Leaders Get Your Non-Fussy 360 Degree Feedback to Move Forward

By Nedra Chandler, 5-minute read

I just had a heart-to-heart talk with a friend who is the leader of an organization in the middle of some extra churn. There have been departures of permanent staff, a busy season coming up, hiring for positions and a lot of competing priorities at the exact time when there is no slack in the system or schedule, least of all her schedule.

While her many years of experience and successes make her confident about what she brings to her leadership role, she’s feeling a troubling sense of isolation from her larger team. She said some days it feels like she has a shrinking number of people she can count on to speak their minds with her. For example, she said her board is not super engaged or active at the moment, her senior staff are out of the office a lot managing their own projects and staff, and she senses a pervasive attitude of “let’s just make it through this quarter and talk later…” Now what?

While it may seem a counterintuitive move, now may be a great time to amp up her resilient self-awareness, pick of posse of 7 or so people to get and give some fresh and focused feedback. Low-tech (not online) and clear about the purpose. I’ll start by giving you the take home points up front.

5 take-home points for leaders with that feeling of a little bit of lonely isolation right now…

  1. First the good news/bad news reminder that feedback is everywhere, all the time. Whether it’s invited or not, welcome or unwelcome, direct or subtle, verbal/nonverbal, written or implied, it’s everywhere. (See my post on this topic using insights from co-authors of Thanks for the Feedback, Sheila Heen and Doug Stone if you’re interested.) What’s hard is focusing on tangible or other feedback you’re ready to use.
  2. Everyone has self-limiting behaviors. No one is spared. Because we’re humans. You are already an accomplished leader. Focus on the habits that limit you now.
  3. This low tech 360 posse I describe below is not a one-shot deal. Expect it to take months, no, a lifetime (!) of small, daily commitments and practice with one thing, one habit at a time (not 12 or 15 things) you’ve chosen to grow yourself out of and into your next lively state of being.
  4. Frequent, regular check ins with a posse of people you trust (or at least respect) will be key. Probably one person at a time, but it could be a group on the phone or in person, every quarter or so.
  5. Briefly and simply listen to them and thank them for telling you whether or not they notice you making progress on the one habit you are attempting to shift. The hardest thing: no explanations and certainly no excuses: just “thank you.” Then you privately choose how you deal, or not, with what you hear.

Reminder of why online 360 degree feedback is valuable…and there is often a ‘too muchness’ at the same time

Frequent, regular feedback is crucial, transformative in some cases, to support your development and your capacity to be of service to what you care about most. If you like an evidence base for this, it’s already in the bag.

Also, when leaders set the example of working on their self-limiting habits for the good of themselves and the good of the whole, people notice and appreciate it. It gives your staff and partners extra permission and encouragement to keep learning and developing themselves as well.

As a credentialed coach facilitator who uses a range of online 360-degree feedback tools, especially the ones my government clients lean to, I’m not giving up on the online tools. But I am not recommending them for leaders at the top of organizations. The online tools have an important function, and especially for staff. But for top leaders in particular, I believe there is a too-muchness about many of these intensely-designed online tools — too many competencies, so much anonymous feedback, sanitized and over-systematized. Overwhelm too often ensues. Shut down may follow.

How do you get diverse-yet-pointed feedback more simply?

I am excited about a fresh approach to getting 360-degree (full circle) feedback for leaders. The heart of it is a small, frequently-consulted posse of colleagues such as direct reports, board members, and partners.

I owe Marshall Goldsmith a debt of gratitude for teaching his approach to me and the other Lead60 coaches — encouraging us to use it and share it widely for adapting and using. If you are one of my coach facilitator readers or colleagues please email me at cadence@montana.com and I can send you the basis to lead the process. In the meantime, the briefest explanation I’ve seen yet is contained in this disarming note from a leader. See how he made it possible to say no? See how he made it easy to say yes?

Hi (NAME),

I’m not sure if you are aware, but  (names of leadership team here) and I have been working with Nedra on our leadership team development and personal growth, with the aim of improving our organizational and leadership skills and styles.  As part of that, we are using a sort of 360 degree approach to get feedback from our “posse.”  I would like you to be a member of my posse.

Yes, you are allowed to say “no!”  But it’s pretty simple and won’t take much time.  If you are game, Nedra will contact you relatively soon to schedule a 10-15-minute phone conversation for some time before April 6. 

From those visits, she will provide each of us with thematic yet focused feedback that will not be attributed to any of our posse members. You don’t need to respond to me.  I’ve copied Nedra, and you replying to her will get things moving (or not!).

Thank you for considering my request, (name of leader)

Shouldn’t we focus on strengths? Why focus on habits they notice in us like frowning, sighing, not listening, or always being in a hurry?

Granted, it’s wonderful to hear genuine positive feedback about your strengths. Truly. And it’s important to solicit that. Granted too, it’s not fun for most of us to hear negative feedback about ourselves and how we’re coming across to a group of various humans. It’s important to solicit that too. Especially in this particular approach to full circle feedback. This way, you get right after the tangible, actionable things.

We’ve all been there. Feedback is a gift, and you get to choose what you pay attention to. All feedback is not created equally worthy or ‘accurate,’ yet it’s information you can use to heighten your awareness and inform your own choices. That’s the gift of it. Admittedly, the whole deal is also fraught with a bunch of messy, irrational humans in it, and therefore the situation is ambiguous at times. That’s why you use a coach facilitator to guide it from the side.

The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There says so much about what is at the heart of stalling out at the top. As Goldsmith points out that the higher you rise in your organization, the more likely your problems are likely to be behavioral. Marshall’s newest book with co-author Sally Helgesen, also covers some of this ground beautifully in How Women Rise

Remember you are here in this leadership role because you’re already smart, strategic, focused and probably a strong communicator. What that means is that what’s left to work on are behavioral things. Habits. 

You, like every other mortal on the planet, sometimes default to habitual responses or reactions — some that do and some that don’t serve you or your organization. The consequences of our leadership habits run the gamut from small to huge in these cases. We all do this unconscious thing — default, automated behavior called habits.

Habits are notoriously hard to recognize in yourself and difficult to shift once you do. Can adults change their behavioral habits? Emphatically: yes. It’s because of neuroplasticity and it’s some of the best news we humans have gotten from science during this decade. The best news of all: your behavior lies within your control–unlike toddlers, the global economy and other peoples’ choices.

Have you noticed people are less likely to risk telling you how your habits affect them since you rose closer to the top?

Have you considered that your power and influence has been growing? And along with that expansion, it got a lot harder than it used to be to have others feel safe telling you, for just one possible (yet common) example:

“Your way of consistently defaulting to being the first to talk in a meeting, is keeping the people around you from contributing for fear of being out of step with you and your views. They are censoring themselves, knowing you’ll speak first anyway…”

I listened to a former US Attorney General describe how, after he got some similar feedback to the above, he began to practice waiting to speak until everyone in the room had the chance to contribute. Why? He (and the country) needed the benefit of his staff’s diversity of views. Knowing that if he spoke first it would dampen the courage of others to disagree, he coached himself with the internal reminder:

“I will practice waiting until I’ve heard from everyone present before I chime in.”

Viola. With practice, he says he entered a new realm in leadership effectiveness with that one fundamental shift.

For another example:

“Your chief of (whatever) can’t find an opening to let you know that the way you sigh out loud and your mouth goes into a big frown when you’re thinking makes staff and other leaders avoid you. Some (inaccurately) perceive your sighs as a sure sign you don’t like or respect them.”

Can you see yourself or people you know in any part of these examples?

If you’re still reading, then maybe you’re ready for this! I invite you to find your own development partners and serve as a partner to your colleagues in the same way. When you choose it, it can be rewarding beyond measure.

A bit about me: writer, Montanan, mediator and development coach for government leaders & teams. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom collaborative or other opportunities. We serve as guides on the side to help participants find common ground and take action where they choose.

Rock and Roll: Use the Triangle of Satisfaction to Design and Facilitate Effective Collaboration

By Nedra Chandler, 3-min read

Humans can be Bermuda Triangles of needs.

If you are a leader, team participant, or facilitator of collaborative work of any kind, I promise you at least one insight you can use and apply directly to what you do. Here are 3 points of the triangle representing human needs for 3 different kinds of satisfaction.

Maybe you work with a team or an inter-agency or other multiparty group. Do you remember the last meeting you were part of that ran off the rails, either a little or a lot? You might have left thinking: “why?”

Why do we seem to make things so hard? Why is this situation such a mess? Why can’t we pick a direction and go? Why does everything take so long? Why? Why? Why?

Enter the Triangle of Satisfaction – one of most powerful, “sticky” (as in it sticks with you) pieces of applied theory ever, especially in the realm of public decision-making, yet also in the world of leaders and teams — how we humans rock and roll.

The diagram shows the three types of satisfaction we all need every time we seek agreement, movement or improvement on complex issues, plans or decisions: substantive, procedural, and emotional/relational.

This may be especially relevant for public work and decisions by government agencies and/or elected officials.

All participants harbor these intersecting needs, whether conscious of them or not. We humans not only want, but need, these types of satisfaction in order to reach decisions and move forward.

Let’s take each type of need in turn and see how you might apply these. Click on the Rolling Stone’s tune, Can’t Get No Satisfaction for background music to enhance your experience of this post here.

SUBSTANTIVE Satisfaction

The substance is simply the thing you are doing or deciding. It is often the easiest to identify. But ask yourself: “is what we’ve defined as the substance just the tip of the iceberg”?

What is submerged below the surface that could hinder collective progress? The answer is in the other two corners of the triangle, the ones that are below the surface. P.S. the ones you can’t see. The ones just waiting to crash the boat into.

A famous example of this was during the Vietnam War peace negotiations where participants spent months haggling over the shape of the table and who would sit where.

Submerged needs for clear Process and Relational Satisfaction will greatly affect any purposeful dialog or discussion. Every time.

The ability to step back and deliberately design a tailored process and with relational/emotional safety in it rather than rushing and driving straight to possible ‘solutions’ is key. It’s also a primary value a facilitator, or facilitative leadership team can bring in with, for example, the use of readiness assessments, liberating microstructures or mutual gains negotiations.

Challenge for fun on substance tip of triangle: think of a time you were part of group that faced conflict over substantive issues. What was it about? And how did things show up on the surface? Just recall that first. Then get ready to consider how questions of process and emotion shaped what happened next.

PROCEDURAL Satisfaction

In complex settings, procedural satisfaction is way too routinely overlooked.

Participants and others with a stake in the outcomes must use or create credible processes by which people can catalog together what the facts are, consider what they mean, and then discern now what can happen next.

What process will be followed? Who will decide? What steps will be taken and how long will it take? Is the process fair and transparent? Is it inclusive? Why or why not? Who will interact with whom at what points in the work?

Think of the many times you’ve been in any role with this scenario. The data may be there to support a decision, but if participants, the partnering agencies and/or people with a stake in the outcomes don’t find some honest ways to come along, then…can it be supported and carried out? Hmmmmm.

Challenge for fun on process tip of triangle: thinking of that situation you recalled from your own experience, what were the steps you took to collaboratively frame and explore the issues at hand? Were they more or less sequential steps? Was there a realistic time line or not? By what means did people stay oriented to the process? See my friend Martha Bean‘s visual “framing” here.

EMOTIONAL Satisfaction

No big surprise here: people need emotional satisfaction.

What’s happening here: ask “how do you/they feel about the whole shebang?” Specifically, is there sufficient mutual trust or at least a working trust and respect present? If not, how will we make this a safe enough space to engage anyway?

People with the biggest stake in the outcomes often (and need to!) consider their other best alternatives to collaboration — other methods for getting their interests met at any point in the work. Depending on the context, ethics, and existing relationships, there’s nothing wrong with any of these strategies to get interests met.

Think for example of some of these potentially best, or better, alternatives to collaboration:

-litigation

-other ways to block or discredit decisions.

-media or other campaigns

-civil disobedience

-other?

Checking on the emotional state of the situation is a must for anyone charting a path forward in a contentious environment.

Challenge for fun reflecting on the emotional tip of the triangle: now think about someone in the situation you recalled from your own experience. This could be you or someone else: what qualities did this person bring to the situation that helped or otherwise memorably affected how people felt in the situation? What upfront or other shared expectations allowed for progress with emotional satisfaction?

(note: sometimes people use the words “relational” or “psychological” satisfaction for this ’emotion’ corner of the triangle.)

Collaborative Work Requires Attention, and Usually More Time Than You Expect…

Want outcomes that can be carried out over the long haul? Want decisions that people will not only support but also tell a story later with liveliness and satisfaction? Want to, as Keith McCandless says, “unleash and include everyone” and make room for innovation?

A situation is always ripe for something by way of increasing substantive, procedural and emotional success and satisfaction. The questions are mostly ready for what? With whom and how?

Stay curious while looking and paying close attention both above and below the surface to all three aspects of the Triangle of Satisfaction.

Cherie Shanteau-Wheeler and I had just spent a wonderful year teaching and coaching facilitation and collaboration skills to and with public land managers in 2015 when I wrote this the first time. Each time in our courses and onsite work, it was an all-time favorite to bring out this Triangle of Satisfaction and then hear participants say, “I get it! I’ll use that!”

Maybe you already apply this. Maybe you are a pioneer in this field of ours who helped embellish this piece of theory. I hope you find it valuable and simple. It’s simple, but not always easy. In my own work I find it useable nearly every day.

(Special note: we all stand on one another’s shoulders: this Triangle of Satisfaction comes from the work of Chris Moore from CDR as one original source of this model as well Julia Gold of the University of Washington Law School for the ‘tip of the iceberg’ metaphor, and also Rhian Williams and the South Australian Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement for some of the insights as well. Thanks!)

We’d love to hear your story of using it in your work in the comments below or by message.

A bit about me — external coach and process maven: my latest jam is about organizational health and development, preventing & managing conflict and delivering credentialed coaching for government leaders and teams. In my current blog series I am offering my readers practical moves to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. Thanks for reading and sharing with folks who may find it useful.

We help people listen and talk with each other with purpose and clarity. We find out what people are ready for and design custom opportunities to find common ground and to take action. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.

Tune Into Power and Level Up Your Leadership

By Nedra Chandler, 3-minute read

Hi readers, I promise you insight into power here that you put into use right away. How is it that power dynamics are simple (see my slide above) and wickedly complex at the same time? Upping your awareness of how power moves around all the time can make a big, positive difference in your life, and that of your organization.

___

We were on Bainbridge Island in Washington, walking around the waterfront one autumn day. The sky was blue, the sun was out, and my husband Scott’s mood was glum. He was less than a day away from a work trip to China and was dreading it.

What fresh hell?

The source of Scott’s angst was that he had a new boss who treated his professional staff like kids under his thumb — wielding power over them in ways that left them wondering what fresh hell was coming next.

This new mode at work left Scott and his team hamstrung. They began to see, feel and realize how diminished their collective power was together.

Power Moves Around All the Time — How Many Kinds of Power? At Least 7…

For example, they began to walk on eggshells, ‘asking permission’ to show up as leaders in their own right and do their work to serve their international customers. Before the re-shuffle, each team member had taken initiative to be innovators and be of excellent service. Now they began to quietly complain and adopt a team culture of disempowerment. By the way, go see this short overview of 7 types of power to get you noticing power more expansively and usefully.

So there we were, strolling along past some small shops on Eagle Harbor. Something caught Scott’s attention. He stopped to look at a rack of sale T-shirts on the sidewalk. There was this t-shirt with a skull and crossbones on the back:

“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

“This shirt is so mine”

Scott, typically not much of an impulse buyer, was immediately sold on the shirt. I chuckled, but honestly found the line disturbing. No wonder it was here on the sale rack.

Yet, there it was, a silly-yet-somehow-cathartic way to express his extreme frustration with the new mood at work – set by a leader who didn’t yet have the experience or discernment to use his positional power with, rather than over, his team.

Use your ‘power over’ like a bomb

Scott’s previous boss had confidently possessed the power to decide too, yet had used his unilateral power more like a bomb – as in almost never. That approach of fostering trust and a culture of stewardship had made Dale one of the most effective men in the company, but that’s another story.

Here’s the thing I want to offer today:

Unless you are in a field where strict chain of command and control is paramount (for example, the military or a fire crew), choosing to use power over, rather than power with, will most likely descend into team dysfunction characterized by low trust.

What using excessive power over people can do to organizational culture

When I come into an organization to help out as a third party, this is what the use of excessive ‘power over’ can look like: an unlively work culture where people don’t have the courage to take risks or work together for the good of the whole. Nor are they as inclined toward accountability to one another or to those they serve, especially when those qualities are not acknowledged or rewarded.

Slide above from Keith McCandless, adapted from Edgar Schein’s work.

Scott lasted 9 difficult months under the new boss. That kind of work stress kills people early, so now he’s with another global business where trust and courage to skillfully confront (inevitable) conflict is the norm rather than the exception. Where commitment and accountability to collective results is rewarded and celebrated. There’s an aliveness to their work.

But right then, those years ago, when he bought that “I give up” t-shirt, he was experiencing workplace dysfunction that most adults find themselves in at least once or more during a career. Sometimes this sets the default tone for an entire organization or administration. It’s a lose-lose deal all around. And it’s almost never about just one person, or just one new leader. Organizational culture is built and re-built everyday through habits of interaction.

I’m curious, two questions for you:

1) what are you learning as you notice these power dynamics — ‘power over people’ and ‘power with people’ in your own lives and organizations? Please share an insight, question or comment below.

and

2) As you consider your own leadership style, how does “use your unilateral power like a bomb*” resonate with you?

Ari Weinzweig mentioned this in an interview I heard. In the business he runs with thousands of employees, he said nearly always chooses to use a consensus-building kind of stewardship approach — and the effects on business are remarkable. Listen to him here with Amiel Handelsman.

A bit about me: My work is about organizational health and development, preventing conflict and/or managing it, and professional development coaching for individuals and teams. In this winter blog series I am exploring practical moves we can make to give ourselves and each other permission to keep learning. I focus on government because that’s where I do most of my work – yet these approaches are relevant across sectors. Find me and my long-time work mates at Triangle Associates and please sign up to receive my monthly posts in your inbox by typing in your email address here.