A Classic Post from the NSCBlog Archive
Originally posted on June 30, 2008

waterdrop400.jpg“Every action, every word, teaches the belief system that motivates it. What did you teach today?”

360-degree leadership is the concept that at some level we ALL are leaders, that we all impact others by our emotions, thoughts, and actions.

Everyone has the power to make an impact, to influence, to make a difference. And this is a practical definition of a leader: one who impacts, one who creates a response.

Leadership is not just a top down affair. One can effectively lead sideways and even upward.

As a leader, I know that my actions are impacted by the attitudes, initiatives, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm of those I lead. The greater the level of support I sense, the more swiftly I feel confident in moving forward, and the broader and more sweeping will be my vision.

The first response to 360-degree leadership is often, “How can I lead my boss? I have no power, no authority over her.”

One always has personal power (see blog entry personal power v. positional power), and one of the highest forms of leadership is to lead without positional power. I highly recommend reading the chapter on Thirty Methods of Influence in Stephen R. Covey’s lesser-known book, “Principle Centered Leadership.” If I were to pick any one chapter in the myriad books I have read that has had the greatest impact on my leadership skills/style, it would be this section on Thirty Methods of Influence.

Resources: The concept of 360-degree leadership is still an emerging one and has not generated a lot of press/writings. John C. Maxwell has written “The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization.” It is more a bromide in favor of the concept than a practical guide on how to implement. However, often an awareness and organizational support for and openness by management to the concept is sufficiently fertile ground. People want to make a difference, they want to contribute.

The concept of 360-degree feedback (often institutionalized via filling out an annual form for the human resources department) is a bit more established. This is the idea that supervisors/managers should get feedback on their leadership styles from all levels of the organization. Feedback from those who report to them can be as important, if not more important, than feedback from those to whom they report.

While annually filling out a form on your boss’s style (She is open to new ideas: Agree/Disagree?) is perhaps better than nothing, there is no substitute for the day-to-day, real-time feedback (in time to make a difference) that exists in a culture of openness that is fully supportive of honest, good faith, 360-degree communication.