The world would be a different place if we abandoned or social niceties and spoke honestly to one another. And I mean really honestly. For example: what if you could tell your boss, “Your constant negative feedback is demotivating me. It feels like nothing I ever do is good enough.” Scary? Perhaps. Most people avoid such conversations. After all, conflict can be terrifying. Negative emotions can get released, arguments can ensue, and people are often concerned about potentially damaging their career prospects.

Even if you do find the courage to confront, the other person can always write it off as unimportant: it is just one view. The result: most people have little idea how others see them or how they come across, so they rarely ever change.


Well, imagine if there was a better process for getting and giving feedback. A process that is safe, diplomatic, clear and unarguable. Fortunately, the world of work has created just such an instrument. It is called a 360° survey. It’s not perfect, but it works very well, and has a place in every organisation. I say this because I have delivered several hundred 360° survey feedbacks over the last decade, and with few exceptions, they have created a great opportunity for the recipients to grow.

Science also supports the value of 360° surveys. In the 1990’s, Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson did some revelatory work on the issue of talent. Before his research, the predominant view was that you needed to be born with special talent to excel. Ericsson’s research showed something different, and something so basic it seems almost too simplistic to mention. He investigated people at the top of their fields in music, sports and other pursuits, and discovered that experts in their fields practiced way harder than people who did not perform as well.

Therefore, it is not that a natural talent is unimportant, but that shaping a natural talent requires really, really hard work. It’s where the idea of 10,000 hours came from (and which Malcolm Gladwell made famous). But just as importantly, Ericsson also found that practicing in itself was not enough, but rather one had to practice “…just beyond one’s level of proficiency.”

This insight has profound implications for the world of leadership, where feedback is rare. Senior people in business rarely get honest feedback from those around them on how they are doing. Also: senior, experienced people are often the most complacent. Having worked their way to the top, they mostly believe that they are effective. Yet this is not always the case.

In his research, Ericsson did a comparison between the effectiveness of newly minted therapists vs. veteran therapists. You’d expect all the experience of the veteran therapists would make them significantly better than those who had just come out of their apprenticeships. But in fact, just the opposite was true. The newbies outperformed the veterans! What was going on?

After studying the results, Ericcson came to the conclusion that the veteran therapists had stopped receiving feedback many years ago and had thus become complacent. They had stopped growing.

The rookie therapists were constantly being soaked in feedback, which allowed them to change their behaviours more rapidly and more frequently.

The unstructured, often puzzling skill of leading others is likely to behave in the same way. Recently trained leader who have been honing their skills on workshops and developmental sessions are likely to be rated higher than veteran leaders who have been on auto-pilot, doing the same thing for 20 years.


This is the power of the 360° survey. By taking seriously the message inside the results, it offers the central participant clear direction of where to grow. The feedback must be done in such a way as to create an openness with the leader, to avoid getting bogged down in making excuses or justifications.

Done effectively, a good 360° survey offers the leader a moment of truth, an opportunity to take the message from multiple people and alter their behaviour. In our lifetimes we hardly ever get to see ourselves the way the world sees us. The 360° survey is the best tool we know for helping us see ourselves more accurately. It is a privilege to be at the center of one, but will only ever be a theoretical exercise unless it is acted upon. The feedback in a 360° survey can be a profound moment for the leader as it offers an nonthreatening appraisal of the person’s abilities, brand in the business and urgent areas to address.

For more information on 360° surveys, have a look at our 360° Assessements page — and get in touch with us if you’re ready to move forward and make use of the power of the 360°.

Dr Hilton Rudnick
Photo credit:
Aaron Burden and Unsplash