Beyond 360s: Deep Dive Coaching

19 Jan Beyond 360s: Deep Dive Coaching

Typically, the best executive coaches are perceptive, somewhat intuitive and subtly tenacious. They are direct, great at building a rapport, and are astute listeners. Coaches should be adept at zeroing in on key themes and needs of their leader clients. However, some fail to use effective assessments or may use tools haphazardly.

Many executive coaches think a 360-degree feedback instrument is the most important or the only essential tool for the process. While a well-designed 360 instrument is important, it comes second. The problem with using a 360 tool alone is that this provides the external perceptions or observations of others only. While this data is essential for the leader to understand critical perceptions, it does little to help the leader to be introspective or sufficiently self-aware to make the needed shifts or improvements. Also, 360s often leave the leader confused or even agitated.

For example, perhaps a leader is given feedback on a 360 that indicates she needs to improve her communications with her team. Yet, this particular leader has doubled her efforts and goes out of her way to communicate regularly with her team via weekly meetings, with cc(s) on relevant emails, and by implementing an open-door policy to welcome and encourage dialogue, questions and input. Obviously, there is a disconnect between her intent and her impact. When this happens, the leader often feels defensive or may think that the 360 feedback is just an attack or sour grapes because she perceives herself as going the extra mile to be an effective communicator.

To clear up the disconnects, executive coaches should use an assessment instrument to measure in depth personality characteristics, inherent risk factors for derailment, and drivers and reward needs. The 360 instrument is good for telling us how behaviors manifest. The trio of personality and motivational measures, on the other hand, describes the “whys” behind behaviors. So, why is it that the leader in the example is rated low on communicating with her team despite her extra efforts? The below table could be her results in the deep dive measures:


Significant Assessment Score Results on the CDR 3-D Suite[i]:



While assessments in this genre have detailed scores[ii], the above table shows the particular scores that are key traits causing this leader to struggle with effective communications:

Based on her Character scores, she tends to be naturally shy, aloof, and she listens well and speaks deliberately (Sociability). She has a limited capacity for being with others in meetings and prefers to be alone (Social Stamina). She is close to the vest or does not let people know how she is feeling and she keeps others at a safe distance (No Hostility).

The Risk Assessment scores indicate that under stress or when facing adversity, she isolates herself and stops communicating (Detached). She also has difficulty saying what she really thinks and then later regrets or covertly resists and drags her feet on decisions she does not really support. She will likely have difficulty sharing information openly (False Advocate). Last, she may come off as too negative or even condescending with others’ ideas (Cynic.)

Her Drivers & Rewards scores show that she thrives by working alone (Companionship & Affiliation) and she focuses on safeguarding information and her job security which causes her to be risk aversive (Safety & Security).

Impact of the above traits on 360 feedback from stakeholders:  This leader comes off as distant, quiet, aloof, and non-approachable despite her new open-door policy. She is not sufficiently engaged. Because of her tendency to keep others at a safe distance, she does not communicate in a sufficiently open way to build trust and effective relationships. She tends to share only pieces of select information leaving questions and gaps. When facing adversity or conflict, she frequently pulls away or shuts down. She rarely speaks up during tough moments to express what she is really thinking even if she has objections or concerns about impending decisions leaving her team to sense a lack of support.  She sometimes comes off as negative or condescending, though in her mind, she is just asking reasonable questions.  She tends to stay in her office with her door closed and is often too risk aversive when ideas are presented. So, despite this leader’s efforts to improve her communications with weekly meetings, an “open-door” policy, and by sharing more emails; at a personal level, she is not communicating or building trust adequately with her staff and others, hence the low ratings on the 360 feedback.

The coaching feedback information from the character traits, risks and intrinsic motivator instruments equips the leader to shift from confusion (what she is trying to do) to clarity (her true impact on others.) From there, the leader can move to ownership over what is actually causing her gaps and struggles to formulate an effective game plan for improvement.

As a quick analogy, let’s say you hurt your knee and you are in terrible pain. Imagine the orthopedic surgeon who examines you and decides to operate on your knee without doing any diagnostic X-Rays or tests. This would be absurd. However, he did consider your symptoms. A 360 provides the symptoms (you have pain in your knee) and observations (you cannot walk due to your excruciating knee pain.) An external observation by the orthopedic surgeon does not reveal exactly what is causing your pain. Similarly, the 360 feedback tells us nothing about why a leader actually struggles, despite their intentions to be effective. The 360 feedback process provides observations and external perceptions. This is where a gap or disconnect often occurs for the leader. A scientifically validated personality character, risk factor and drivers tool digs deeper to tell you why the behaviors are manifesting in the ways that they do. It is the essential diagnostic tool for executive coaching, just like the X-ray or MRI is needed to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem for the orthopedic surgeon.

Last, two things matter greatly to executives and leaders: time and money. When an executive coach goes deep with tools in the genre of the CDR 3-D Suite from the first coaching session, action plans can be started immediately. These tools often reduce the coaching tenure by cutting to the chase from the first session. This saves the leader time and money.

So, executive coaches can continue to scratch the surface with 360s, potentially leaving their leaders confused and dismissing (often silently) the feedback. Or, they can choose to mix the best tools that pinpoint both the 1) essential observations of others and 2) in-depth self-awareness for their clients to achieve the best positive results for the long haul.



[i] “CDR 3D Suite” CDR Assessment Group, Inc., copyrighted and trademarked, 1998-1999.  Sugar Land, TX.

[ii] Character Assessment: 7 primary, 42 subscales; Risk Assessment: 11 scales; Drivers & Rewards Assessment: 10 Facets & 50 sub-facets