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

radicalThis review first ran in the April 24th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

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

By Kim Scott

St. Martin’s Press


If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Unless you’re a boss. And then it’s your job and moral obligation to say things that aren’t nice but necessary.

Bosses get paid to guide teams to achieve results, says Radical Candor author Kim Scott, who’s been a boss at Apple and Google and an advisor to Silicon Valley companies.

When results aren’t achieved, people need to know they’re treading water, doing subpar work and dragging down the team.

The best way to do this is with radical candor. Scott says this management philosophy combines caring personally and challenging directly.

Start by treating the people who work for you as human beings. “It’s not just business; it is personal and deeply personal,” says Scott.

And one way to show you care is by telling them when their work isn’t up to their standards or yours. You challenge directly by delivering hard feedback, making tough calls and holding a high bar for results.

“When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on your praise and criticism,” says Scott.

The alternatives to radical candor are obnoxious aggression, manipulative insincerity and ruinous empathy. All three can lead you and your team to ruin.

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When you challenge directly but don’t care personally, you come across as an aggressive and obnoxious jerk. Bosses do this when they belittle and berate, publicly embarrass and humiliate and freeze out members of their team.

When you don’t challenge directly and don’t care personally, you’re manipulative and insincere. “People give praise and criticism that is manipulatively insincere when they are too focused on being liked or think they can gain some sort of political advantage by being fake – or when they are just too tired to care or argue any more.”

And when you care personally but don’t challenge directly, you’re practicing ruinous empathy. It’s responsible for most of the management mistakes Scott has seen in her career. “Most people want to avoid creating tension or discomfort at work. They are like the well-meaning parent who cannot bear to discipline their kids. They create the kind of work environment where being nice is prioritized at the expense of critiquing, and therefore, improving actual performance.”

Imagine a colleague comes back from lunch with spinach in her teeth. Radical candor is you whispering to her “there’s spinach in your teeth.” Obnoxious aggression is shouting “look at her, she has spinach in her teeth.” Manipulative insincerity is saying nothing because you need to be liked above all else and don’t want to risk having your co-worker be mad at you. Ruinous empathy is saying nothing because you’re worried about hurting your co-worker’s feelings even though she’ll wonder why you didn’t care enough to save her from embarrassment.

Radical candor is the key to building trusting relationships with each person who reports directly to you. Scott says these core relationships will decide your fate as a boss and whether your team delivers results or comes up short.

“Your relationships and your responsibilities reinforce each other positively or negatively, and this dynamic is what drives you forward as a manager – or leaves you dead in the water. Your ability to build trusting, human connections with the people who report directly to you will determine the quality of everything that follows.”

The best way to give radical candor is to first welcome it from your team. Prove you can take it before dishing it out. “Soliciting guidance, especially criticism, is not something you do once and check off your list – this will now be something you do daily. But it’ll happen in little one to two-minute conversations, not in meetings you have to add to your calendar.”

Radical Candor should be mandatory reading for everyone in a leadership role. Scott makes the case for caring personally and challenging directly and shows how to say things that aren’t nice yet absolutely necessary for getting the best out of the people you lead.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: The Death of Expertise – The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols

deathThis review first ran in the April 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters

By Tom Nichols

Oxford University Press


We get to watch the death of expertise play itself out in real time with Hamilton’s light rail transit project.

Despite what experts tell us about the downtown renewing, sewer and sidewalk replacing and city-building benefits of our billion dollar infrastructure project, not everyone’s a believer. City council appears divided and public support seems underwhelming nine years into the project. We shouldn’t bank on another study, report, op-ed or endorsement by experts, elites and the professional class to win over skeptics and silence critics.

“While expertise isn’t dead, it’s in trouble,” says Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise, a professor at the US Naval War College and five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion

“Something is going terribly wrong. It’s not just that people don’t know a lot about science or politics or geography; they don’t but that’s an old problem. The bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things.”

We’re sliding from uninformed to misinformed and aggressively wrong, warns Nichols. Feelings now matter more than facts. Our guesses are as good as anyone else’s, even if we know little or nothing about the matter at hand.

Nichols believes we’ve adopted a new Declaration of Independence. “No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident. We hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.”

A toxic confluence of arrogance, narcissism and cynicism is being levelled with self-righteous fury at experts and professionals and that should concern us all says Nicols. “When resentful laypeople demand that all marks of achievement, including expertise, be levelled and equalized in the name of democracy and fairness there is no hope for either democracy or fairness.”

What’s put expertise in a death spiral?  Nichols pins blame on the Internet, higher education and the media.

We’re less social and more confrontational online. We cluster in echo chambers and associate only with people who share and confirm our view of the world. The vitriol on comment sections and discussion boards proves we can’t tolerate challenges to our beliefs and ideas.

And who needs experts when we all hold advanced degrees from the University of Google?

“In the various skirmishes in the campaign against established knowledge, the Internet is like artillery support: a constant bombardment of random, disconnected information that rains down on experts and ordinary citizens alike, deafening all of us while blowing up attempts at reasonable discussion.”

Nichols gives colleges and universities a failing grade when it comes to developing critical thinking skills in students. “Higher education is supposed to cure us of the false belief that everyone is as smart as everyone else. They are failing to provide the ability to recognize expertise and to engage productively with experts and other professionals in daily life. Students are learning that emotion and volume can always defeat reason and substance, thus building about themselves fortresses that no future teacher, expert or intellectual will ever be able to breach. When students learn that emotion trumps everything else, it is a lesson they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Much of the news media has devolved into partisan infotainment and personality journalism with its focus on form over content, says Nichols. Instead of giving us what we need, the media is giving us the clickbait and hot takes that we seem to crave.  And what we want most from our news is confirmation instead of information. “Much of what passes for news in the 21st century often leaves laypeople – and sometimes experts – even more confused and ornery.”

Nichols says experts aren’t doing themselves any favours when they wander into the prediction business or make the dangerous assumption that they’re smarter at everything because they’re smarter at a few things. Nichols says experts should instead stay in their lane, resist the urge to offer up opinions and stick to explaining rather than predicting.

The Death of Expertise is a sobering read and you don’t have to look very hard to find evidence of it happening close to home. All of us need to wander out of our echo chambers and safe spaces, start varying our news diets and reminding ourselves daily that we’re not as smart as everyone else.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.