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Book Summary — Radical Candor

Be a kickass boss without losing your humanity

You can find all my book summaries — here.

I really enjoyed the book as it’s a great framework of how to be a good manager, facilitate feedback and provides practical advice to implement it.

My 1 paragraph summary:

Deeply care about your team to the extent that you really want to provide sincere, good, as well as bad feedback as you recognise it’s in everyone’s best interest. Learn about people’s dreams, what motivates them and build meaningful goals to help them achieve the dreams.

Part I — A New Management Philosophy

Bringing your whole self to work

It’s called management and it’s your job.

The author likes using the term ‘Boss’ — leaders sounds like BSers who don’t do anything and managers sounds like petty executors.

Bosses guide a team to achieve results.

  1. Guidance = Feedback
  2. Team-building = Hiring, firing, promoting, motivating
  3. Results

Radical Candor

1. Developing Trust

a. Care Personally

Be more than “just professional”. Actually, give a damn and share more than just your work self and encourage everyone to do the same.

Caring personally is not about memorizing birthdays and names of family members. Nor is it about sharing the sordid details of one’s personal life, or forced chitchat at the social events you’d rather not attend. […] It’s about getting to know each other at a human level, about learning what’s important to people, about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work — and what has the opposite effect.

b. Challenge Directly

Tell people when their work is or isn’t good enough. BECAUSE you care.

Challenging other and encouraging them to challenge you helps build trusting relationships because it shows 1) you care enough to point out both the things that aren’t going well and those that are and that 2) you are willing to admit when you’re wrong and that you are committed to fixing mistakes that you or others have made.

I don’t mind being wrong. And I’ll admit that I’m wrong a lot. It doesn’t really matter to me too much. What matters is that we do the right thing.

Get, Give and Encourage Guidance

Creating a culture of open communication

  • Start by asking for criticism, not giving it
  • Worry about praise, less about criticism, but above all be sincere — it guides people in the right direction, it encourages to keep improving
  • Be genuine, you really need to mean it (praise, caring).
  • Don’t ever make it personal. ie: It ‘sounded’ stupid — NOT — You were stupid.
  • Be as specific and thorough with praise and criticism as possible.

Understand what motivates each person on your team

Helping people take a step in the direction of their dreams

How does the job fit into their life goal.

Rockstars — solid as rock. Love their job. They don’t want the next job, they have found their groove. Honor and reward them.

Superstars — need to be challenged and given the opportunity to grow constantly, figure out their next job, find them mentors outside the organisation

You need both in your team.

You job is not to provide purpose but instead to get to know each of your direct reports well enough to understand how each one derives meaning from their work.

Reward each employee with the stuff they actually value it can be various things, not just promotions and salary increases, but learning, management, responsibility, teaching, etc.

Drive results collaboratively

Telling people what to do doesn’t work

We hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.

1. Listen

Give the quiet ones a voice OR Be Loud (throw out an outrageous idea) OR Listen Quietly (don’t say anything for a couple of minutes)

2. Clarify

  • Plussing — if you point out a problem, you need to come up with a solution
  • Be really clear to others — articulate problems concisely and well

3. Debate

Too many bosses think it’s their job to stop a debate when it becomes painful. I actually isn’t. Debating takes time and requires emotional effort.

  • Remind: we want the best answer as a team
  • Leave your ego at home — no your idea / my idea
  • Let people switch roles if it goes for too long
  • ALWAYS have someone disagree
  • Make clear that this is to DEBATE not to DECIDE (have a ‘decide by’ date)

4. Decide

The people with the best information should decide, NOT the most senior, NOT the ones who happen to be present.

5. Persuade

Time to get everyone on board:

  • Emotion — take the listener’s emotions into account, not your own
  • Credibility — demonstrate expertise, but more importantly humility (ie WE not I)
  • Logic — Show your work and how you reached the conclusion, so people can see if there are flaws

6. Execute

  • Don’t waste your team’s time — try to save them time and protect their calendars
  • Keep the dirt under the fingernails — be close to what’s happening
  • Block out time to execute

7. Learn

Why is learning so hard?

  • Pressure to be consistent —”When the facts change, I change my mind”!!
  • Burnout — Sometimes we’re just overwhelmed

Part II — Tools & Techniques


Establishing trust with your direct reports

Stay Centered

You can’t give a damn about others if you don’t give a damn about yourself

Figure out what works for you and stick with it — whatever it is — meditation, sports, sleep, family, friends, vodka.

  • Work-Life Integration

Don’t think of work-life balance, as some kind of zero-sum game where anything you put into your work robs your life and anything you put into your life robs your work. Instead, think of it as a work-life integration.

  • Calendar

Put your things which you do for yourself in your calendar. Pretend you have a train to catch and just do them.

Free at Work

Relinquish unilateral authority.

Look for places where you can let go of some of the traditional sources of a boss’s control, thereby signaling to your reports that you want them to be more autonomous.

Socialising at Work

Remember that the best way to get to know your colleagues is on the job, as integrated part of the work rhythm, not at the annual holiday party.

It doesn’t have to be expensive, ideally it’s during work hours and spending time with the family can be super impactful.

Booze can often create sub-optimal solutions.

Respect Boundaries

Start building trust, by slowly asking questions.

Everyone has their own physical space — figure out your colleagues’. A hug can often go a long way.

  • Acknowledge emotions
  • Ask questions
  • Don’t add your guilt
  • Don’t tell them how to feel
  • If you can’t handle emotional outbursts, excuse yourself
  • Keep tissues a short walk away (allows them to compose themselves)
  • Have bottled water (the simple act of unscrewing the bottle and drinking, often gives enough time to regain composure)
  • Walk, don’t sit — walking in the same direction helps with difficult situations


Criticise in Private

You are the exception of the “criticise in private” rule. Open up in front of everyone at what you’re good and bad at and tell them ‘This is what I need help with’.

Go-To Question

Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?

Embrace the discomfort

Force the silence. Count to six. Keep asking the same question and digging until someone can tell you ways to improve.

Show you welcome the criticism

Repeat it so you know you understood. Answer it. Follow up again.

Impromptu Guidance

  • Be Humble — be honest and genuine
  • Situation, Behaviour, Impact — structure of feedback
  • Finding help is often better than offering it yourself
  • Give feedback immediately — way more powerful
  • DO NOT personalise

Performance Reviews

  • No surprises
  • Ask for feedback on yourself first
  • Write everything down before you give it — lock yourself in to tell the good and bad
  • 50/50 — past and future

Peer Guidance

  • Killer Whale — Who did something exceptional? Nominations — winner nominates the next week
  • Whoops the Monkey — If anyone screwed up, stand up and tell — everyone learns from it


Avoiding boredom and burnout

Career Conversations

Understand people’s motivations and ambitions to help them take steps to their dreams

Everyone needs 1. Long term vision & 2. 18 month plan.

Ask for their dreams, what they really, really want in life

  • Conversation 1 — Life Story — understand what motivates a person and why they made the choices they have
  • Conversation 2 — Dreams — not long-term goals, but actually dreams, then people won’t moderate, align values with dreams and outline the 3 dreams with the skills necessary to achieve them
  • Conversation 3–18 month plan — Come up with clear ideas what you can do to help person progress on the skills necessary for their dreams


Meeting Schedule

  1. 1:1 Conversations — all direct reports, really listen, let them drive the conversation and help clarify, unblock team
  2. Staff meetings — 3 goals — review past week, share updates and clarify most important decisions to be made
  3. Think time — Block out time
  4. Big Debate Meeting — make it clear, it’s not about deciding, but about leaving egos outside and discussing
  5. Big Decision Meeting — let others make decisions
  6. All-Hands Meeting — presentations to align then Q&A

You can find all my book summaries — here.

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