Originating from John C. Maxwell’s book, The 360-Degree Leader, the concept of 360-Degree Leadership refers to how one can leverage one’s position to influence upwards (to one’s superiors), across (to one’s peers) and downwards (to one’s subordinates). Regardless of your current organisational position, the ability to assert influence all round is a particularly invaluable skill in today's rapidly changing business landscape.
Held on 25 September 2020 by Nanyang Business School (NBS), Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore), the third instalment of "The Impact of Business Unusual" series saw HR experts sharing their experiences and insights on how individuals can overcome their workplace challenges and what it means to manage oneself, others and the business metrics. The webinar was moderated by Ms Feon Ang, Vice President (Talent & Learning Solutions, APAC), LinkedIn and Vice President (Continuous Learning), NTU NBS Alumni Association.
The session opened with an overview of 360-degree leadership. Mr Na Boon Chong, Managing Director & Partner of Aon Human Capital Solutions, shared that 360-degree leadership is about looking at yourself as a leader from all around. Associate Professor Nigel Phang from NBS’ Division of Leadership, Management & Organisation suggested that we can look at 360-degree leadership through the 360 feedback tool, which enhances self-awareness and increases personal insight.
Assessment tools for appraisal and feedback
On the topic of assessment tools, Ms Ang asked if bosses use tools to promote someone and how an individual’s potential is assessed. Associate Professor Phang stated that while past performance is an important reference point, there is no guarantee that the person will be successful in the future. Instead, there are other criteria such as leadership promise (motivation to lead), personal development (receptiveness to feedback), alignment of values, and mastery of complexity (abilities in dealing with ambiguity and for strong conceptual thinking). Mr Na saw performance as a baseline and stressed the importance of agility and resilience, which are required at all levels of an organisation.
There were also queries regarding the lack of organisational structure for 360 feedback. Mr Na suggested, “Even without a formal process or tools, you can always go up to someone and ask for feedback and this allows for very specific and immediate feedback.” Associate Professor Phang also suggested introducing 360 feedback tools during leadership workshops so that there is a legitimate platform to hold a leadership development conversation.
Recruitment and hiring
Participants were curious how organisations are using tools during recruitment and how effective they are. “Assessment centre”, said Associate Professor Phang, “is one of the more valid tools in predicting future performance. It is always best to deploy a wide range of assessment methods.” Employers should decide on their recruitment criteria and choose the appropriate assessment methods to match the criteria. However, one should also keep in mind that the more criteria there are, the higher the chances of bias due to assessment fatigue.
Mr Na pointed out that working from home (WFH) has accelerated the move towards online assessment in general. Associate Professor Phang reminded that there may be inherent biases in using technology for assessment as algorithms are reliant to human decisions. Mr Na concurred, adding that there is always a need for human expertise to refine the algorithm.
Associate Professor Phang also addressed a question where an appointed leader cannot perform on the job. This may happen when the selection process is flawed—hiring a star performer does not guarantee success in another organisation. If a firm is hiring someone for their expertise, then it makes sense to look for individuals with the content knowledge. But if a firm is looking for someone to develop teams and manage business, then there is a need to look at broader aspects of leadership. Expanding on this, Mr Na reiterated his earlier point that agility and resilience are two important elements underpinning how a person learns and deals with new challenges.
Turning to the use of social media during recruitment, Mr Na felt that it is a double-edged sword. “When we do people analytics, there is a view of looking at what is being said about a person on social media,” but, Mr Na warned, “we also get into the tricky area of privacy.” Associate Professor Phang also highlighted the fact that one should be fair to the feedback receiver—does the feedback provider interact enough with the individual to give a fair feedback?
With regards to advice he would give to people who are eyeing for a particular job, Mr Na said, “You should always deliver on your commitment and do not overcommit.” “To add value, you need to bring new perspectives to the table because the problems we are dealing with are not the same as before,” he added.
Moving up the ranks in an increasingly interrelated workplace
As organisations become increasingly complex, people often must work cross-functionally or with more than one boss. Regardless of the structural configuration, Mr Na emphasised it is always about people working together. Mr Na advised, “While there are always formal channels to deal with conflicts, culture is better than the structural solution. Put aside your expertise when you are talking to your peers and agree on a set of common criteria to assess your objectives.” Associate Professor Phang drew attention to the idea of cultural intelligence, which consists of four critical dimensions: motivation, cognition, self-awareness, and behaviour. “When you demonstrate cultural intelligence, it would put you in a better position to influence and engage others in a new environment,” he shared.
With regards to employees on a technical track who want to remain in the technical route of advancement without having to manage people , Associate Professor Phang felt that there is no such thing as abstaining from leadership responsibility —an engineer who moves up still needs to manage people. Mr Na shared one stumbling block that may stop people from rising to the next level, “Individuals may become caught up with learning content knowledge that they forget things like relationship skills, which will become increasingly important as they progress up the organisational ladder.” “One approach to the issue”, suggested Ms Ang, “would be to encourage the employee to mentor others and to put them in different assignments so they can see how they fare as a leader.”
Associate Professor Phang highlighted that there is “no short cut” in managing bosses. There is a need to constantly interact with your supervisor to understand their priorities, pain points and expectations. Time is required to accumulate and develop social capital. “The underlying objective of social capital is favour exchange”, stressed Associate Professor Phang. “There are times when you need your supervisor’s favour to allow you to be excused for certain things and in return, when you are less stressed, you should put in more effort to support them.”
For those trapped between two different bosses with conflicting priorities, Mr Na said, “Leaders need to set the tone. We should not put the person below in confusion. It should be sorted out by the leaders, though that depends on the quality of the leaders.” Ms Ang also shared LinkedIn’s RAPID framework—Recommendation, Agree, Perform, Input, and Decision—which allows clarity about who the ultimate decision maker is, and what the roles and responsibilities are, making things easier for the person trapped in between.
Participants were interested to know how they should handle micromanagers. Ms Ang noted that this is often an issue of trust. “Micromanagers often micromanage because they don’t believe they are kept in the loop or they have not established trust yet. Therefore, it is important to reflect on yourself and consider what you have done to establish the trust, and how you can communicate with your boss so that they feel they are kept in the loop.”
The good and bad leader
Participants asked if there is a contradiction between being agile and open to feedback versus having strong values and principles. Mr Na pointed out, “Values and ethics are core to a person. Feedback is more on behaviours and styles that are more malleable.” Having said that, Mr Na believes that one of the characteristics of a good leader is to ask difficult questions in order to solve real problems and make progress. One just need to ask them in a sensitive and accountable manner.
If the ethical problem concerns one leader, Associate Professor Phang advocates for whistleblowing policies to come into place. However, if it is a collective group of senior leaders promoting a toxic environment, then individuals should consider if they want to stay on. When working in a hierarchical environment that discourages communication, Associate Professor Phang advised employees to consider if there is a platform to have a discussion with their supervisors or, if the environment is not safe, to turn to a HR business partner first.
On the topic of CEOs and brands, Associate Professor Phang brought up DBS’s Piyush Gupta, who has been very passionate about establishing DBS’s digital transformation journey since his appointment as in 2009. Mr Gupta is an example of a CEO who has a clear vision and consistency in his words and actions. On the negative side, there is the case of Uber’s Cameron Poetzscher, who had to be removed because of sexual misconduct and the toxic culture he had been building in the organisation over the years.
Another area of interest to the participants was how leaders can demonstrate virtual leadership in the current WFH environment. Associate Professor Phang stressed the importance of being visible and conducting regular check-ins with staff to help staff learn from each other, especially when they are facing a work situation. However, these should be done sparingly, just so staff do not feel disconnected from the team. Ms Ang also brought up pulse surveys, which are useful in helping leaders know what is on employees’ minds. That said, Mr Na pointed out that “individuals need to manage themselves as well” and leaders need to encourage employees to take a break when necessary.
Concluding the webinar, the panellists shared some parting advice—Mr Na highlighted that it is necessary to think about how one can develop agility and resilience to cope with the future while Associate Professor Phang emphasised the need to embrace a lifelong learning mind-set, especially with leadership.