If you’ve been to this site often, you know each Friday I answer a question from a leader somewhere in the world. Recently, I received a request to answer four questions I suggested in my book, Great Leaders Grow. Today, I’ll tackle question number three – What do you know now that you wish you had known 20, 30, 40 years ago?

Well, the simple answer is – a lot! I wish I had known more about my strengths; I would like to have understood how my weaknesses would limit my impact; it would have also been great to have learned the big lessons I wrote about last week even earlier in my career; and the list could go on and on.

However, as I tried to think of a more helpful response, I came upon an idea I first heard Bill Hybels talk about almost a decade ago. It’s an idea others have written about, but to me it still seems to be undervalued and misunderstood. It is the concept of the 360-degree leader.

When Bill first shared the idea, he credited a man named Dee Hock. Dee was the founder of Visa. He was the pioneer behind the modern credit card industry.

Here’s the way Dee summarized the idea of the 360 leader in a 1996 Fast Company article.

Here is the very heart and soul of the matter. If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself — your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you “work for” to understand and practice the theory. I use the terms “work for” advisedly, for if you don’t understand that you should be working for your mislabeled “subordinates,” you haven’t understood anything. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

The concept of the 360-degree leader is simple and powerful. I get it today – I wish I had understood it decades ago.

Honestly, I don’t know if the percentages are universally correct, and I don’t know that they are empirically based. What I do know is that my leadership has improved drastically since I began to think in this 360 fashion.

For me, the challenge going forward is two-fold:

First, to maintain this 360 perspective is difficult. I’m not sure why, it just is. It’s tempting to neglect one or more of the audiences Dee mentions.

Second, I find it extremely difficult to invest the amount of time he suggests on self-leadership. But I also realize why it matters – if I can’t lead myself well, I’d be crazy to think I can lead others well. Great leadership begins with self-leadership!

Regardless of my challenges with implementation, the 360-degree leadership paradigm has improved my leadership, I hope it will help you as well.[GLS_Shield]

Where do you need to invest more leadership time and energy – self, boss, peers or those you serve?

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.