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CEO Doctor Confronts Indecisiveness With 360-Degree Feedback And Coaching

The CEO of a large health care organization was approaching the renewal of his contract. But the doctor discovered a troubling diagnosis: his 360-degree feedback showed him as lacking decisiveness.

Fortunately, his coach was Jocelyn Bérard, an innovator in the use of 360 with senior executives. Together they used the feedback, which showed several contradictions in the CEO's performance, to help him make positive changes.

Bérard is Vice President of the training firm Global Knowledge which has pioneered the use of 360-degree feedback in leadership development. He describes the case with the executive's permission, sometimes reading directly from a copy of his 360 report.

The power of 360 comments

"Because it was time for the renewal of the CEO's contract," Bérard recalls, "he asked for feedback from a big group – the board of directors, his direct reports, the medical leadership, and outside partners as well."

Bérard prepared by studying the unstructured comments they provided. He says he chose his feedback system for its flexibility, for instance allowing him to customize his requests for comments. The result is highly focused feedback that's specific to both the responder and the recipient.

"When we asked for comments about the CEO's strengths," Bérard recalls, "we saw phrases like 'energy and drive', 'strategic thinker', 'optimism', 'high integrity', 'humility', 'brings out the best in people', 'compassion', 'focus on patients', 'friendly', and 'approachable'. Over and over, we saw the word 'respectful'.

"So that's the positive side, but what did the responders think the CEO should improve? They said he should be 'more action-oriented', 'stay the course', 'be more assertive', 'more decisive', 'confronting', and several times that he should be 'more direct and forceful'."

Helping the recipient accept feedback

Bérard is used to getting push-back from recipients who find critical comments difficult to accept. They may discount them as representing a minority view or someone with a grudge.

To counter this, Bérard routinely asks executives to complete their own personality profile, using the Hogan Personality Inventory. As expected, the executive's self-report confirmed the external feedback, showing him as considerate and pleasant, but liable to avoid confrontation and, like many physicians, risk-averse.

"He's a team player, but when it's time to give somebody tough love, tough medicine, he shies away," notes Bérard. "The other thing is, he's very imaginative and creative. So he's strong on strategy, but remember when they said he should be more action-oriented? One moment he's talking about something big, then two months later he's onto something different."

Through coaching, the CEO built on the comments to develop better follow-through and become more assertive. But knowing that these changes would take time, he also surrounded himself with action-oriented people who could make sure that his strategic priorities were actually carried out.

Saving a VP's Job

Bérard turns to another 360-degree feedback report, for a creative and dedicated vice president who was on the verge of being terminated.

The 360 comments made it clear why he was not a good fit. "His team gave him feedback he hadn't heard till then," Bérard notes. "They said he doesn't take advantage of their abilities. He needs to share his strategies with them. He doesn't listen well. He needs to be more humble in his demeanor.

"They described him as mischievous, impulsive, and attention-seeking.

"As you'd expect, his self-inventory showed his ambition as high, 87 out of 100. But in sensitivity, he was down around 11. He didn't pay much attention to his team. His approach was: 'It's my world, and I've got to take care of it.' Versus what he should be saying: 'I'm going to manage a team and we'll develop a plan together.'

"So the coaching was to see if he could turn his behavior around. Because he was close to being fired, there was a lot of risk for him.

"Fortunately, he was very receptive to the feedback and coaching. He realized, 'Wow, I really need to learn how to be a leader,' and he worked with me to make changes that saved his job."

Bérard concludes, "It's a very good example of how we increase the power of coaching by following up on the comments in 360-degree feedback."

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