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The Fellowship Comes Full Circle: 360 Degrees of Learning to Lead

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Stephanie South

Learning.

That’s the one word I would use to describe what the El Pomar Foundation Fellowship is all about.

Over the past couple of months, second-year fellows have not only been involved in conducting our own grantmaking process, the Ferrand Fund, but we have been participating in the last part of our leadership development curriculum, which began with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) upon our arrival at El Pomar and now focuses on the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) 360-degree mirror.

The LPI 360 is a comprehensive leadership development tool created by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge . This online evaluation has two parts—a self-assessment and observer assessments. Each assessment contains 30 statements describing specific leadership behaviors, rated on a 1 to 10 point frequency scale. Additionally, observers have the opportunity to offer an anonymous qualitative answer where they can tell the person being evaluated what they believe to be his or her greatest strength and also offer an area for improvement.

I took the 15-minute self-assessment and sent the observer assessment out to 20 other people—my manager, first-year fellows I led over the course of two years, and other second-year fellows. Then, I waited. About a month later, each of us received a very thick packet with the results, and in the days that followed, we digested it—or, in my case, stewed, chewed, spit it out, and eventually swallowed it—with the help of the director of the Fellowship, Gary Butterworth, and leadership development guru and senior vice president, Cathy Robbins.

The LPI 360 doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already know. For me, it said what I anticipated it would, the same thing my elementary school teachers used to tell my mother: Stephanie excels at nearly everything she sets her mind to, but she doesn’t always play well with others. What the assessment does do is reveal blind spots, behaviors that you can’t/don’t necessarily see but exist for everyone else to see. Tools like this, the ones that help you get a glimpse of those blind spots, can save your leadership life because when you are afforded the chance to see obstacles, you can correct your course before they undermine you.

My blind spots didn’t taste so good at first, but the more I began to understand the flavors of the feedback, the more I began to savor this rare delicacy. This kind of feedback is a gift, one that people my age are rarely given, especially in a first job, and the lessons learned (below) from this process and the revelation of blind spots are those that I will take with me from here to wherever I go next.

Wisdom Worth Sharing:

• Intent equals neither action nor perception.

• There’s a reason lack of trust is the first dysfunction of a team. Without it, everything else falls apart.

• The past is closer than you think. It made you who you are, but it may have also given you the baggage that is weighing you down and keeping you from who you want to be. That baggage should be unpacked or left behind—your choice.

• Feedback is a gift and should be given and received as such. Even though you think you want to trade it in for something better at first, you realize just how much it means the more you think about.

• But don’t over think it. Other people’s opinions of you should serve to aid your self-growth, not determine your self-worth.