Over the past couple years, I’ve enjoyed learning about people management, and the most impactful book I’ve read so far has been Kim Scott’s Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Fortunately, I was able to work with Kim directly in my previous role, hosting her for a webinar and collaborating with her on a blog article – so it’s about time I summarize some of the most impactful parts.
This post is mainly a reference for me, so I’d highly recommend you purchase the book itself (I’ve purchased multiple copies!) and not rely on this summary or else you’ll miss out on some important context.
At the heart of the book is the philosophy of Radical Candor. Look at it here. In a nutshell, good people managers foster an environment where they can be direct without being a jerk, balancing the need to challenge directly and care personally.
Radical Candor – A New Management Philosophy
Radical Candor is relatively simple to understand from the earlier diagram, but it’s founded on the notion that relationships are core to a manager’s responsibilities.
For example, if a direct report pulls you to the side and opens up about a personal problem, that’s part of your job. That was a big a-ha moment for me, especially since I tend to be an “achiever” and feel like I have to accomplish concrete tasks to be successful. The notion that time spent with others developing relationships and supporting them was like, actually part of a manger’s roles and responsibilities was (embarassingly) novel.
That’s not to say that managers don’t have any role in guiding the team’s direction. To the contrary – managers should create a culture that keeps everone moving in the right direction, fosters collaboration, and understands team motivations.
And to do this effectively requires both caring personally and challenging directly.
Caring personally means that part of your job as a manager is literally caring about your team on a personal level. That’s natural to some people, but spelling it out like this helps make it top of mind. Navigating this in a work setting can sometime be difficult, but I’ve found that techniques like those in How to Win Friends and Influence People are pretty timeless and help you when you’re not sure where to go. It also means starting out by being vulnerable yourself and actively listening.
Challenging directly is the other important aspect that can be difficult to master in a professional setting. Part of this feels natural to me when I tap into my “German” side, where being direct means being efficient. The way it feels unnatural to me is when I immediately jump to the worst case scenario and don’t want to unjustly hurt anyone’s feelings. The big advantage here is that by challenging directly, you’re able to move forward quickly and get everything out in the open, something that’s absolutely necessary for innovative collaboration.
By developing relationships, you can create the right kind of psychologically safe (and trusting) environment where it’s possible to challenge directly.
Also, note that Radical Candor isn’t license to be a dick to other people. The example of this philosophy lampooned in Silicon Valley is definitely in the “Obnoxious Aggression” or “Manipulative Insincerity” quadrants.
Understanding what makes your team “tick” is an important aspect of being a manager. It’s easy to fall into a trap thinking that everyone works the same way (or works the way you do), but everyone has unique wants, needs, and ambitions.
Understanding motivations starts with a career conversation. One of my previous managers was excellent at Radical Candor and guided me through my first real “career conversation” – it put me a little outside my comfort zone at first, but I was super pleased with the result, and I ended up using that same model with my own direct reports with great success.
Basically, career conversations allow individuals to open up about their past experiences, both personally and professionally, to understand motivations and career goals. Looking back, it was a great way for me to plan out the next few years of my career and equip my manager with the knowledge to help me succeed in my role at the company as well as beyond that.
Career convos are great, and the best advice I can share is to just read this article and apply it: Three Powerful Conversations Managers Must Have To Develop Their People.
As another note on motivations, I’ve experienced success with CliftonStrengths (fomerly known as StrengthsFinder). Facilitating a team meeting using this framework can be a great way for folks to open up and identify with specific strengths and share how they relate to collaborating effectively together. Some people absolutely love it, some think it’s a little hocus pocusy, but one thing I’ve found is that it sparks very productive conversations.
My notes here kind of jump ahead in the book and don’t cover the Growth Framework shared, but I’d recommend taking a look at that, especially if you have direct reports that are either performing extremely well or aren’t performing well enough.
To get results, Kim shares the Get Shit Done (GSD) wheel, which helps teams collaborate effectively and keeps folks from rushing in too early. Here’s a far too simple explanation:
Listen to one another before moving forward. Clarify ideas so there’s no ambiguity among the team. Debate ideas to harden and temper them. Decide as impartially as you can. Persuade the team to get on board. Execute and clear your team’s blockers. Learn from your work so you can do better next time.
Tools & Techniques
There are additional key frameworks and advice to help managers run their teams efficiently. Most of them require plenty of pages in the book, so I’ll list some extremely short summaries here.
Managers should be vulnerable and be radically candid with direct reports. Direct reports should be vulnerable and be radically candid with managers.
1:1s are necessary. Have them every week, and don’t move them. To put it simply, no one should be surprised when performance reviews come around.
Decide what kind of meeting you’re holding when you schedule one with your team. I’ve messed this one up way too many times. Basically, let your team know if this is a time to brainstorm, debate, decide, or inform.
Radically candid feedback is HHIIPP:
- In-Person (or if you can’t, video)
- Public praise / private criticism
- Not about Personality
There are also some great guides on hiring, firing, and promotions.
This is far from an exhaustive summary, and there are plenty others out there, but I hope this helps any people managers who’ve read this far. Now I just need a poster of all the frameworks from the book!