This book clarified my understanding of what makes for influential leaders. I believe its wisdom and advice will spur my ability to gain influence with my teams, leaders, and peers.
You don’t have to have a particular title or position to be a “leader” - you can lead from anywhere in a company. 360-degree leadership refers to leading in three directions: down (direct reports), across (peers), and up (your leader(s)). To be a good leader, you need to be influential, and to gain influence, you must show your team members that you’re interested in helping them improve their skills.
The book offers a very comprehensive view of leadership. For some, the term ‘leadership’ will be misleading because they subscribe to the myth that you must have a leadership position to be a leader. The crux of the book is that it teaches how to be a competent collaborator, and by doing so, you will be a leader, regardless of your title.
If you’re competent and build influence, people will follow you regardless of your title or position in the company. Therefore, anyone can be a leader.
Once that premise has been established, and the author debunks several myths, he covers the challenges and techniques for building influence with your direct reports (if you have them), your leaders, and your peers.
The book is full of analogies and interesting facts about famous leaders, which makes for an excellent book. I find many leadership books to be a bit boring, even if they are informative, but that wasn’t the case with The 360 Degree Leader.
This book is for anyone that wants to be successful and competent in their role. I believe it is especially applicable to Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches because, often, these roles come with no positional authority. Leading a team that does not directly report to you is touted as one of the common challenges for these roles, which one overcomes by building influence. This book focuses on tactics that help you be competent in your position so that you help elevate others.
I believe the book can be helpful for anyone, regardless of whether you think you’re in a leadership role. In today’s job landscape, everyone needs to be a leader. If you’re thinking, ‘I don’t have direct reports’ or ‘I don’t want to be a manager that’s fine because I’m there with you. Regardless of those feelings, this book was still valuable to me.
A co-worker for whom I have much respect recommended that I read this book. Although I didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time, I took notice of her ability to lead 360 degrees. She was helping her direct reports grow into leaders, sharing valuable knowledge with peers, and helping truly support her leader.
Her leadership skill was noticeably superior to others I’d worked with. Curious about how she’d learned these skills, I asked for suggestions of any books or courses that she might recommend for growing teams. The 360 Degree Leader was top among her recommendations.
“When asked what he considered the most essential qualification for a politician, Winston Churchill said, “It’s the ability to foretell what will happen tomorrow, next month, and next year—and to explain afterward why it did not happen.""
“If you think you can do a job—that’s confidence. If you actually can do it—that’s competence. And there is no substitute for it.”
“The turkey that every day greedily approaches the farmer who tosses him grain is not wrong. It is just that no one ever told him about Thanksgiving.”
I stayed with a company for about six years in my second career job. That role helped shape who I am today. I started with the typical mentality of a young recent college graduate. Under the tutelage of two excellent leaders, I transitioned into a worker bee mentality. Near the end of my time there, I joined the core team responsible for implementing a large project.
When I began that role, I was very much a timid follower. I had a preconceived notion that people in management roles had some magic ability to lead that I lacked. I was great at executing the plans of others but didn’t lead.
That project was one of the most stressful times in my career, and at some point, the stress and frustration led me to have a paradigm shift. No one knows what they’re doing; we’re all just winging it. Whether executive director or project manager, the role doesn’t grant a magic power to their wielders that makes all of their ideas fantastic.
With a collaborative mentality and a desire for our team to succeed, I started to lead even though, on paper, I was just an individual contributor.
Although this epiphany was six years in the making for me, it’s covered in the first section of The 360 Degree Leader as John C. Maxwell, bestselling author, deconstructs common myths about leadership.
Some people set career goals for themselves that are unhealthy for their teams and their company. They want their team to be better than the others, not as a benefit to the team, but to themselves. They’ll throw other leaders under the bus if that’s what it takes to make them shine.
Check your personal goals and make sure they align with the goals of your teammates and the organization. If they don’t, you should have a good long think about what that means.
Success will follow if you focus on being the best you can be and help level up those around you.
No one wants to be micromanaged. Employees that believe they do only think this because they’ve never had a good leader.
Set guidelines and limits for your team, and then trust them to operate within those limits. The worse thing that can happen is that someone will make a mistake that we can learn from, and we’ll tweak the guidelines so that we don’t make the same mistake twice.
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
- Steve Jobs
Empowering others is the only way to scale. Hoarding all the work for yourself and doling it out in particular tasks so that your direct reports don’t have to think too much might signal that you’re a bad leader.
You have to get your shit in a backpack before you start offering to help others.
You can’t succeed in your role if you don’t know what your role is. Since my career has transitioned into agile project management, I’ve struggled to understand my role at each company. It’s not that I don’t know what a Scrum Master is supposed to do (after all, they only have one accountability); the issue lies more in the fact that everyone will have a different expectation of the role.
It is crucial to get clarity from your leaders and coach your peers on what they can expect from you. Don’t expect anyone to hand you a clear-cut job description; you’ll likely need to develop this yourself. Document what you think your role is and then review that with your leader to ensure that you’re on the same page.
As a Hufflepuff, my heartmate has a very loyal character. Whenever he finds a tolerable job, he’ll stay there until he’s old enough to retire - or until the company goes out of business. In the IT industry, this isn’t common. Technology folks jump from job to job as a means to rapidly boost their salary, find a new challenge, or avoid toxic cultures. It makes my husband anxious when I start looking for a new job, which he refers to as “grass is greener” syndrome.
I’ve just recently started to work on learning to feel fulfilled in my current role. A former boss of mine calls this a “growth edge” - an area in your life that you’re working on improving.
Agile project management roles tend to be stressful, especially if you fall into the category that Melody Wilding refers to as Sensitive Striver. If you don’t take the time to understand what you need to feel fulfilled, you’ll always feel disgruntled. You’ll want to move from company to company looking for the perfect job where you’ll be content, but if the flaw is in you, you’ll never find what you think you’re looking for.
360-Degree Leaders need to communicate constantly, and it’s not enough for a team to hear a message once.
In The 360 Leader, John Maxwell quotes Max DePree’s response to what he thought the leader’s role was in an organization.
“You have to act like a third-grade teacher. You have to repeat the vision over and over and over again until the people get it.”
- Max DePree
I’ve heard similar options regarding communication, and they always make me think of that Classic Concentration game show that aired in the early 90s. When we communicate the vision to someone, they don’t always get the whole picture; they uncover parts of it and remember bits of it. To get everyone on board with a plan, you must repeat it many times in many different settings so they can eventually see all the bits of the vision.
Another helpful tactic I picked up from the book was a formula for work distribution.
“80 percent of the time—work where you are strongest
15 percent of the time—work where you are learning
5 percent of the time—work in other necessary areas”
- John C. Maxwell
I started to think of my backlog of personal tasks as similar to a Product Backlog. The Product Backlog will have feature requests blended with technical tasks and bugs. The role of the Product Owner is to review each of those Product Backlog Items, determine which one will provide the most value, and bubble those items to the top.
Everyone will have a different prioritization method that they use. I’ve been trying to incorporate the work distribution suggested above. If it aligns with my strongest skills, bubble it up to the top. If an item will help me learn, bubble that up above other things that won’t advance my skills.
Like a product backlog, I can’t complete everything in my backlog in a week. Prioritizing the items that provide the most value or enable future value seems appropriate to ensure that I’m working on the right things.
“Managers work with processes—leaders work with people.”
- John C. Maxwell
Before reading this book, I thought of myself as a process engineer. I’m a hopeless introvert, which sometimes makes dealing with people draining for me.
I’m okay with people referring to me as a leader as long as I’m never required to have direct reports.
I think I’ve put blinders regarding working with people so I’d have time to focus on where I’m strongest - processes. I will be an ineffective leader if I don’t also build my people skills. So, learning how to better work with people is one of my growth edges, and I need to pick up more tasks related to that to be a better leader.
Effective leadership will fill the gaps in others. No one likes a know-it-all, but if you gracefully help fill the gaps of others, everyone grows in a win-win manner. This concept is beautifully captured by a movie quote in The 360 Degree Leader:
“I love that in the movie Rocky, Sylvester Stallone’s character says of his fiancée Adrian: “I got gaps, she’s got gaps, together we don’t got gaps.” That could be said of our coworkers and us. Instead of exploiting other people’s gaps to get ahead of them, why not fill in each other’s gaps and both get ahead?”
- John C. Maxwell
If you’re often trying to point out the gaps of others, evaluate what you think you’re accomplishing with this approach. Is your team benefiting from these actions? How does your organization benefit when you draw attention to the gaps of peers? If you can’t answer those two questions positively, it’s time to re-evaluate your behavior.
This book is a great place to start if you want to kick your leadership game into high gear. You’ll naturally build influence by focusing on the three directions of collaboration with your co-workers (up, across, and down). When you have influence, people will follow you, and you’re a leader when people are following you.