Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Published: 12/25/2020
From the time we learn to speak, we’re told that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. While this advice may work for everyday life, it is, as Kim Scott has seen, a disaster when adopted by managers. Scott earned her stripes as a highly successful manager at Google and then decamped to Apple, where she developed a class on optimal management. She has earned growing fame in recent…

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott


Striking a balance between an honest manager keen on delivering constructive criticism and being admired and appreciated as a member of the team can be challenging, but doing so is the hallmark of being a “kickass boss”. Being honest and objective in delivering feedback to employees fosters trust and reduces the likelihood employees will take feedback as personal attacks. Know how to approach and utilize the talents of the three major employee types: superstars, rockstars and falling stars. Moreover, when firing an employee, do so in a manner that won’t threaten the company culture or working dynamic among other employees.

About the Author

Kim Scott is the co-founder of Candor, Inc. Her career focus has been on helping managers and employees create work environments where they enjoy working together and do so effectively. As a former Google and Apple executive, Scott coaches CEOs on how to remedy ineffective leadership styles.

Key Takeaways

- The key responsibilities of an effective manager are to care about his or her employees while also challenging them to maximize their potential. Do this by focusing on guidance, on team-building, and finally by focusing on getting results...in that order.

-Radical Candor is not the same as brutal honesty. Radical Candor personally cares about employees in need of good, orderly direction and directly challenges them to maximize their work potential.

-Brutal honesty is merely “obnoxious aggression” and can be mean while occasionally being helpful.

-Manipulative Insincerity is due to managerial laziness. Often, managers who don’t want to address uncomfortable issues or managers who are conflict-avoidant may react positively to unfavorable conditions in need of their attention.

-Ruinous Empathy is when a manager avoids hurting the feelings of an employee in need of constructive criticism. As a result, the employee’s performance is damaged in the long term and does not get a much-needed opportunity for improvement.

-Rockstars bring stability to team dynamics, enjoy focusing on mastering their craft and are not gunning for a managerial promotion.

-Shooting stars are focused on vertical mobility and are gunning for the next promotion.

-A lack of guidance leads directly to a dysfunctional team generating unfavorable outputs.

-All teams need both stability and growth in order to function properly. When employees are too focused on fighting each other for the next promotion, they are not focused on working effectively.

-At Apple and at Google, a manager’s capacity to get results was related more to his or her capacity to be an effective listener than with telling everyone what to do. Effective management at these companies meant bosses encouraged employees to be decision-makers instead of making all the decisions for them.

-The relationships you foster within your team are at the core of your team’s ability to achieve.

-Likewise, the relationship between you the manager and your direct subordinates will influence the relationship dynamics between your direct subordinates and their direct reports.

-A good relationship is at the core of being a great boss and Radical Candor is at the heart of these great boss-team relationships.

-Bosses should shift their thinking from a conventional “talent management” mindset to one that is growth management-oriented. Thus, each team member is moving towards achieving their dreams. This ensures the overall team is improving over time.

-Becoming successful at growth management means having an understanding of what matters to each member of your team and why it’s important.

-Know the long-term goals of your team and how their current circumstances factor into that bigger picture.

-A “steep growth trajectory” is marked by quick change, such as in learning new skill sets quickly. A steep growth trajectory, however, is not synonymous with “promotion” but with having an increasing impact in the long run.

-A “gradual growth trajectory” is characterized by stability. Incremental improvements instead of sudden, rapid growth is associated with team members on this trajectory. It is important to understand that people shift trajectories throughout their lifetime.

-Do not make forcing purpose onto your employees your mission as a boss; insisting that employees be passionate can place unnecessary pressure on both parties.

-Avoid ignoring high-performing employees because they don’t “need” you. Ignoring team members does not foster great relationships.

-Focusing more time on those who are struggling to the neglect of those who are succeeding benefits neither group.

-Strive to constantly challenge your superstars and have replacement candidates ready when they move on.

-Know when someone is on a negative growth trajectory and it is time to fire them: when Radically Candid guidance has not worked, when the poor performance of the employee is negatively threatening the productivity and culture of the greater team and when you have consulted a second opinion from a trusted advisor, it is time to fire that employee.

-There are no permanent markers. Accept that people change and so should your perceptions of them.

-Telling people what to do is not an effective management strategy. Instead, drive results collaboratively. Do this by using the Get Stuff Done Wheel.

-The Get Stuff Done (GSD) Wheel involves the steps: Listen, Clarify, Debate, Decide, Persuade, Execute, Learn and Listen (again), and is a rubric for managers to use in order to create a team culture where members of that team actively listen to each other. The GSD Wheel allows ideas to be clarified, assessed and understood before being challenged or discarded.

-Learning how to effectively listen is as equally important to being a “kickass boss” as learning how to effectively speak.

-Practice “quiet listening” as a strategy to encourage others to open up and talk more. Patience is a necessary central component of quiet listening.

-On the other hand, “loud listening” involves making a strong statement and soliciting equally strong counterarguments to that strong statement as a way of engaging others in conversation.

-Tim Cook is a quiet listener. Steve Jobs was a loud listener.

-Employing Radical Candor as a management strategy allows you to effectively have difficult conversations, deliver constructive criticism in a way that sets your team up for long-term peak performance and systematically fire employees on a negative-growth trajectory. It is the most effective tool for managers to become “kickass bosses”.


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