. For example, the data shows that Mr. Average focuses his time and attention on his direct reports and customers, which makes his peers feel ignored. As a consequence, his peer ratings are pretty low. Improving peer collaboration and teamwork, by getting out of his office and interacting with his peers, is crucial for Mr. Average to continue his career progression.

The best way to improve organizational performance is by moving bad leaders to good and good leaders to great. Given that most of us are good and aspire to be great, the implications are obvious. First, dust off your latest 360 review. Perform the analysis outlined above and figure out how to build on your strengths and mitigate any fatal flaws.

Once you have your own development on track, reach out and help others make sense of the 360 feedback they have received but have been unable to use. It’s what any great leader would do.