Once upon a time there was a famous archer who prepared for years to show his skill at an archery competition at the royal palace. He arrived to great fanfare as the people of the kingdom came to watch the great competition. The archers came from across the land, but the first archer to lead the games was the king himself. The crowd was silent as his majesty drew the bow tight and let the first arrow fly. “Bullseye!” Screamed the audience, as three of the kings men painted circles around the arrow that had struck the wall to the right of the target.

What is the moral of this story? The king may not be getting accurate feedback from his subjects!

As a leadership consultant I am often asked to put together programs for executive 360s, which are assessments that enable people to give useful feedback on how the executives are perceived in their leadership roles. That feedback can be surprising, infuriating, exciting, and daunting to leaders who only hear what they are doing right, what they’re doing wrong, or who don’t hear anything at all about how they are doing.

360s can be unpleasant and anxiety provoking for those of us sensitive people who stake our identities on being excellent - and that’s most leaders. Here are some tips for making 360 feedback useful.

#1 - Remember that 360 feedback is about perception.

It’s NOT about who you are deep inside, it’s about how you appear to others. As a leader, how you appear is very important, but it’s not who you are as a human being. Also, people project their own needs onto leaders. Your people may have very different needs. One may want you to be directive, another may want you to be personable and to ask them more questions. Listen to the feedback for the tools you need on your toolbelt, rather than for the “one perfect way” for you to act in your role.

#2 - Look at the big picture.

If you get bogged down in “who said what” you’ll miss the important themes that can really help you focus on being your best. Don’t pick it apart, look for the overarching themes and pay attention to what comes up over and over again, not just once.

#3 - See your strengths

We’re so used to looking for what’s not working and what problems we need to solve that we can forget - this is about finding what we’re truly good at and building on our strengths. What’s working well? What can you leverage or capitalize on? What strengths can you use to help you address any challenges?

#4 - Thank your raters and let them know you’ve heard the message

360s are most powerful when the people who’ve rated you hear back from you that you appreciate their feedback, and you’ve learned something from it that you can implement in your leadership. I recommend a simple email follow up to everyone who gave input.

Your email might say something like:

Thank you _____(name) for your input, here’s one important thing I learned _________(fill in the blank), and here’s one important thing I’ll be focused on in my own development________ (fill in the blank). I welcome your ongoing input and appreciate your support as I work to do my best job for this organization.

This step alone can have enormous impact on people who work with you who want to be heard and appreciated.

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