How To Be a Kick-ass Boss: ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott
January 31, 2020
As part of the LDL Learning Review, we are encouraging all of our team members to get involved in discussing the latest ideas and insights in the worlds of sales, management, leadership, negotiation and presentation skills training.This month, LDL’s Marketing Manager, Tom Fielder, reviews Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor’.
Several weeks ago, a new management book was delivered to our company offices in London. Addressed to the company rather than to any specific individual within the company (such as myself), the book fell into the hands of our administration team, who dutifully opened the cardboard envelope to reveal what lay inside.
It was a hardback book that emerged from the envelope. Titled Radical Candor by Kim Scott, it certainly seemed like the kind of book that someone at a skills training consultancy such as LDL might have ordered – we do have a real interest in management training after all! But strangely, nobody at the office claimed responsibility for doing so.
And so the book found its way to my desk, where it sat for a few weeks before I eventually decided that I ought to investigate its contents more thoroughly. After all, I thought, it might make excellent material for a blog post. We had written reviews of similar books in the past – such as measuring what matters – and I imagined that perhaps the book had been sent to us for this express reason!
Here are a few thoughts.
What is Radical Candor?
Radical Candor is the term Scott uses to describe a particular form of ideal relationship between bosses and their employees. It is “the sweet spot” she writes “between managers who are obnoxiously aggressive on one side and ruinously empathetic on the other”.
Candour, as the Google Dictionary puts it, means “the quality of being open and honest; frankness.” By adding the adjective ‘radical’, Scott gives candour a more thorough and far-reaching quality, even making it sound a bit more edgy.
Radical candour is not “a license to be gratuitously harsh” or “an invitation to nitpick” writes Scott; rather, it is about “caring personally” about the people you work with while also being able to “challenge directly”. It is applicable to managers across an organisation, whether in sales, service, operations or product development.
A Brainchild of Silicon Valley
Scott claims that she discovered and developed this idea of “radical candor” over the course of her management and teaching career. She joined Google in 2004 to lead a team of one hundred people responsible for sales and service of AdSense customers. And after six formative years at Google, Scott joined Apple to develop a class for first-time managers at Apple University, named Managing at Apple.
She writes that in Silicon Valley, companies are obsessed with management skills – the reason being that the war for talent is so intense:
“So many great companies in the Valley are growing and hiring that there’s no reason to stay with a company if you are unhappy or think your potential is being wasted. And there’s certainly no reason to pay the ‘asshole tax’. If you don’t like your boss, you quit, knowing that ten other companies will be lining up to hire you.”
The book Radical Candor, then, is the crystallisation of her thinking about management in Silicon Valley.
A Few Learning Points
There are some great ideas in here. One that particularly struck me was the idea that leadership and management are like forehand and backhand. Instead of thinking that leadership supersedes management hierarchically, consider instead how it complements it, like adding a new shot to your game: you need both to win.
Scott also makes an insightful point that most people in management positions have negative associations with the words that describe their role: “‘boss’ evokes injustice” she writes, while “‘manager’ sounds bureaucratic, and ‘leader’ sounds self-aggrandizing.” She prefers the word “boss”, and stresses that at the heart of being a good boss is having a good relationship with your reports.
Indeed the idea of building good relationships with direct reports is very important for Scott. She notes that if you are in a senior management position you of course can’t expect to have a good relationship with everyone in the organisation. But the relationships you have with your direct reports will impact the relationships they have with their direct reports, and so on, rippling throughout the organisation.
As I was reading this book I began to think that its approach was very similar to the LDL Assertive Communication programme. On the Assertive Communication programme – which I have been on – delegates are encouraged to steer an ideal “assertive” path between “aggressive behaviour” on the one hand and “passive behaviour” on the other (you can learn more about our approach by reading this blog about communication styles).
Instead of asking managers to combine “caring personally” and “challenging directly” as Scott does in Radical Candor, we instead ask delegates on our Assertive Communication programme to combine “consideration of others” and “openness of communication”. They’re different words, but not so different in their meaning.
I think that Scott’s book, Radical Candor, provides a valuable resource for LDL as we develop our Assertive Communication programme. It provides a way of linking communication training with the management, sales and senior management training we provide as a skills training consultancy. But much of the insights of Radical Candor are fundamental to the approach we already take to communication styles in the workplace. Are Silicon Valley management gurus – for all their technical expertise – destined to replicate familiar wisdom in new words?