Radical candor is a straightforward, deeply human way of managing the people who work for you and supporting them through personal and professional problems. There are two vital components to radical candor: “caring personally” and “challenging directly.”
Caring personally means caring about who employees are on a human level, beyond their work output. This requires getting to know each team member’s motivations and ambitions, as well as learning about their “whole selves”—their lives and interests outside of work that may affect their needs at work. Showing that you personally care about your employees naturally builds trusting relationships. When an employee feels that you have her best interests in mind, she’s more likely to engage with your feedback, trust your decisions, and be honest with you—and in turn, you’ll feel that you can trust and be honest with her.
Challenging directly pushes you to have tough conversations with your employees, such as in giving criticism or discussing subpar performance. These important conversations give your employee the opportunity to improve, help you avoid more problems and tough conversations down the line, and contribute to trust-building—being direct and pushing your employee to their full potential demonstrates that you care about them.
Bringing radically candid leadership to your workplace directly enhances four vital components to building an effective team:
When you build trusting relationships with your team and let them bring their whole selves to work, you can better understand their needs and make sure their work is meaningful to them, which naturally motivates great results. These trusting relationships can’t be forced—rather, they’re developed through repeated demonstrations of practicing self-care, giving your team autonomy, and respecting boundaries.
Self-care helps you lay the foundations of trusting relationships, in two ways. First, if you’re overwhelmed and stressed, problems feel insurmountable or may cause you to snap at someone who doesn’t deserve it. Second, it’s difficult to care about other people if you’re wrapped up in your own problems. Without personal care, you can’t build radically candid relationships.
Find a self-care method that makes you feel like your best self, such as meditation or spending time with your family. Try putting it into your calendar, as you would with a meeting.
Giving your team autonomy naturally bolsters your relationships. When employees feel that you’re using power and control to force them to do their best, they become resentful and disengaged. On the other hand, when they feel a sense of agency and autonomy, they choose to bring their best selves to their work, which leads to better collaboration and results.
Think of areas where you could let go of control. For example, stop asking for constant updates on team members’ projects. Instead, ask them to plan update meetings and to try problem solving themselves before asking for help.
Respecting boundaries is important to meaningful relationship-building—when you care personally about your relationships, you make an effort to learn about your employees’ whole selves, while being conscious of their limits. You’ll have to navigate what “boundaries” look like for each person—everyone reacts differently to the idea of sharing their personal lives with their boss.
You can encourage sharing by staying open to different perspectives and values, engaging with emotions instead of ignoring them, and responding to limits—for example, if an employee seems uncomfortable discussing her family, drop the issue quickly and move on.
The second component of radically candid leadership is improving your guidance. Giving radically candid guidance means calling on both personal care and direct challenge when delivering criticism and praise. Without a healthy balance of these two principles, you risk giving guidance that doesn’t solve problems, creates distrust, or allows poor work. An imbalance can manifest in three guidance types: “obnoxious aggression,” “manipulative insincerity,” or “ruinous empathy.”
Obnoxious aggression happens when you challenge directly without caring personally. Praise is usually characterized by empty, unspecific compliments, such as a generic “nice work.” Criticism is arrogant and personal—for example, “You’re lazy, so I can’t trust you on this project.”
Manipulative insincerity happens when you don’t care about your employees, but do care how they perceive you—you avoid guidance that could cause them to feel negatively about you. Praise is usually in the form of a false apology that dodges disagreement. For example, you might say, “Sorry for disagreeing with your decision. You’re probably right anyway,” instead of explaining your side of an argument. Criticism, stemming from a fear of negative perceptions, is usually too nice and dishonest. Imagine an employee gives a presentation with typos throughout—you don’t want to seem like a stickler, so you say the presentation was fine.
Ruinous empathy happens when you care very much about your employees, to the point of being afraid to hurt them with challenges or criticism. Praise is unspecific and superficial—your employee gives a confusing presentation, and you tell them their presentation went perfectly. Criticism, if there is any, is insincere or far too nice—everyone needed clarification at the end of the confusing presentation, but instead of addressing the issue, you say, “That presentation went perfectly! There were so many questions at the end, and you fielded them well.”
Guidance from a place of radical candor involves both praise and criticism that are given sincerely. Radically candid praise is specific, and you’re attuned to how your praise is landing with your recipient. For example, you might say, “That presentation went well—I could tell you spent quite some time clarifying your ideas. Great job fielding Greg’s question about the timeline. I think you persuaded everyone to your vision.”
Radically candid criticism is also specific, and is given when things go poorly and when they go well. In praising your employee’s presentation, you might say, “Great presentation. You got a lot of people on board. However, the marketing team seemed less convinced. You should follow up with them, with their interests at the forefront of discussion.”
Radically candid guidance can be off-putting if your team isn’t used to sincere criticism and praise. Building a culture where radical candor is the norm has two parts: asking for radically candid guidance and modeling an appropriate response, and giving radically candid guidance.
In asking for guidance from your team, focus on engaging properly with criticism—seeing you take criticism well builds your team’s trust and respect, and demonstrates the productive outcome that radically candid guidance can have. There are five steps to effectively engaging with criticism and having productive conversations.
Once your employees gain confidence in using radical candor, you can start giving them guidance as well. Radically candid guidance is based on six concepts:
**A radically candid culture is built on the continued use of caring personally and...
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As a boss, your main job is dealing with the personal and professional problems of the people that report to you. While this may feel irrelevant to your work, it’s important to realize that relationship maintenance is a boss’s work. Kim Scott, through professional experience as a leader of high-profile teams at Google and Apple University, has found that relationship maintenance should be a top priority when you move into a leadership position.
However, relationship maintenance can be difficult because you need to walk a fine line between being too friendly and nice and being too harsh and managerial—many bosses struggle with figuring out the best way to keep this balance. This is where radical candor can give you clear-cut guidelines.
Management based in radical candor is straightforward and humanizing, guided by two main principles: “caring personally” and “challenging directly.” With these two principles to guide your management style, you can accomplish the overarching goal of radical candor: creating a team that accomplishes more than you could possibly accomplish yourself.
Caring personally means caring about people for more than just the work they put out. You have to care about them on a personal level. This involves getting to know more about them as a person—their interests, motivations, and ambitions—and learning more about their “whole selves”—who they are outside of work, and understanding how their personal life might affect their needs at work.
Showing that you care personally about your employees naturally builds their trust in you. This has far-reaching effects—when your reports trust you and feel that you have their best interests in mind, they’re more honest with you, more receptive to your feedback, and more trusting of your decisions. Likewise, you’ll find that you can be more honest with them and more trusting of their decisions.
Challenging directly means having tough, necessary conversations with your reports—such as conversations in which...
Before getting into the methods of practicing radical candor, it’s helpful to figure out how you’re already on track, how you can improve, and what your goals are.
How have you recently demonstrated the “caring personally” aspect of radical candor? (For example, you remembered your employee’s anniversary or celebrated an employee’s personal accomplishment.)
One of the first steps toward creating a radically candid workplace is showing your team members that you personally care about them, which naturally builds trusting relationships. This practice might feel a little “soft” for the workplace, but it’s not a waste—when you build trusting relationships with your team and let them bring their whole selves to work, you give shape and meaning to the work you do together. This motivates and engages your employees, driving them to accomplish much more than you could as a closed-off, disconnected team.
This step will take a good deal of time and effort on your part—solid relationships can’t be forced. Rather, they’re developed slowly through repeated, meaningful demonstrations of practicing self-care, giving your team autonomy, and respecting boundaries. First, we’ll explore how practicing self-care can help you show up to work in a way that opens up opportunities for relationship-building. Then, we’ll discuss building trust by giving your team autonomy, and by respecting their boundaries when asking them to share about themselves.
Self-care is vitally important to creating opportunities for building trusting relationships, because it allows you to bring your best self to work. This is important for several reasons. First, it’s very difficult to correctly deal with tough situations when you’re not at your best. As a leader, your job is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the situations you’re faced with—however, if you’re stressed at work and stressed at home, your problems will exacerbate one another. Tough work situations become insurmountable, or you may snap at someone who doesn’t deserve it. Second, it’s hard to care personally about other people when you’re caught up in your own issues—and personal care is crucial to radically candid relationships.
There are three ways that you can maintain your self-care: integrating your work and life, finding and practicing your self-care method, and scheduling self-care time.
Don’t think of your two...
Coming up with a method of self-care is vitally important to making sure you’re able to bring your best self to work and build strong relationships with your team members.
What is an activity that you’ve recently been turning to when things get stressful? (Such as meditation, time with your family, or reading books.)
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Giving your employees a sense of autonomy is a good step toward building a trusting relationship with them.
Describe one of your practices that might unnecessarily hold control over your team members. (For example, you hold constant “update meetings” during projects, or build project teams without input from those affected.)
The second step toward creating a radically candid culture is improving the type of guidance you’re giving. As a boss, your guidance can fall into one of four quadrants along the axes of caring personally and challenging directly: “obnoxious aggression,” “manipulative insincerity,” “ruinous empathy,” and radical candor.
|Not Challenging Directly||Challenging Directly|
|Caring Personally||Ruinous Empathy||Radical Candor|
|Not Caring Personally||Manipulative Insincerity||Obnoxious Aggression|
We’ll first discuss the first three types and how too much or too little caring and challenging can drive bad feedback, and then look at how radically candid feedback effectively balances both of these components.
Obnoxious aggression happens when you challenge directly without caring personally. Bosses who fall into the obnoxious aggression quadrant give feedback that is based in humiliating and holding power over people. Obnoxious aggression isn’t necessarily good, but if you’re going to be in any quadrant outside radical candor, this is the one to be in—if you’re challenging people, at least you are making an attempt to help them improve, and the rest of your team won’t have to pick up their slack.
Praise from a place of obnoxious aggression is usually characterized by empty compliments and regurgitated information—it’s clear that there’s no care behind your words. If your employee tells you about her weekend, but you don’t really...
Think about how you usually give guidance to your employees to figure out where you should ramp up your efforts in caring personally or challenging directly.
Think of a recent situation where you had to give one of your team members praise or criticism (or both). Describe what you said to them.
It’s likely that you can’t jump straight into giving radically candid feedback—sincere criticism and praise can be off-putting if you’ve built a culture that relies on too-nice, dishonest feedback. You can get your team used to the concept of radical candor by first asking for radically candid guidance and modeling an appropriate response. Once you’ve built up trust in this way, you can move on to giving radically candid feedback.
When you become a boss, you’ll likely find that people are more distrusting of your intent, or you may find that your new authority brings out a new side of you. Subsequently, your team won’t begin trusting you until you’re actively working on reasons that they should. At this stage, many bosses get caught up in trying to earn their team’s respect, but if you’re too interested in respect, you’re likely to feel defensive and reactive when you’re criticized. Instead, focus on learning how to accept criticism—seeing you react well to criticism will naturally build your team’s trust and their respect.
You can jumpstart this trust-building process by asking your team to provide you with radically candid guidance and responding in a trustworthy manner. There are five steps to effectively soliciting and responding to criticism and pushing your conversations in a productive direction.
Criticism of your employees should always happen in private, but as the boss, you need to be willing to be publicly criticized. This accomplishes several goals. First, you demonstrate to your team that there’s value in criticism, and that its intent is to make everyone better at their jobs—not to be hurtful. Second, responding well to criticism establishes you as a strong leader who isn’t afraid to make mistakes and is open to learning. And third, public criticism allows you to get everyone’s feedback as efficiently as possible—if you have a big team, you’d miss out on hearing many of your employees’ voices because it’s impossible to schedule...
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Acting with radical candor will take some extra time and effort on your part. Reflecting on how it feels to receive poor guidance can help you stay committed to the extra work of being a good boss.
Think of a situation when a boss gave you guidance in a way that didn’t demonstrate radically candid behavior. (For example, she waited several weeks to criticize a project, or made her criticism personal.) Describe the situation, and your boss’s feedback.
If you’re working on caring personally about your team members, you’ll naturally learn more about their goals and the growth trajectory they’re on. This information supports you in the third component of a radically candid culture—effectively managing your team members’ ambitions and growth in order to build a more productive and satisfied team.
Your employees will likely fall into one of five performance and growth trajectory combinations:
“Superstars” are team members who like their work and are very good at it, and who are on a very rapid growth trajectory. They’re looking to move up in the ranks and are prepared to dedicate the necessary time and energy to doing so. These results-driven people are often coming up with innovative ideas, carrying your team to the next level.
The most important step in supporting your superstars is making sure they’re consistently challenged so they don’t feel bored or get stuck. There are three ways you can meaningfully push your superstars to continue growing: keep them challenged, don’t get in their way, and don’t assume they want to manage.
Keep them challenged: To prevent boredom, superstars need to be learning constantly. Be on the lookout for new projects they can take on, or find a mentor from outside your team that can help them more than you can. Bear in mind that they’ll most likely outgrow your team, so don’t become too dependent on them—be ready to replace them. You can create a challenge for them by asking them to help you with this—they can teach or train those who are meant to take over once they’ve moved on.
Don’t get in their way: Recognize that your job is to encourage your superstars to grow beyond your team, or help them get hired to a place where they...
Knowing what best motivates your team members and honoring their ambitions is key to satisfied employees who do great work.
Think of a superstar on your team—someone who always delivers great results, and is on a steep growth trajectory. What have you done to keep this person challenged?
If you have someone on your team who’s struggling, you have to help uncover the source of their problems and help them find the way forward.
Think of someone on your team who should be a superstar, but isn’t performing well. Describe this person—the type of projects they work on, when they started, and how you know they should be excelling.
Understanding growth trajectories is a good first step to honoring the needs of your employees—the next step is learning about their dreams and goals, and helping them recognize how their work can contribute to those dreams.
To accomplish this, have honest conversations with all of your direct reports—regardless of performance—about who they are, what their goals are, and how you can help them reach those goals. There are three conversations vital to effective growth management: the life story conversation, the dreams conversation, and the planning conversation
The life story conversation is essential to getting to know your employees—if you want to care personally about them, you need to know them personally. Ask your employees about their life story, focusing on changes they made and why these choices were made—it’s often here that you’ll discover their values. For example, if your employee says, “I dropped out of grad school because I was tired of talking about theory and not using any of the skills I was learning in a tangible way,” you learn that one of her values is seeing tangible results of her work. These conversations also lend context to abstract values that can easily be misunderstood. While a focus on “financial independence” might make you think an employee is materialistic, knowing his life story might reveal that his mother was often absent because she was working two jobs to make ends meet, and he doesn’t want the same experience for his children.
Approach this conversation with respect and care—while most people will be comfortable with it, you might have someone who is significantly uncomfortable with the questions. In this case, drop the matter and move on quickly.
Ultimately, this first conversation should reveal what’s truly important to your employee, which helps contextualize your next conversation, in which you’ll talk about their dreams and figure out what skills and opportunities will be most useful to them.
Having conversations that demonstrate how your team members’ work translates into building their dreams is key to keeping motivation high—practice within the context of your own dreams.
Think about your dreams. Keep in mind these don’t need to be related to your work. (For example, you might dream of owning a dude ranch in Colorado, or of early retirement.) Describe one of your dreams.
The fourth goal of a radically candid workplace is building a highly collaborative atmosphere and a team that works together to accomplish much more than you could individually. The principle of caring personally is especially important to a collaborative atmosphere, for several reasons. First, it allows you to invite an exchange of perspectives—that is, incorporating another’s way of thinking or doing things into your own way of thinking or doing things. Second, caring interrupts the self-interested mindset of focusing only on results.
Charging ahead toward decisions and results—without caring about the people you work with—can cause a breakdown in your team. For example, at Google, Scott tried to change team structures and responsibilities drastically, without letting her team in on her decision-making process. While her ideas were good, the team fell apart. Because she’d acted alone, her team felt confused or personally targeted by her changes, and some people chose to ignore the proposed workflow. Some people, angry that she’d acted alone in such a drastic decision, even quit her team.
Accomplishments don’t come from diving into a problem alone, telling people what to do, and focusing only on results. They come from approaching problems and solutions collaboratively, setting your power aside, and focusing on your team members.
Collaboration is a long process that should, at some point, involve every member of your team who will be affected by the outcome. There are seven steps to effective collaboration: listening, clarifying, debating, deciding, persuading, executing, and learning. While you want to move your team through the steps quickly, so that collaboration feels like a worthwhile task instead of a burdensome chore, don’t skimp on or skip over any of the steps. The success of each step builds on the success of the one before.
Your job as a leader is to listen to every person on your team, with the goal of amplifying their voice. You’ll usually resort...
The seven steps of collaboration can be time-consuming, and it’s tempting to skip some of the steps. Reflecting on past negative experiences that stemmed from a lack of collaboration will remind you of the importance of working together.
Think of an experience where you, as the boss, made a decision on behalf of your entire team that turned out negatively. (For example, you decided to change working hours to better work with clients in New York, or split a team of multitaskers up into dedicated task forces.) Describe your decision.
If you’ve built a radically candid team that can listen to one another’s ideas, work toward common goals in debate, and make good decisions, your main job during the collaborative process should be maintaining effective communication. There are three areas in which focusing on communication is vital: the meetings that happen throughout the collaborative process, the learning and shared information around execution, and the messages you’re sending about culture.
There are six types of meetings that should happen over the course of the collaborative decision-making process: one-on-one meetings, your staff meetings, reflection, debates, decisions, and all-hands meetings.
In one-on-one meetings with employees, you should demonstrate personal care by getting to know them better, figure out what’s going well and what’s not, and help clarify their ideas. For these meetings, your employee should set the agenda, so they have the opportunity to discuss what’s really important to them.
There are several ways to help guide these conversations in a productive direction:
These meetings create vital conversations—both for getting to know your employee and for refining...
As the boss, it’s important to recognize how you may be unconsciously influencing the culture you’re attempting to build.
Think about a recent behavior of yours that was not aligned with radical candor (such as interrupting an employee, or ignoring a colleague who was clearly upset). Describe the behavior.