In Radical Candor, Kim Scott lays out her thesis for how to be a good boss. The premise is deceptively simple: be both challenging and caring with your people. The book starts with laying out a philosophy which may be familiar to many: that relationships with the people on your team are the most important management tools, and that working collaboratively and motivating people is the best way to drive results. It goes on to describe a step by step process for creating the right culture and managing people on a day-to-day basis.
“Radical candor” is coined as a phrase to describe being direct and honest with your feedback in order to drive results, whilst also caring deeply for individuals. This two-by-two matrix, with caring personally on one axis and challenging directly on the other, is the framework on which the entire thesis hangs. When I started to think about Ruinous Empathy and Obnoxious Aggression, I could immediately recall examples from my own experience where due to a lack of bravery in challenging people, or frustration over a particular action, I had myself slipped into those quadrants. Balancing the task and the relationship, or criticism with caring, is undoubtedly a challenge we all face in management and in other areas of life. This framework for me brought to life an awareness of the boundaries between the quadrants, and how to spot and correct yourself when you drift into unhelpful communication.
Kim Scott also emphasises the value of culture, a principle which I wholeheartedly agree with. The well-used and multi-attributed phrase “culture eats strategy for lunch” has always resonated with me, and when you consider the impact of many, many small interactions between your team members every day, you realise quickly that helping others to adopt whatever framework you choose is just as important as abiding by it yourself. One aspect of culture which she brings to life for me is the treatment of ‘superstars’ who want to grow, move on and get better, versus ‘rock stars’, who are extremely competent at their jobs and want to stay there. Finding ways to identify, reward and incentivise both groups is something many organisations don’t seem to have cracked.
I’m finding it challenging to pick out just a few key lessons to take away, as there was so much meat in this book: it’s a real manual for caring managers who want to get stuff done. Much of the advice might seem obvious: listening techniques, how to solicit and give feedback, what it means to care personally about someone. Some of my favourite tricks were included: being clear about ‘debate’ versus ‘decision-making’, having honest career conversations with your direct reports, hiring for culture more than experience. Perhaps the most useful element, however, is the way this book integrates good management/feedback/communication advice into a framework which acknowledges and embraces common management techniques – including meetings such as 1:1s, staff meetings, etc., and talks about how to be radically candid, and therefore effective, with each of these elements. You may not agree with absolutely everything, but it is certainly laid out with clarity and practicality, in a way that allows for easy ‘cherry-picking’ of the most useful elements.
Overall, Scott lays out an attractively simple and elegant framework by which to measure your management behaviour, coupled with detailed advice on how to get to where you want to be within the framework. That advice covers both personal skills such as listening and giving feedback, as well as some thoughts on how to use meetings and management tools. It focuses on the relationships between you and your direct reports, making a powerful statement about their importance to your effectiveness. If there is a criticism, it would be that the book draws in principles (such as good listening) from several areas covered by other books, such that you may feel some segments are already familiar. However unlike many management / self-improvement books, its value cannot be summarised in a few bullet points, but comes with the detailed anecdotes, examples and arguments laid out in the text. Definitely worth a read for anyone who aspires to be a good boss.
Photo credit: Wakefield Morys-Carter (who was fortunate enough to see Kim at a conference)