Self-Other Distortions in 360 Feedback: It Takes Two to Know One

January 26, 2015 by Ken Nowack

“The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It’s no secret that leaders have inflated viewsof their skills, knowledge and competence–we’ve known this for a long time as it’s a consistent finding in all 360-degree feedback research1. What is simply amazing is the gap between self-perception and reality.

In general, leaders seem to perceive that they basically “walk on water” while others who have a pretty fair grasp of what leaders really do experience them more as “passing water.” At least that’s what some recent surveys tend to suggest.

It has been estimated that 65%-75% of the employees in any given organization report that the worst aspect of their job is their immediate boss. In fact, estimates of the base rate for managerial incompetence in corporate life range from 30% to 75% with the average level of poor leadership hovering at about 50%2.

In practice mental health professionals tend to diagnose thoughts and beliefs as “delusional” when they appear unusual, create strong psychological distress, or become an obsession–even when there is compelling evidence to the contrary. This “no clue” gene can be found in both male and female leaders but does seem to be more pronounced as leaders move up the corporate hierachy. One way of defining an aspect of “emotional intelligence” is the accurate awareness and insight of one’s own skills, strengths and impact on others (we actually have an index of this in our 360 feedback reports).

In an HBR article, Kaplan & Kaiser show that it is just as detrimental to overdo a strength as it is to under do it–those expressing the “right amount” of a strength showed an associated with a measure of leadership success3.

As they point out, leveraging and emphasizing strength might lead to actually interfere with being flexible and adopting new behaviors. If you receive feedback that you are admired for your perseverance in the face of ambiguity and challenge you might find that “letting go” and backing off won’t come easy–even if it is clear that repeatedly banging your head against the wall” creates a dent in the wall and a possible concussion that further impairs your reasoning and thinking.

We have looked at this “leveraging strengths” concept from an interesting angle in the last few years. In our use of 360 feedback assessments we have an interpretation based on the Johari Window concept that shows self-ratings compared to others who provide feedback in a graphic manner.

We can classify individuals into four types based on the profile that emerges from their self-other ratings. We have polite labels for these quadrants that include:

  1. Potential Strengths–Underestimation of self-ratings compared to others
  2. Confirmed Development Areas–both self and other ratings are low
  3. Confirmed Strengths–both self and other ratings are high
  4. Potential Development Areas–Self ratings are inflated relative to others

joahri-window

When we find individuals who are the “Underestimators” (about 25% to 30% of those taking our assessments) and have a substantial number of competencies appearing in the “Potential Strengths”quadrant as we in the accompanying graph, our feedback meetings are pretty predictable.

First, we find that almost all of the clients with this profile tend to display strong perfectionist tendencies, set high goals for themselves and others and tend to be very self-critical.

Second, they tend to be “hyper-vigilant” to the negative things in their report as if they are trying to confirm they really aren’t as strong or solid as others experience them to be.

In short, they tend to blow off all the “strengths” as seen by others and dwell on anything that isn’t perfect in their report (or the one open ended comment that is neutral out of 25 that are overwhelmingly positive and ruminate on it for years).

No matter what we try to do, these clients won’t leverage their strengths as seen clearly by others. All they want to do if focus on what they see is their “developmental opportunities” or weaknesses. Yep, even when they “discover” their strengths they just tend to glance beyond it and move to “what they don’t do very often or very effectively.

Not everyone is a winner even if you have a 6th place ribbon to prove it….Be well….

 

  1. Nowack, K. (1992). Self-assessment and rater-assessment as a dimension of management development. Human Resources Development Quarterly, 3, 141-155 []
  2. Hogan, R. & Kaiser, R. (2005). What we know about leadership. Review of General Psychology. 9 (2), 169-180 []
  3. Kaplan, R. & Kaiser, R. (2009).Stop overdoing your strengths. Harvard Business Review. February 2009, 100-103 []

Posted in Leadership Development, Relate

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Life Success: “When to Hold em and When to Fold em”

January 25, 2015 by Ken Nowack

“You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run”  Kenny Rogers THE PREDICTIVE POWER OF “HOLDING” In a series of studies by Angela Duckworth and colleagues, individuals demonstrating “grit” were more likely to be successful in both academic and job related measures of […]

Posted in Engagement, Leadership Development, Wellness

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The Secrets of Becoming a Team Leader

January 23, 2015 by Ken Nowack

“It’s easy to get good players. Getting them to play together, that’s the hard part. “ Casey Stengel One of the things our company has done for the last 20 years is to identify potential leaders using developmental assessment centers1. The assessment centers are typically several days long and encompass a wide range of group exercises, simulations, 360-degree feedback and […]

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Top Leadership Development Blog Posts this Week: 1/23/15

January 23, 2015 by Wally Bock

Leadership development may be the most important thing any company does. That’s why, every week, I review blogs and other publications that cover leadership development to find the very best leadership development posts. This week, you’ll find pointers to posts about building performance capability, the CEO’s biggest ally for building a top executive team, selecting […]

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Free Coaching Exercise: Focus on the Now

January 21, 2015 by Ken Nowack

This free exercise, and dozens of others, were created for our book, Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It. You can learn more about Clueless by visiting our site or you can buy it from amazon.com today. Purpose of Exercise: This formula for determining approximate days left to live opens clients’ eyes to the […]

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Leadership development: The Challenge of Letting Go

January 21, 2015 by Wally Bock

Leadership development happens mostly on the job Charles Jennings wrote a marvelous post titled “Workplace Performance: 70:20:10 – Above All Else It’s a Change Agent” that includes many insights and pointers to other work. Here’s the first bit that caught my eye. “The evidence, however, does point to the fact that most learning is experiential […]

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The Fallacy of Average Scores in 360 Feedback

January 19, 2015 by Ken Nowack

“Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider!” George Carlin   Most vendors use average scores of raters in their summary reports for 360 degree feedback. For example it’s not uncommon to report a table summarizing the “most frequent” and “least frequent” behaviors perceived by […]

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Talent Management Facts #43

January 18, 2015 by Ken Nowack

“42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.”  Steven Wright New Talent Management Facts Another addition of leadership and talent management “facts” from all over the world. Some intuitive and some not….what do you think? 1. Super-commuting across the country once a week is on the rise in major regions in the […]

Posted in Engagement, Leadership Development, Relate, Selection, Talent Management

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Top Leadership Development Blog Posts this Week: 1/16/15

January 16, 2015 by Wally Bock

Leadership development may be the most important thing any company does. That’s why, every week, I review blogs and other publications that cover leadership development to find the very best leadership development posts. This week, you’ll find pointers to posts about getting into the CEO’s inner circle, a manager’s guide to executive coaching, Millennials eyeing […]

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Free Coaching Exercise: Changing Career Paradigms

January 14, 2015 by Ken Nowack

This free exercise, and dozens of others, were created for our book, Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It. You can learn more about Clueless by visiting our site or you can buy it from amazon.com today. Purpose of Exercise: Use this exercise to help clients understand how generational values and expectations affect their […]

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