Radical Candor (Kim Scott) — Book Summaries: EP38

This book is promoting the idea that a successful leader is both blunt and empathetic at the same time (radically candid, but caring at the same time). She is not a tyrant, and not a sensitive quiet type either.

Topics covered include: Do not be afraid of hurting people when telling them the truth. When is it OK to fire someone, and for what reasons? And how listening skills can benefit your leadership.

  1. Radical Candor develops a strong and mutually-beneficial relationship between a manager and an employee.
  2. It can have an effect of feeling excited about each new day at the office with your team, and each new set of challenges that you will overcome together.
  3. Two principles are involved in Radical Candor: a manager should care about their employees, and at the same time: challenge them to do the best work possible.
  4. As a manager, in order to establish close, personal relationships with your colleagues, you need to open up, share a lot and talk about many things other than just business.
  5. If employees are underperforming however, you as the manager, must be able to challenge them to perform their best, even if this feels uncomfortable at first. Challenging your employees honestly and meaningfully is the ultimate sign that you care about them.
  6. When you are honest and direct, staff will pick up on that, and will feel free to return feedback back to you about your performance as a manager. This attitude of radical candor also propagates to the employees interacting honestly and meaningfully amongst each other.
  7. The main challenge is achieving a balance between offering constructive criticism and at the same time being helpful, and not mean.
  8. Kim Scott was a manager at Google and delivered a presentation to the team. Kim’s boss took her aside after the presentation, and first complimented her on how she handled questions from the audience, and the overall presentation. Her boss then proceeded to bring up her criticism of Kim saying “um” too often. “When someone says ‘um’ too much, they can sound dumb, which would be unfortunate, especially someone was as smart as Kim”.
  9. This comment was clear and to the point, and encouraged Kim to work with a speech coach to improve at future presentations. The legitimate compliment about the presentation sets up the constructive criticism which follows right after. The critical comment was not sugar coated, and was made straight away after the presentation. The overall success of the presentation did not discourage Kim’s boss from giving candid feedback to Kim on how to make future presentations even better.
  10. When you are honest and objective about both positive and negative points of a person’s work, then that person is likely not to take your feedback as a personal attack.
  11. If a boss humiliates an employee with non-constructive criticism, this can destroy morale fast, create enemies and can result in people leaving their jobs.
  12. If you have to choose between being politically correct while only saying positive things and telling it like it is, you should just tell it like it is, even if this makes you unpopular. This choice is better for business in the long term. But radical candor is an even better option!
  13. Manipulative Insincerity is usually a result of laziness on the part of the manager. They react positively, even in the face of inadequate results from the employees, because they don’t want to deal with the discomfort of discussing what needs to be improved. Avoid this approach, as it will produce poor quality output, and breed more laziness.
  14. Ruinous Empathy is another trait to watch out for. It’s when a manager will withold constructive criticism while having misplaced fear that it would upset the employee. This hurts the employee more in the long term, due to a lack of overall potential improvement.
  15. If you, as a boss, do not attempt to rectify an employee that is visibly deteriorating in their performance, you will be forced to fire them when they become utterly incompetent. Being honest with them proactively shows them that you care about them.
  16. Some jobs aren’t all excitement and passion. Some jobs are simply tedious and at-times meaningless. Don’t try to glamorize and romanticize those positions to employees, as this can backfire.
  17. Don’t try to solve the meaning of life for all your employees. The reality is: some jobs are just there so people can pay their bills and have a comfortable life. Just make sure to acknowledge good work and emphasize the satisfaction that can be had when doing a job well.
  18. Provide perspective on people’s careers by showing them the tools for professional growth.
  19. There are 3 major types of employees: A Superstar, a Rockstar, and a Falling Star.
  20. A Superstar needs to be challenged a lot, and allowed to grow at the rate they want to, so they can reach their full potential.
  21. A Rockstar is less ambitious or capable, and need to be given a steady environment to continually grow at their craft.
  22. A Falling star is a person who is deteriorating in their performance, despite numerous explicit nudges at improvement, or is having a visible negative effect on the whole team.
  23. Firing somebody should be a last resort which only follows multiple attempts at improving the employees performance and presence in the team.
  24. Firing someone affects that person negatively in the short term. They may lose health benefits and income, which would put stress on their marital and personal life. Some animosity towards the firing manager is natural to be experienced by the employee.
  25. Everyone will know when someone is fired. So the incident should not jeopardize your standing as an understanding and caring boss, who did everything they could to allow the person to stay.
  26. Consider the effects a bad employee has on the team. Anyone who is negative, annoying or demoralizing deserves to be let go, after failed reconciliation.
  27. Seek outside, unbiased opinion from an experienced person if you have doubts about firing a person.
  28. Sometimes firing is done because the person’s skills aren’t a good match for the specific position. It’s not personal, and the person can actually be happier elsewhere.
  29. Leadership should be collaborative, not authoritarian. You should never think of your team as a chance to boss people around. Instead: as a chance to collaborate with talented people. Leaders make mistakes, so it’s never appropriate to expect to only tell people what to do.
  30. Steve Jobs liked being challenged and encouraged this. He once reprimanded an employee who backed-down from an argument, and later on turned out to be right. Steve reminded the employee that he didn’t want people to back down just because of the authority factor, and instead objectively prove what’s the right decision.
  31. The way to lead without telling people what to do is to develop your listening skills and encourage a lot of discussion. Let the people know that you are listening to what they are actually saying. This leads to brilliant ideas being formed.
  32. Do not shoot down people’s ideas before they are fully formed. Give them a chance to fully develop their idea.
  33. Achieve an objective, healthy debate, so the best ideas can win (idea meritocracy).
  34. After an idea is agreed upon, it’s your job as a manager to represent your team strongly to the executives, and then manage the execution of this idea. Meaningful learnings should be produced out of the whole experience, leading to actionable conclusions. This process should repeat as a cycle.
  35. Learning how to listen is just as important as learning how to speak.
  36. One way of listening is “Quiet Listening”. Tim Cook of Apple exemplifies this approach. He is known for long, drawn-out silences to get other people to do the talking, while patiently listening to what they have to say. To practice this, spend at-least 10 minutes out of an hour-long conversation patiently listening to the other person.
  37. A lot of managers will interrupt to share their own opinion. This can have an effect of people adapting their message to match what the manager said. Patience is required to practice quiet listening.
  38. Steve Jobs had a more confrontational personality and was a loud listener. He would make a strong statement, asking others to dispute that statement with a strong argument, to keep the conversation moving forward. This approach can be used to pull out shy people to engage in conversation.
  39. In order for others to want to converse with you, you need to positively respond to their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. You need to show them that you are listening. This incentivizes them to continue talking and stating their opinions.
  40. Some people just work to pay the bills. Others will have large ambitious goals. It’s important to really understand everyone’s true motivations, so that the job can be used as a springboard to build the qualities required to fulfill people’s personal motivations.
  41. Russ Laraway was a director of sales at Google. He conducted “career talks” to help keep his team motivated. He asked his employee: Sarah, about her long term motivations. At first Sarah just said that she wanted to be a boss, just like Russ. But Russ sensed that she wasn’t being completely open with him. So he asked her about the visions she had for her future, and she revealed that she wants to run a spirulina farm (an algae-like super food). Russ also asked about Sarah’s childhood to identify her key motivation factors: helping the environment, hard work and financial independence. This led to Russ helping Sarah develop her management skills as opposed to her analytical skills, in preparation for her to one-day run her spirulina farm.
  42. There are 3 kinds of conversation you can have to identify your employees motivations: “The Life Story conversation”, “The Dream Job conversation” and “The 18-month plan conversation”.
  43. Radical Candor makes you the best possible boss. It’s efficient — allowing you to directly challenge your staff in a constructive way. It brings out the best in people. It allows helping people on their individual career paths, resulting in deeper relationships.