From All Directions

Have you ever been rated from all directions?

Some organizations assess a leader’s effectiveness by asking other employees to rate him or her on leadership behaviors.  The list of raters might include a supervisor, peers, and even subordinates.  The idea is that the leader will benefit by learning how he or she is perceived by those above, lateral, and below him or her.

The disadvantage of this approach is that each team member assigns a score to each leadership behavior, which results in the leader receiving a table full of numbers.

The Doctor of Philosophy program in psychology from which I graduated was known for its high standards in assessment and research training; as a result, I learned more about measurement theory and statistics than I ever wanted to know.  Those years of study and many subsequent years of practice have led me to this conclusion:  Where human functioning is concerned, reliance on numbers is dangerous.  The leader who is assessed with measurements from all directions is likely to become mis-focused, chasing numbers and worrying because some scores don’t seem high enough.  If you are like most leaders, the scores would never seem high enough to you.

Here’s what I recommend that you do:  The referent power leader often has meaningful conversations with team members above, lateral, and below; these occasions provide natural opportunities for you to ask these constituents:  “What do I do that helps you?”  “What might I do differently that would help you?”

This doesn’t mean that you would necessarily do everything that constituents ask; some requests might be unreasonable.  Moreover, an individual team member who has a personality disorder might use this occasion as an opportunity to skewer you, face-to-face; therefore, you might be more conservative with the manner in which you solicit input from that person.

However, because of the ways in which the referent power leader treats others, he or she is less likely than other leaders to receive unreasonable requests or attacks.  Instead, the leader is very likely to receive valuable comments that will give him or her the insights needed to continue the best practices and to create new ones.  Imagine that your supervisor came to you and asked those questions about his or her performance; wouldn’t you welcome that—and reward it with constructive feedback?

So, instead of asking your team members for scores, ask for their thoughts.  This action increases your referent power, especially when you respond positively to the input that you receive.


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