Author Kim Scott has seen a lot during her career. She’s run startups, worked at Google for Sheryl Sandberg, and worked at Apple at their famed Apple University.
Along the way she’s made her share of mistakes, but has also picked up what makes leaders at companies like Google and Apple so successful.
She calls this leadership style Radical Candor, and in the next 12 minutes we are going to explore exactly what it means, and how you can use it to become an even more effective leader.
What Managers Are Responsible For
To set the stage, let’s first take a look at what leaders and managers are actually responsible for.
As Scott points out, bosses are ultimately responsible for the results that their teams create. And, because you need to get the work that creates the results done through people, the role of a boss is to guide a team to achieve results.
Getting that done requires three separate things.
First, managers are responsible for guidance. This mostly comes in the form of feedback, which after years of having it done to us (or by us) poorly, is something that most people have come to dread.
Second, managers are responsible for team building. Work gets done through people, and the dynamics of the team you build has a lot to do with the results you get. If you build a great team, you get great results.
Third, managers are responsible for creating results.
What those three responsibilities require, Scott says, is strong relationships. Which is where Radical Candor comes in.
What Radical Candor Is
Radical Candor = “Care Personally” + “Challenge Directly.”
Let’s unpack that formula.
First, caring personally is all about doing the things that you already know how to do in your personal life – and brining it to work. Like acknowledging that the people you work with have lives and aspirations that extend outside of work. Like making time for real conversations that help you get to know one another at a human level. Like having a deep understanding of what makes the people on your team want to get out of bed in the morning.
Second, challenging directly is all about challenging others and telling people when their work isn’t cutting it. Like delivering hard feedback when it’s necessary. Like making the hard calls about who does what on your team. These are the things that you know you should be doing, but most people have trouble doing because it’s incredibly uncomfortable – for you and the other person.
Rare is the person who can put both of those two things together in the same package. But if you are a leader, that’s exactly what you are called to do.
What’s waiting for you on the other side is not a team that is angry and full of resentment, but a team that is grateful for the chance to finally talk through the real issues at stake.
What Radical Candor Is Not
Before we move on to the specifics, we need to go over what Radical Candor is not, and what happens if you get the equation wrong.
Caring personally is not about schmoozing, or about turning introverts into extroverts. It’s about understanding the people on your team so that you can get the best out of them.
Challenging directly is not about being a jerk, and it’s not an invitation to nitpick. As Scott points out, it takes a lot of energy from both you and your team, so only use it for the really important stuff.
When you fail in the Caring Personally department, you end of with Obnoxious Aggression. Unfortunately, if you can’t pull off Radical Candor, this is the second best option for you as a leader.
When you fail in the Challenge Directly department, you get Ruinous Empathy. This is when you let poor performance slide. It usually ends up with people being blindsided when they ultimately need to be let go.
And finally, when you fail in both you get Manipulative Insincerity. This is when you don’t care enough about the person to challenge them directly, and any praise or criticism you do give is fake and aimed at gaining some sort of political advantage at work.
Now that we’ve covered what Radical Candor is, and what it isn’t, let’s move on to the specifics of getting it done.
Understanding What Motivates The People On Your Team
Your first step is to truly understand what motivates the people on your team.
The Three Conversations
Scott gives us three conversations we can have with each of the people on our team in order to start our journey of discovery.
The first conversation is about the life story of your team member and is designed to learn what motivates them. Start with the following request, and then let the conversation unfold: “Starting with kindergarten, tell me about your life.” As the conversation progresses, focus on the changes your team members made in their lives and try to understand why they made them. Values often become very clear during moments of change.
The second conversation moves from understanding what motivates your team to what their dreams are. This is about finding what they want to achieve at the pinnacle of their career. The word “dream” is intentional – steer clear of clinical corporate speak like “long-term goals,” “five-year-plans,” and so on. After this conversation, ask each of your direct reports to create a simple spreadsheet with three to five columns, filled in with the dreams they brought up in the conversation. Then, have them list the skills in rows underneath each dream, and review it with them during the next conversation.
The third conversation is to help them create an eighteen-month plan of growth. This conversation is all about answering the following questions: “What do I need to learn in order to move in the direction of my dreams? How should I prioritize the things I need to learn? Whom can I learn from?” How can I change my role to learn it?”
The outcome of these conversations is a deep understanding of where each of the people on your team wants to go, how they need to grow to get there, and how you can motivate them along the way.
It’s an incredibly simple and powerful way to create a level of intimacy with your team you’ve never had before.
Building Trust With Your People
Once you’ve established the beginnings of a deeper relationship with your team, it’s time to move on to other things you can do to reinforce the trust you’ve started building.
Deal with yourself first
If you’ve watched any safety instruction videos on an airplane, you’ll know that in the event of an emergency, you need to put on your oxygen mask before moving on to help other people.
It highlights the principle that as a leader, you need to take care of yourself before tending to the needs of others. This means that you need to be relentless in bringing your fullest and best self to work each and every day.
In order to do that, focus on figuring out what your “recipe” is for staying centered, and stick to it no matter what. If that means scheduling mediation periods throughout the day, put it in your calendar, and don’t let anybody schedule over it.
Building trust with your people
There are a number of things you can do on a daily or weekly basis to deepen the trust with your team. Here are some of them:
- Hang out in a relaxed setting. Spending time with your team without the pressure of work and deadlines is a great way to build relationships. Consider involving the families of your team members.
- Learn to deal well with emotions. Part of building trust is allowing people to express their emotions in front of you. Sometimes it will be anger, sometimes it will be sadness, and sometimes it will be joy. Encourage this, because emotions are the best clues that there are deeper issues at play. Figure out how to manage your reactions in those situations so that they feel comfortable doing it again the next time.
- Demonstrate openness. As a leader, demonstrating openness to new ideas and different ways of thinking (and even radically different worldviews) will go a long way in encouraging your team to open up with you and discuss what’s on their mind.
Check in regularly with 1:1s
The 1:1 is probably your most important tool in deepening the trust in your relationships with the people on your team. It gives you the opportunity to listen and clarify any issues you need to deal with. Here are a few ways to do them right.
- Treat them as a coffee or lunch with somebody you want to get to know better rather than a meeting.
- The agenda should be set by the team member, not you. Let them decide what issues you need to explore.
- Hold them accountable for coming prepared. While you want them to set the agenda, there should be one.
- Ask good follow up questions. “Why?”, “How can I help?” and “What can I do or stop doing that would make this easier?” are good places to start.
You’ll know that these meetings are going well if you are both engaged in identifying and solving real issues. If you find that team members are regularly cancelling the meetings, you only hear good news and everything is sunshine and rainbows, it’s time to check in to see where things are going wrong.
Giving and Receiving Criticism and Praise
Now that we’ve covered the fun stuff (building better relationships by Caring Personally), it’s time to move on to the harder stuff (getting results by Challenging Directly).
Getting others to criticize you in public
The first step to creating a culture where Challenging Directly is the norm is to invite your team to criticize you in public. This is intended to let the team know that challenging directly is not only encouraged, but expected.
You can use the question we covered in the section on 1:1s here: “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”
If you don’t get an answer, let your people sit with the uncomfortable silence for at least six seconds before moving on.
Giving impromptu advice
Giving advice should not be reserved for formal performance reviews. Being Radical Candid requires you to give advice and direction regularly, and here are a few ways to do it well:
- Give feedback immediately. The closer to the event you give it, the better.
- Be precise. Describe the following three things when giving feedback: (1) the situation you observed, (2) the behavior you saw (good or bad) and the impact you observed.
- State your intention to be helpful. This will help lower defences if you are giving negative feedback.
- Do it in person, if possible. Seeing the other person’s face and body language is key in understanding how the feedback is being received.
Formal Performance Reviews
The long story short on this one is, if you have to do it (many companies are doing away with the formal annual review process), make sure there are no surprises in the review.
If you are practicing Radical Candor, any and all issues should have been dealt with well before a formal review process.
Driving Results Through Your People
Finally, now that you have a motivated team that’s built on trust and candor, you need to make sure that when you are working together to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities, it goes well.
Scott describes a tool she uses called the GSD wheel (getting stuff done), which has 7 distinct steps.
- Listen. Ensure that everybody on your team gets an opportunity to provide input on the issue, and that everybody actually listens to one another.
- Clarify. Create a space where ideas can be clarified or honed, and make sure that ideas don’t get discarded before everybody understands them fully.
- Debate. Wrestle with the good, bad, and ugly of each idea.
- Decide. Make a decision on which idea to move forward with.
- Persuade. Sometimes there will be other people you need to convince in order to get an idea implemented. This step requires you to use your persuasion skills to bring them along.
- Execute the plan.
- Learn. Always close the loop so you can understand whether or not you did the right thing, and then start the process all over again.
The critical part about this 7-step process is that your team understands it, and that you move through the steps quickly enough to keep everybody engaged.
You may also like to read:
- Servant Leadership In Action by Ken Blanchard & Renee Broadwell
- On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
- The Relationship Edge by Jerry Acuff
- Today We Are Rich by Tim Sanders
- The Speed of Trust by Steven Covey
- Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman
- Is Content Marketing the New PR?
- Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
- The Best Team Wins by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton
- Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross