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Using 360-degree Evaluations to Assess your Leadership Style

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In the climactic scene ofA Few Good Men, Tom Cruise, who plays a military attorney defending two marines charged with murder, cross-examines Jack Nicholson_s character, Col. Jessep, the commander of the two charged marines. A shouting match ensues: Cruise yells, ˙I want the truth!Ó and Nicholson screams back, ˙You can_t handle the truth!Ó

Could Col. Jessep say the same about you, as an„EMS manager? Deep down, we want to know what our employees are really thinking of us, but if it_s not good, we usually can_t handle it. For example, when was the last time you conducted a 360-degree evaluation?„

A 360-degree evaluation is a feedback tool that gives peers and subordinates the opportunity to rate and evaluate their manager. Most of the feedback addresses behaviors they may have observed, many of which you may not realize you exhibit.

This method contrasts with the standard„top-down appraisal, where you_re evaluated by your manager only. That unilateral approach doesn_t allow you to receive feedback on your performance from your peers or subordinates, the people you really serve.

An Eye-Opener

I remember one 360-degree evaluation of my leadership style that revealed many peers and subordinates felt I multitasked when they were trying to speak to me about something important. The feedback indicated that while they were sitting in front of me in my office trying to hold a meaningful conversation, I_d talk to them, but I_d also read e-mails as they hit my inbox, review a document on my desk or perform some other insignificant task.

My 360-degree evaluation showed that my peers and subordinates found this behavior irritating and discouraging. And they were absolutely right to feel irritated and discouraged. I realized that when someone was trying to discuss an issue they believed was important, I was sending them a clear message that they, or their topic, wasn_t important at all. To not give them 100% of my attention was disrespectful, and so this evaluation was an eye-opener for me. Taking their comments in a constructive way, I_m now conscious of giving my full attention to anyone who walks through my office door.

Done correctly, the 360-degree evaluation should allow you to grow in your position as an„EMS manager or supervisor. It should reveal areas in which you need additional training or professional development in order to benefit the organization.„

But remember to also consider any perceived dangers associated with implementing this kind of program. When a 360-degree evaluation is first brought up, some personnel will be concerned about confidentiality, how the evaluations will be used, and what follow-up they can anticipate. Be ready to answer those questions and stick to your answers.

If not, you might end up like a fire officer at a department I know of. The city manager there asked employees to evaluate the fire chief and said he would blind the employees_ identities in his report, keeping the feedback anonymous. However, one officer wrote several honest but disparaging remarks about the fire chief and his performance. Regrettably, the city manager didn_t live up to his word„and shared the employee_s identity with the fire chief. The officer, who was only being honest, was an appointed employee and soon found himself without a job.

Thus, what was a valuable tool that could have helped improve the leadership of the department will never be looked at the same way by the personnel. In this kind of situation, when reviewing feedback from future 360-degree evaluations, leaders must consider the potential that participants will probably feel nervous and withhold their true opinions.

A Matter of Trust

A 360-degree evaluation shows your staff that you value open communication. If employees can see how their feedbackƒwhether positive or negativeƒis appreciated and used to improve their leader_s performance, they_ll be more apt to provide instant feedback up the chain of command when they feel something needs immediate attention.

If you_re dedicated to improving your performance, 360-degree evaluations can be powerful. The feedback you_ll receive may be hard to digest, but by considering the comments with trust in your employees and an open mind, you can become a better supervisor, manager, leader and mentor.„JEMS

Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department. He has a total of 30 years of fire and rescue experience. He's chair of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs and can be reached atwww.garyludwig.com.

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