Interpreting 360 Results With Your Clients

May 08, 2018

Since 2008, it has been my privilege to certify and mentor hundreds of coaches and other human development professionals to use The Leadership CircleTM assessment instruments. In this role, I'm often asked questions about how to interpret the differences between the self-scores and the scores given by evaluators. For example:

  • Most leaders are arrogant and would likely overestimate their Creative leadership qualities and underestimate their Reactive tendencies, right?
  • Which scores are more meaningful or “real”?
  • How much of a gap between these two sets of scores is worthy of attention?

My response, largely unsatisfying to some, to all of these questions is the same:

“It depends.”

Depends upon what?  Role? Length of time in role? Industry? Age? Stage of Adult Development? Gender? Organizational Culture?

Maybe. Likely some combination of some of the above, and more: the client’s life experiences, their response to the 360, what I experience when I’m with them and what they choose to focus on, and what they choose NOT to focus on all help to determine how to make sense of the data.

What matters most to me is that the client is able to take some useful learning out of the experience of engaging in the 360 process that they can put into practice immediately in their life at work, at home, or anywhere else, for the sake of growing their own more effective leadership. What I love about The Leadership CircleTMis that there is no piece of paper that says that if your results look like this, it means you are that.  There is an art that we must apply to the science that underpins our assessments: making meaning out of the results together with our clients.

For me this is what distinguishes this work from other instruments out there. The Leadership Circle ProfileTM debriefing is a beautiful partner dance that coach and client create together. It is nothing like the delivery of results/feedback that is so often offered with other know that cool, detached process where the coach is the expert and the client is supposed to sit quietly and take in the coach’s wisdom?

Since I’m in favor of beautiful dancing and co-creating with clients and continuing to cultivate this art in myself and in those whom I teach and mentor, I’ll offer some structure here to aid in making meaning out of the results rather than prescribing hard and fast rules for interpreting various scenarios.

Let’s jump in. If what you see here is useful and you want to learn more, consider joining me in Toronto for our advanced coach training process, The Art of Evoking Leadership Transformation.

Take a good look at your client’s results before you debrief them.

Notice what their 360 evokes in you. Does it make you smile, feel sad, or does it startle you? Pay attention to your response to the results. How is what you are noticing in this profile resonating with your own life experiences? What draws your attention and your curiosity? What patterns are you noticing in the data? What hypotheses do you make about what might be going on with this leader?

Now set all of this to the side but don’t put it away completely. In other words, don’t assume that your response is “true” or “right” but don’t discount it either. There is likely something in it that will be useful for your client later.

The client is the expert on their own life.

I begin every debriefing session the same way: by asking the client to tell me what THEY noticed when they looked at their results, and by asking them to tell me their life and work story.  The best way that I can help them make sense out of their results is to know more about them.

Most leaders are arrogant and would likely overestimate their Creative leadership qualities and underestimate their Reactive tendencies, right?

When I did my first Leadership Circle ProfileTMin 2007 my self-scores were much higher than those of my evaluators on the Creative dimensions.  Simply looking at the data my coach might have concluded that I was pretty arrogant and that the lower evaluator scores would provide a necessary reality check! Once he heard my story, though, we were able to create learning together. I thought I was a powerful leader who was making a huge impact with my work, but I was unaware that my need to please others, desire to feel like I belonged and resultant hesitancy to speak the truth about what I was noticing or thinking was dampening the impact that I could have had. My complying tendencies came from early life experiences where I learned that being nice, agreeable and accommodating was essential to my survival.

What was required from the coach in this debriefing was not “tough love” but rather tenderness and compassion. It was a tearful conversation, from which I emerged with the fierce resolve that it was not OK to continue in this way if what I wanted was to have that huge impact. A game-changing experience for sure that launched me into the next chapter of learning and leadership in my life.

What would really be arrogant, would be for the coach to assume that they know what the profile means for the client in absence of knowing more about the client and hearing their story!

You know a lot about the frameworks that underpin the 360.

Use what you know about the journey from reactive to creative, the pathways, tensions and gifts inherent in the profile framework, the creative tension model and the adult development journey to dance with the client and their profile now that you know more about them.

This is also where you bring your noticing and all of your great coaching skills back in. Your self-awareness is key here. Notice how the client is being with you right now: how does it reflect what you see in the profile? What gets evoked in you as you sit with them and hear their story and take them in…is it what you felt when you looked at the profile the first time or is it different now? How are the patterns you noticed before in the data making sense now that you’ve heard their story? What new view are you able to have now that you have more information? What intuition do you have about what to explore that might result in the liberation from old stories/limiting beliefs so that this person can move with ease and grace towards the vision that they care so much about creating?

Which scores are more meaningful or “real”?

A student in one of my classes approached after receiving her results.  She was very concerned that there must be a glitch in our software. Her evaluators scored her above the 80thpercentile on all of the Creative dimensions, and gave her low scores on all of the Reactive tendencies.  Her own scores told a very different story: low on the Creative side, high in the Reactive tendencies.

I asked what glitch she thought we had. She responded that the evaluator scores were incorrect because there was no way she was that kind of a leader.  It would have been so easy for me to laugh and point out that she MUST be that kind of leader since they had scored her that way, but I realized that wasn’t what was required here. She genuinely thought she was not as “extraordinary” as they thought she was.  My experience of her in that moment was precisely what was reflected in the dynamic in her 360 results.

In this case it was much more meaningful to delve into how she saw herself than it was to focus on the evaluator scores. All the affirmations of her fantastic leadership wouldn’t make the slightest difference to her because what was running her were her own beliefs about herself. Together we learned more about what was driving her tendency to underestimate herself and her impact. A series of old stories about “not blowing her own horn” emerged and she was able to decide whether she wanted to continue believing them.

How much of a gap between these two sets of scores is worthy of attention?

There was a high degree of alignment all around in this client profile. Creative scores were all above the 95thpercentile and Reactive scores were below the 10thpercentile. Gaps between self and evaluator scores were generally zero to 5 percentile points except for two Controlling tendencies where the client had scored himself 10-15 percentile points higher than the evaluators had scored him.

This man not only appeared to have it together, he acknowledged it and expressed tremendous gratitude for all that he had created. He was living his purpose, had built a thriving business and had a stable home and family life, a real success story.  As he was talking with me, I noticed a slight change in his face when he spoke of his father. I made a mental note to return to this after he finished telling me his life story.  When I shared what I noticed, he began to weep.

What could have been a really pleasant but superficial conversation about how great everything was turned into a profoundly illuminating look at how his commitment to perfection was grounded in his relationship with his high achieving father, and how this was costing him. He had learned how to use his gift of willpower in a mostly Creative way, yet was still operating with some old beliefs: “It’s all up to me, If I don’t hold it all together very tightly, it will fall apart and I’ll lose all that I’ve gained.” Once he was able to see this, he was able to consider the possibility that he could loosen his grip and still maintain the life, work and lifestyle he had created. The relief in him was palpable. So much energy was required to operate this way, and it was simply no longer necessary!

Sometimes it’s not as much about the extent of the gap between the scores, as it is about the pattern, or exceptions to the pattern. Of course, the coach’s willingness to name what they are noticing, even when it would be easier or more comfortable not to, is enormously helpful too.

Remember that we are all works in progress. Nobody is a finished product. This includes you, me, our colleagues and our clients!

You don’t have to know what it all means. You don’t have to get it right. Whether you’ve done one debriefing or two hundred, you can let go of the need to look like you’ve got it together and allow yourselves to enter into a dance of meaning-making with your clients. The best debriefings I’ve experienced have a feeling of flow and ease that comes from not knowing, being alert and curious, and dancing with the client, their profile, their story and the experience I’m having of them in the moment. The hardest debriefings I’ve experienced involve me needing to know, have the answers and figure it all out for the client.

I’m often asked what advice I have for coaches who want to get really good at this work.  My response? We must use this work with ourselves. If we are going to invite our clients into a process of self-exploration and leadership development for the sake of cultivating effective leadership, sustainable results and the ability to create the impact they desire with ease, joy and grace, then we must be engaged in this process too! As my own coach says, “If you still have a body, then you’re not done.”

So take out your most recent Leadership Circle 360 Profile and look at it with fresh eyes. What does it evoke in you? Where would you score yourself if you were to do a new one today? Where would your evaluators score you? What unfinished business is still there for you to engage with, and what new opportunities for creating what matters most to you lay ahead?

This article can only be complete with an acknowledgement of my extraordinary colleagues who continue to teach, mentor and dance with me as we all make our way with this work. Bob, Dan, David, Jim and Barbara, your wisdom, guidance and partnership means the world to me! Thank you!

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