What Your 360-Degree Assessment Results Really Mean

360-degree assessments are critical tools that are used in a wide array of leadership development initiatives.

The primary use of these assessments is to provide leaders with feedback on their job performance from multiple perspectives, including the leader’s self-perception and perceptions held by the leader’s direct reports, peers, bosses, and superiors.

This 360-degree feedback is essential for helping leaders identify their strengths and development needs, and to improve their self-awareness. This information also tells leaders what they need to improve in order to take their leadership skills to the next level. 

A leader might learn that they’re perceived as inept at delegating work responsibilities. As a result, the leader may set a development goal of delegating a couple relevant tasks per week to each of their direct reports.

Development goals can be quite simple in nature, and if achieved, can have a profound impact on a leader’s performance and on the development and morale of their work team.

Although 360-degree assessments have been widely and effectively used to help leaders with their development efforts for several decades, there are many questions regarding the use of 360s that haven’t been adequately answered. Here are 3 examples:

Are ratings on the 2 primary components of leadership — task and interpersonal skills (such as setting direction and resolving conflict, respectively) — indicative of whether leaders will be perceived as being at risk of career derailment? Which rating sources (self, direct reports, peers, or supervisors) are most important to pay attention to in a 360-degree feedback report? Overall, which components of 360-assessment results are most predictive of future career derailment?

A study conducted by researchers at CCL, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and the State University of New York at Binghamton aimed to answer these questions.

Our study found that:

Leaders who had lower ratings on task and interpersonal aspects of leadership were perceived as being at greater risk of derailing in their careers as compared to leaders who had higher ratings of task and interpersonal leadership. Leaders’ self-ratings of their task and interpersonal leadership skills tend to be poor indicators of whether others perceive them to be at risk of career derailment. Peer, direct report, and supervisor ratings of task and interpersonal leadership tend to be reasonably good indicators of whether a leader is perceived to be at risk of experiencing career derailment. However, peer ratings of leadership tend to be the best predictor of whether a leader is at risk of derailing. When discrepancies exist between self- and observer ratings, over-raters (leaders whose self-ratings are higher than their observers’ ratings) tend to be perceived as being more at risk of career derailment than under-raters (leaders whose self-ratings are lower than their observers’ ratings).

Based on these findings, here are the 3 key takeaways from our study:

1. Improving your task and interpersonal leadership skills will likely reduce your risk of experiencing career derailment.

Task leadership includes work responsibilities such as delegating, organizing work, setting a work team’s direction, and taking charge or action when needed. Interpersonal leadership includes things such as praising direct reports for their hard work, mentoring and coaching direct reports, resolving a group’s interpersonal conflict, and negotiating effectively with others.

2. All rating sources in a 360-degree feedback report matter. While leaders should pay attention to self, direct report, peer, and supervisor ratings, they may want to give extra weight or attention to peer ratings of their leadership skill.

3. Self-ratings are especially useful in one important way — they enable leaders to see how they rate themselves on leadership relative to their direct reports, peers, and supervisors. How leaders rate themselves in relation to their raters provides an indication of their perceived risk level of derailing in their careers.

Specifically, if leaders receive higher leadership ratings and their self-ratings are in agreement with their raters’ ratings, they tend to be more self-aware and aren’t very likely to derail in their careers.

On the other hand, if leaders discover that they are over-raters, and thus tend to score themselves higher than their raters, they have a higher risk of career derailment than if they under-rated themselves.

In sum, 360-degree assessments provide valuable feedback to leaders and play a critical role in facilitating leaders’ growth and development over the course of their careers. Despite their effectiveness, however, we must continue to investigate the use of 360s so that we can leverage them even more effectively in leadership development initiatives in the future.

Learn more about leveraging the impact of your 360-degree assessment.


The content of this blog is based on the following publication: Braddy, P. W., Gooty, J., Fleenor, J. W., & Yammarino, F. J. (2014). Leader behaviors and career derailment potential: A multi-analytic method examination of rating source and self-other agreement. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 373-390.

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