Executive MBA Program Blog

A Different Approach to 360 Assessments

Posted by Dr. Michael Palanski on Dec 2, 2015 8:00:00 AM
Think about the first important leadership lesson you ever learned. What did you learn? Michael PalanskiMore importantly, in what context did you learn it? Chances are it was not at work.

Leadership lessons occur constantly in all sorts of situations. Serving on a board of a not-for-profit, coaching a little league team, or even planning the family reunion all involve leadership skills. A recent count of our executive MBA students showed that some 86% of them have a significant leadership role outside of work.

Given how common it is to lead in multiple contexts (or, as we call them, domains), it is somewhat curious that most leader development programs remain almost exclusively focused on the workplace. A “multi-domain” approach, though, considers the workplace, involvement in community organizations, and the personal life of family and friends. Organizations that want to help leaders grow and flourish – and thus enhance their own competitive advantage – ought to consider taking a multi-domain approach to leadership development. Here are a few things to consider:

1) Multi-domain leadership development speeds the process and lowers the cost

Considering leadership lessons from multiple domains means that development can occur by harnessing events that are already taking place. Imagine, for example, an employee that is ready to move into a director-level position. She has done very well managing a department and a team of employees, but has no direct experience with more strategic thinking and planning. One option would be the slower and costlier method that puts her directly into a developmental role for 1-2 years. The multi-domain option, however, helps her learn from her already-existing volunteer role as president of her homeowners’ association.

2) Leadership processes differ across domains

The lessons can transfer, but there are important differences in different domains. For example, in a recent study of 360 assessment results, we compared how much a leader sees himself/herself as a strong leader with how much others see him/her as a strong leader, and then used this comparison to see how much others trust the leader (because, as any good leader will tell you, trust is the key that allows leadership to be effective).

At work, we found that the most trusted leaders had an accurate view of how others saw them as leaders. Leaders who over-estimated themselves (i.e., they thought that they were a strong leader, but no one else did) were trusted the least.

Among family and friends, a much different story emerged for these same leaders. People who were perceived as strong leaders were trusted the most (no surprise there!), but people who were not perceived to be strong leaders were trusted almost as much (that was surprising!). Further, people who were trying to step up and become seen as strong leaders OR were trying to step down from a leadership role were trusted significantly less (that was very surprising!). In other words, hot is OK, cold is OK, but warm is a problem.

3) Proper measurement is key

There is no such thing as a free lunch, right? That means that there is a small but important trade-off for a multi-domain approach to leader development. When conducting 360 assessments, it is not enough to simply ask the focal person to include some outside-of-work raters. Instead, the focal person needs to think and answer carefully about how he/she leads in each specific domain. In other words, you need to administer multiple 360s in order to obtain accurate and actionable data – perhaps one for work, one for family/friends, and one for community organization involvement. It seems like a lot of work – and it is – but the payoff is a host of "aha! moments" as participants delve into similarities and differences among domains.

4) The goal is an expanded concept of leadership and a stronger identity as a leader

Multi-domain leadership provides an opportunity to acquire and practice leadership-related knowledge, skills, and abilities in a faster, more effective manner. But the ultimate goal is deeper change in the form of changing one’s understanding of leadership itself. As one participates in multi-domain leadership, he/she begins to realize that leadership is not a special quality of the leader, but rather an intricate and ongoing dance between the leader and those being led. As one learns about the nature of this dance, one’s identity as a leader is enhanced, and this enhancement leads to even greater ability to learn and grow.

Interested in learning more about the multi-domain approach to leadership development in the RIT Executive MBA Program?  Watch the video below.

New Call-to-action