What would you do to make your company better? Imagine your organization is having problems. It could be slowed by unnecessary roadblocks, bleeding cash reserves, or have a toxic culture. Whatever it is, if you're like most leaders, you're willing to work long hours to come up with solutions about how to change people--or change what people do--in the organization. But would you have the courage to look in the mirror and change yourself?

According to Mike Felix, Vice President of Business Wi-Fi Services at AT&T, this is exactly what you need to do. The world of leadership is a highly perceptual world. How we perceive ourselves as leaders is generally far different than how our employees perceive our leadership. In between is a gap where we can improve and, by improving, we better our business.

Felix said he came across this idea while listening to Sheila Heen, author of Difficult Conversations, at the Global Leadership Summit in Chicago. He was struck by Heen's idea that we teach leaders how to give feedback but we rarely teach leaders how to get feedback. And learning how to get feedback is the key to becoming a better leader and improving your bottom line.

So if you want to become a better leader or turn around your business, try the "Poor Man's 360" developed by Felix. But be warned, this exercise is not for the faint of heart.

Poor Man's 360

Felix developed the Poor Man's 360 as part of a year-long mentoring program he developed for the leaders in his organization. The program involved reading books like Difficult Conversations, homework assignments, and completing a self-evaluation.

At the heart of the Poor Man's 360 is the truth that we all struggle with self-evaluation. We can't see how others perceive us. We need the feedback of others to improve.

How to 360 to grow as a leader:

  1. Sit down some night with your favorite beverage and a clean sheet of paper.

  2. In less than 10 minutes, write down the first four to six words or phrases that come to mind when you think of yourself in your operating role. Don't take longer than 10 minutes.

  3. When you're done, stick this paper in a drawer.

  4. Next, create an anonymous survey (using Survey Monkey or some other system to ensure anonymous feedback) and ask 10 people who know you well in your operating role to write down the first four to six words or phrases that come to mind when they think of you in your operating role.

  5. Don't just pick 10 people who like you or people you like. Pick folks who report to you, who are your peers and people above you.

  6. Then compare the results of your perception of your leadership with how others perceive your leadership.

  7. The gaps you find will be the areas you need to work on.

Evaluating your feedback

For this process to work, you will have to be intellectually honest enough to close the gaps you find. Your initial response may be "They don't know me!" Don't ignore the feedback that differs from your view of yourself. It's likely that could be your fatal flaw. A good book to help you understand how to get feedback is Heen's Thanks for The Feedback.

Felix finds when people regularly get feedback, the gaps in perception tend to be small. However, your first few times of receiving feedback, you should prepare for gaps to be quite large.

Felix does this exercise himself and says sometimes it can be painful to realize the gap. He'll ask his team, "What is the one thing I need to change to help you guys win?" Then he'll make this gap his year's assignment to get better in.

For example, last year his team said, "One of the things you do Mike, when you make your rounds and speak to managers is to make great points to get us all excited about future changes. But there's no follow through, no news about the results or any updates."

So Felix made his one thing that year to be very deliberate and public about his suggested changes and the results. Now he provides evidence of what happens.

In the end, Felix was able to look in the mirror, and work on the most important change first--himself.