What is 360-degree Leadership?

MyGov Team
23 Aug 2016


360-degree leadership is different from a mere exercise of bureaucratic power. Most important, it is a matter of practice and the practice pathway is hourglass shaped, different from the conventional funnel-shaped in which leaders start as generalists and progress to specialize in some broad domains.

Administrators start in the lower bulb of the hourglass and gain hands-on experience. Such learning-by-doing leads to building-up of a repertoire of experiences. These are of two types – know-how and know-what of decision-making. Know-how is used to decide faster. When confronted with a new situation in which a decision has to be made, administrators quickly judge the level of similarity between the new situation and the experiences in their repertoire. Depending on the level of similarity usable experiences become the source material to decide. As administrators make more and more decisions, they accumulate a rich repertoire containing deep and diverse experiences and decision-making becomes faster and better, in fact automatic.

On the other hand, know-how of decision-making is to understand the logic of action underlying the experience, that is, the causal relationship between activities and goals. This connection is often non-linear and asymmetric. Knowledge of cause-effect relationships empowers administrators to experiment and improve on earlier decisions through a process of trial-and-error. Successful improvisations of this sort have the potential to lead to small-scale innovations, which, in turn, enrich their repertoire.

Next, 360-degree administrators progress to the neck of the hourglass. The small size of the neck denotes the higher level of difficulty in the pathway towards becoming expert leaders. In the neck of the hourglass, administrators understand what works, what does not, and under what conditions, which is learning the why of phenomenon and is called the know-why stage. In other words administrators learn to apply knowledge to practice and the knowledge could be in the form of theory, paradigms, principles, concepts, etc.

Administrators often complain that theories are not useful in real-life settings (theory-practice gap). Actually, administrators are unable to connect which theory with what kind of practice; therefore, administrators have to learn to connect the right knowledge with the right experience in the neck of the hourglass. Having learnt to apply the right knowledge to the right practice administrators are ready to move to the top bulb of the hourglass to become 360-degree leaders.

Learning to apply the right knowledge to the right practice enlarges the breadth and scope of thinking. Now, as opposed to learning-by-doing alone, they couple it with reflection and  “synthesize, abstract and articulate the key lessons taught by experience”. Concretely, applying the right knowledge to right practice enables 360-degree leaders to innovate, move ahead when stuck and predict the outcomes of their responses in the wider political economy. For example, administrators learn to innovate by learning the process of connecting different fields, ideas and problems, till now thought to be unrelated. This intuitive recognition of patterns across areas leads to out-of-the-box thinking, while the earlier improvisation in the know-how stage is a sort of in-the-box-thinking.

Another key characteristic of 360-degree leaders is they are highly driven. Dissatisfied with the present, they constantly look for opportunities to change the present and design the future (transform). They become experts in crafting strategies and policy-making and learn to capitalize on opportunities in complex, uncertain and unstable environments. They set – and achieve – stretched goals that others thought were impossible. Highly driven, administrators develop the ability to adjust their responses to new situations or demands of the political economy. They learn rapidly and once they get interested in something they work hard on it. They are used to being beginners and hence good at picking up skills fast, which they are able to easily transfer to other areas. 360-degree leaders think strategically, are able to size up complex situations and make rapid decisions that are not just good, but brilliant, most of the time.

All in all, 360-degree leaders have diverse experiences, have the capacity to apply the right knowledge to the right practice and possess great drive, which is driven by curiosity. Specialization is too narrow for 360-degree leaders and they concentrate on a few broad domains, they are passionate about. In other words they do not have a ‘true calling’.

(Views are personal)

Sameer Sharma,

Additional Secretary(Smart Cities),

Ministry of Urban Development

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