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An Excerpt

Lessons From the Confessional: What 360°s and Coaching Taught Us About Leadership, Performance and Change


Change is absolutely essential in today’s business world. When it’s well managed, your organization thrives. When it’s poorly managed, you go into a tailspin.

Sound familiar?

We all know change is difficult, and we get that one of the toughest parts about change is knowing where to start.

The truth is that no organization can make change happen without figuring out exactly what needs to change, what should be enhanced, and what needs to stay the same — in other words, doing a complete 360° of their organization, from the CEO on down.

At 2WA Consulting, we use our own 360° feedback program to help clients drive performance, lead change and improve the culture of their organizations. Over the past two decades I’ve done hundreds of 360° debriefs, the ultimate goal of which is to help managers uncover their hidden potential and figure out what’s impeding their progress.

From all the 360° sessions and executive coaching I’ve done has come an incredibly useful body of information about how people manage other people. I’ve spent a lot of time discussing good and bad behaviours, and helping craft solutions that turn bad into good. I’ve worked with nearly 1,000 people in some form of a coaching relationship since 2002 — and one of the things that strikes me most is how specific groups of people manage in remarkably similar ways.

I’ve gained significant insight into people’s impression of themselves as managers. I’ve heard their fears and concerns, their secret ambitions, what they dislike about their jobs and in some cases, even a few juicy personal tidbits.

I’ve heard so much, in fact, that I began to feel like a priest in a confessional — and with that, the title for this book was struck.

Telling stories is a way of teaching through shared learning. So, armed with all this knowledge, I began to tell stories that illustrate the points 2WA makes in our leadership development courses, in our facilitated meetings, in our coaching — in everything we do.

As people listened, there was a lot of interest in what we’d learned, in the common strengths and weaknesses we’d unearthed, and in what managers were most concerned about and most wanted to learn.

During coaching assignments, people would ask us to write things down so that they’d remember what to say and do as various situations unfolded. The success of that approach suggested that anyone who manages people would benefit from what we’ve got in our heads. It’s why I wrote this book: to share what we’ve learned and to show you what really does work.

Lessons From the Confessional: What 360°s and Coaching Taught Us About Leadership, Performance and Change is partly a compilation of what we like to call our “aha” moments, which we talk about in the front of the book.

The middle part of the book is a useful tool in terms of “what to say/what to do” with specific manager types. Based on our observations, the actual number and type of managers is finite, and we describe these management categories in detail so you can learn what type you are, figure out how to improve how you’re managing people, and know what to do if you manage others who fall into one of these categories.

The last section of the book covers what we like to call 2WA’s “greatest hits.” These are the seven tips and tools are clients like best — and we’re happy to share.

We’ve found over time that what people like most about 2WA is that we provide valuable insights and specific recommendations on what people should say and do as managers.

That takes us to our “aha” moments, so let’s go there now.

Chapter 1 ‘Aha’ Moments: What we’ve learned about people who manage people

Aha 1: Managers don’t give or get enough feedback

Why is this an aha?

When I begin a 360° feedback session, I typically start by asking:

  1. When is the last time you had feedback and how helpful was it?
  2. Do you think you require any feedback?

The answer to the first question is usually a bit vague and filled with “kindas” and “sortas.” As for the second question, virtually every manager I talk to says they aren’t getting enough feedback. Some have supervisors who do much better than the average, but everyone is somewhat unsure of how well they’re performing — and they believe they’d benefit from more specific feedback about what they do well and what they don’t do well.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in this process is that people are genuinely and profoundly grateful to get feedback through the 360° process. Even though there are many people who avoid feedback as much as possible, my take is that they’re simply afraid about what they’ll read in their report.

They fear people will say how awful they are as managers because they doubt their own abilities and assume that others have the same opinion. And that isn’t true — but it can be difficult to talk them out of their misconceptions.

Generally what they find as they read their report for a second or third time is that they do many things well. They also typically find that what they do well far outweighs what they don’t do well. And once they get past the fact that people have identified what they don’t do well, they’re usually in a good mental place and can objectively process the information and make their learning and development plans.

What people are telling us

Interestingly, people typically start off saying “Well, I’ve read it through, no big surprises, just what I expected,” … and then they proceed to tell me the parts of the report that surprised them, that they didn’t know about themselves, and that their boss hadn’t shared with them.

It’s probably more notable to point out what I don’t hear. Nobody says “I’ve already had this feedback” or any variation on that theme. What they get in the 360° process is often the first comprehensive data set they’ve ever received on their performance. And they like it. They liked it in 2002 when we started doing 360°s and they like it even more now, 12 years later.

How does feedback work?

For starters, it’s important to understand what the big deal is about feedback. Feedback is used when someone — typically your boss — decides that he (or she) likes some of your behaviours and not others. A good boss will assume you aren’t acting in a way that is deliberately stupid, but rather you just don’t realize the mistakes you’re making.
But even a good boss can’t assume that you know which of your behaviours are the right ones. So to correct the poor behaviours and reinforce the right ones, a boss needs to provide feedback.
Feedback is a development tool that’s used for two purposes only:

  • Reinforcing a behaviour
  • Correcting a behaviour

Simply put, if you don’t give your people feedback, they won’t know what’s right and what’s wrong with how they do their jobs.

Lominger is an American organization focused on identifying all the competencies that a manager should master in their career. It does original research to figure out what competencies managers are most skilled at and which they are least skilled at. They test their managers using competency-based 360° feedback processes and publish the results in various books, primarily the one titled FYI For Your Improvement™ 5th Edition.

FYI is an easy-to-use development tool featuring a chapter of actionable tips for what Lominger calls the 67 Leadership Architect® Competencies. Most interestingly, they rank the 67 competencies from those that managers are most skilled at (action-oriented, customer focus, functional and technical skills) to those they are least skilled at (including self-awareness, feedback and developing direct reports). With that information, they conducted a survey, the main finding of which was:

89% of survey responses said “candid feedback on my performance was essential or very important in my development” and yet only 39% received such feedback.

In short, managers aren’t sure they’re exhibiting the right behaviours, and their requests for validation from their own managers are falling on deaf ears.

What should you take away from this?

Give and get more feedback. Period.

If you supervise people, use the Feedback Formula (see the full tip sheet on page X)).

Using the formal and informal feedback process
  • Every week, provide each of your direct reports with five to seven pieces of positive feedback (reinforcing a behaviour) and two to four pieces of constructive feedback (requesting a more desirable behaviour).
  • Meet with each person quarterly to review their performance in a more formal setting, while maintaining a casual, informal style.
  • No matter what the situation, talk about the behaviour you’ve observed that warrants the feedback. Identify the impact the behaviour had on you. It will either be positive (“The way you handled that phone call was exactly what I’m looking for”) or negative (“That construction drawing confused the subcontractor because it was missing key data”).

    It doesn’t matter whether the feedback is positive or negative, it must be delivered in an objective, non-judgmental manner so that people understand how their actions affect others. What you must do next is make your request. Tell the person to continue or change their behaviour and be specific about what you want. Remember, people are wanting more feedback, so don’t hold back. Just make sure you provide it in a way they can hear and understand, without feeling judged or belittled.

    The key to doing this is to first commit to the process and then do it regularly. It may seem like a big time commitment, but if you do it consistently, you’ll notice that you’re not only providing feedback on a person’s performance, you’re getting a close-up view of the work of your organization — and you can’t help but see both at the same time. You’ll also find that work performance improves as your knowledge of the organization deepens.

    Let’s look at what happens when you’re the one trying to get feedback from your own supervisor. Go ahead and ask for it. Set up a meeting if you have to, but plainly state that you know you’re making some mistakes and that you need feedback to improve.

    Be specific about what type of feedback you need and ask for it directly. You might get a response like “It’s all great, no news is good news” from your manager — but this is the kind of response people give when they don’t know what to say and don’t know how to give you what you are looking for.

    Persist, be helpful in asking questions about your performance in specific areas, and eventually you’ll get something.

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