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