Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
From the book blurb:
Radical Candor is the sweet spot between managers who are obnoxiously aggressive on the one side and ruinously empathetic on the other. It is about providing guidance, which involves a mix of praise as well as criticism - delivered to produce better results and help your employees develop their skills and increase success.
Great bosses have a strong relationship with their employees, and Scott has identified three simple principles for building better relationships with your employees: make it personal, get stuff done, and understand why it matters.
In this episode I talk about the key messages from Radical Candor, how they resonated with me drawing on my first hand experience, and in which way I didn't fully agree with it.
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Episode 4Radical Candor
Welcome tothat's what she read. I'm Valentina, and like every other Monday, today I'mgoing to share with you my take on a nonfiction book. We'll be talking about RadicalCandor by Kim Scott. As the subtitle says, how to be a kick ass boss, withoutlosing your humanity.
I'mconflicted about this book. I love the concepts that Kim shares. I believe inthem and I've applied them in my own management style. At the same time, I'mnot a huge fan of the steep categorization that she presents in the book,categorizing every type of behaviour in a very fix quadrant. The strictdefinition of radical candor itself. I also don't find the examples, based onSilicon Valley life, that relatable. So, I hope today, to be able to share withyou what I loved about the book and happy readers relate with it, based on somemore real life, some more common life example.
The firstprinciple that I related to is simply don't be a micromanager. It's as easy asthat. Two key concepts are that to be a great manager, the important thing isto build a culture of guidance and support. We've all seen those quotes aboutnot hiring smart people to tell them what to do, but because we want them totell us what to do, famously attributed to Steve Jobs. The book reinforces this,and I personally believe in that. At the same time, as leaders’ bosses andmanagers, it's our role, to be able to guide people give them clear objectives,clear guidance, set clear expectation and be there for them when they needsomething in life, and in work.
One of thequotes that I related to in in the book it's an example from Kim's life whereone of the questions that came up was from a very first very junior manager. Ifthis is what managing is: emotionally babysitting a team. And what I loved isthe response that this person received. It's not babysitting. It's calledmanaging. Your actual job is managing guiding and supporting people.
Often as managers and bosses, and I will beusing the word, boss, to make sure that we don't categorize in between leadersand managers or emphasize only people with direct reports, as this applies toeverybody who has a team, directly or indirectly. So, often we focus on what weneed to do, what objectives we need to drive, what is the work that weourselves need to be doing, in like actual work spreadsheets, PowerPointpresentations, meetings, whatever have you. And we forget or we put as anafterthought, the fact that managing and guiding and leading our team is ourwork. A good portion of our time should be spent building relationships aretalking and engaging with our team. Otherwise, we're not managing. We are notleading, and we are definitely not guiding.
How to dothis though, it's the hard part. Kim created this concept called radical candorwhere we need to be honest, and where she means radical as exceptional, and isn'ttruly that innovative.
What I seeis that the core of the whole concept is that we need to build relationship,and we need to be honest. But how to build relationship, it's the hard part. Ifyou think that you can build a high performing team, create engagement and be aleader that people are boss and a leader that people want to follow, withouthaving relationship you'll be fooling yourself. And that's why, one of theother quotes in the book that I really love is that using the phrase “don'ttake it personally” It's worse than useless. It is personal. Yes, it'sbusiness, and at the same time, it's based on relationships, so it is personal.
How tobuild a relationship, starts with just be open yourself. If can't be authenticas a boss, and you can't invite criticism or criticism, to yourself, you're notgoing to be able to inspire trust in others. So be open, invite other tocriticism or share part of your life. Of course, we need limits, but be aperson. At the same time, be honest. Be honest. Be empathic. Not to the detrimentof taking actions. What I love is how Kim says that compassion is empathy plusaction. Empathy is great. Empathy needs to be at the core of everything we do.Acknowledging that people in our teams, and around us at work have emotions.Don't tell them how to feel, don't try to mitigate them. Don't tell them thatit's not personal because it is, and it feels like it very often. At the sametime, be empathic feel for what they are going through in their life, in themoment, at work, but don't try to mitigate it, don't let empathy, prevent youfrom action. If you see that people are angry and frustrated, don't just blameit on the new generation, their age, or the workload. Take a real personalinterest, ask why. I mean, I've had this situation of destructive emotionalempathy happening to me. Often, I can tell you about moments where people weregoing through different phases of their life at work, you know, mental struggles,health struggles, private life issues, passing of relatives, and it felt easy toempathize and hard at some point to be able to create action. It was easy tosay take all the time you need, there is no pressure, do whatever you need. weare here for you. And I truly meant it. At the same time, the work environment,wasn't stopping, and my lack of acknowledgement of the situation created moreproblems down the road with deliverables not being met and workload falling onother people in the team, without having them being part of a decision.
I'm notsaying that we need to force people that are going through tough situations towork. What I'm saying is that what I should have done was to be compassionate,and as the book suggest pair empathy with action. Follow my understanding ofthe situation with how we can make this work, what do you feel like you can do,and what is a plan that we can realistically organize and set up. How much timedo you need, what is Plan B, and if there is no plan C or a last resort? Ishould have created an action plan involving the person, so that they felt thatmy understanding was more sincere, because I also doubt that when you say topeople take all the time you need, we are here and we can accommodate, theytake it at face value. In today's world, especially when we work forcorporations, it's easy to say these things, and there have been too manystories of this coming back in performance reviews or later on, when goals aren’tmet. So, if you really want people to trust you. It's always great toacknowledge the situation and come up with a plan.
At the sametime, I can say I can tell you about situation where I saw people beingfrustrated and I assumed it was just a workload. We were understaffed we had alot of deliverables we had been regularly working until midnight. And I thoughtit must be the work you know the person is frustrated. She's getting irritable,he or she, they're getting irritable, and the solution was to take more workfor myself, remove some work from their plate, assign it to somebody else. AndI didn't stop and ask them why. If I would have done it, as I did few weekslater, I would have realized that it wasn't related to the midnight shifts, itwasn't related to the amount of work that we were dealing with at that specifictime, but it was related with the nature of the work itself. The person doingsomething that they were unenthusiastic about, their career trajectory notgoing in the way they had expected. And in another case, I would have realizedthat it had nothing to do with work, and actually me taking away some of the workfrom their plate made them feel even less valuable and frustrated by makingthem feel less capable. So, the advice that I can give you is don't do what Idid. Don't assume is the workload, don't assume is the private life, take timehave a coffee, have a tea, ask them what's going on.
The nextpoint that I really loved about the book is the concept of seeing their team ina holistic way in terms of talent. Since the introduction of the famous ninebox matrix, or other way of ranking people to manage talent for talentdevelopment and performance reviews, the focus of most leaders and managers hasbeen on the superstars. The high potential people, those that seem to be on ahigh trajectory. The reality is that a team to succeed, can't be made only bysuperstars. What I love about Kim's book is that she creates two different categories,and, in this case, I find the categorization very helpful. They are vital for ateam success. The superstars that we chart on a high trajectory and going forthe next career step, and the rockstars, which are really great at what they'redoing and are the centre of knowledge and the rock around which the team isbuilt. The key point is to really understand who in your team is, t whichstage, what really motivates them what they love to do, what are they good at,and also once you've done it, don’t let your own bias block you from seeingtheir evolution. People evolve and so do you. They might be a superstar atcertain points in their career, and for whatever circumstances they might findthemself in a position where they want to develop more knowledge and they wantto be rock stars for the team. And then a few years later their career path andtheir spiritual might change again. It's key to create this relationship withthe team, understand where they are in their aspiration, in their careertrajectory, and then keep them alive, keep asking, keep probing, and alsounderstand what motivates them. A career progression doesn't look the same foreverybody. Some people might want a promotion, which is how we have learned tosee career progression, into management roles for more senior roles. Somepeople might not. Some people might love teaching to others. Some people mightlove and find their fulfilment into specializing themselves into deeperresearch project. And some people might just want to try something new and takeon side projects or expand their lateral knowledge. The key is to understandwhat motivates each of the people that you have around you, and to do that wellyou can't do it by just asking what motivates you, in a one to one, or in aperformance review. You need time, you need a relationship, you need to askstories.
What I knowis that sometimes people are also unaware. What I found out through my project100 and helping other people find their why and find a purpose in life, is thatsometimes we are unaware of what our motivation is. We might think we want to promotion,but the reality is that we don't, and asking someone: what motivates you, it's trickyfor it for several reasons. One, they might give you an answer that they thinkis the right one, you know, in a corporate environment. When I was younger, andI was asked what motivates you. I feltlike I had to say: promotion. I wasn't ready for it at that time, yet I hadthis thought in my head that if I would have said something like a degree, moreresearch, I would have been put on a specialized path and be stuck thereforever. Or even worse if your company has a reputation for being “up or out”,people might fear that they will be the next one being considered forrestructuring, so they might say what you want to hear, or what is the rightthing to say. In other cases, it might be more subconscious, they think theywant the promotion, because that's how they've been brought up, that's thecultural environment in which we all live, while the reality is that whatreally motivates them makes them feel fulfilled and gives them satisfaction issomething different.
And the wayto find out is asking them about stories of their life and their career. Youwill find out that by talking about what they loved in prior experiences orprior jobs, would bring up common themes and through these common themes, ifyou are really attentively listening, you can pick up that nugget of truth thatwill tell you what it is that really motivates them, and then you can have adiscussion about how to make sure that that gets incorporated in their currentrole or in their career path .
Anotherpiece of wisdom that I found is that, and I found myself being guilty of it, isthat once we have this categorization between superstar and rock star we shouldnot be biased and dedicate our time to both categories of people equally. Atthe same time, as managers, we have a tendency of dedicate more attention tothe people that struggle, then to our rock star or superstars. That's becausewe want to make sure the team succeed. That's because we feel like it's our ownfailure if somebody isn't succeeding. And we'll get to the reason that KimScott gives for potential strugglers. What I want to say here though is that,focusing only on the strugglers, as much as they need help, backfires on theteam. People need praise. People need to feel appreciated and considered. Andwhile attention is important, it's definitely not the same as micromanagingyour superstars and rockstars. They've got it covered. It's a sure way to getthem disengaged. if they don't need help, they still need guidance, or you canspend the time creating innovations, coming up with new ideas on how thingscould be better, what we could do differently. stimulate their imagination. Seektheir input, they are the best people in your team, for sure they will havesomething valuable to say, just don't forget about them.
Feedback isone more topic that radical candor talks a lot about. We all heard the saying,praise publicly criticize privately. And that's true. We also know by now notto use the sandwich feedback technique. You know: a good thing, a criticism anda follow by another good thing to end the conversation. We all want to end thediscussion with good feelings, so it is tempting to do this. Most of the tipsthat the book per book shares about feedback, aren't new. What I really lovethough, is the concept of praise sincerely. Don't just say great job, but asmuch as possible link that praise to what impact it had on the team or why wasit such a great job. It will make people believe that you actually paidattention, that you're actually praising something that it's meaningful to you.And of course, by all means do it publicly. And also, when you're givingfeedback, do it, honestly. Do it quickly, as quickly as possible close to theevent. And most of us do it clearly. And mostly do it in a way that does notreduce trust in the person ability. It might be frustrating when things gowrong. And when deadlines are missed or where there are mistakes in a projector what have you. At the same time as frustrating and tempting might be to lashout and blaming on incompetent people lack knowledge, It's not effective. Theteam, whomever you're giving the feedback to, needs to feel like it was amistake, and this needs to be clear, and the fact that it won't be acceptedgoing forward, or that an improvement is expected needs to also be clear. Atthe same time, if the way you deliver it it's making them feel like they can'tfix it, they are incapable, they're not smart enough, they're not good enough,there is something inherently lacking in their way of working in theircapability. they're not going to be motivated to fix it. You succeed when youfeel like you can do it. You fail when you feel like you can't. So, don't givefeedback, by making people feel like they're not good enough.
One of the pointswhich I do not agree, or I believe it was not expanded in enough in the book,it's the concept of diversity and inclusion. The author says that recognizesthat it makes it harder to be radically candid and honest with people that aredifferent, that do not look like us, that have a different upbringing and havegone through different life experience. And she also mentioned that it's easierto want to avoid confrontation. Therefore, being ruinously empathic as shecalls it, or just turn our criticism in to obnoxious aggression. I'm conflictedthere. I understand that it is harder.
Thesolution mentioned is that we should all push against our discomfort and justaim to be as radically candid with everybody, as we would be with people thatcome from a similar background as the one, we have now. I'm conflicted here,because, in a way, I understand that. I actually agree with the need to pushagainst our discomfort and, and we should aim to be honest with everybody. WhatI find lacking is that we also need to stop and analyse our own bias. And Idon't see this mentioned, maybe for lack of space. I mean, when we are managingpeople or we are relating at work with people which are coming from completelydifferent background, are we projecting our own biases conscious or unconsciousonto them? I think before being radically candid and sharing what we think, whatwe feel, and pushing discussions and exchanges sometimes to the point ofconflict, we need to make one more step, and really check ourselves. Would I saythis, if the person, in front of me was a man? Would I use the same words,would I give feedback about being abrasive bossy, or too pushy? If the personin front of me was a man would I use the word emotional? Would I interpretcertain tones and certain action as anger and frustration, of I didn't havethis stereotype related to a certain ethnicity? I mean, just check your ownbias, before being radically candid. Honesty is great and at the same time weneed to recognize today the fact that our perception is skewed by bias andtherefore, it never hurts to enact a second layer of control, or a double checkon our own thoughts before being candid. I am not advocating for, for beingsilent and ruinously empathic and just never complaining for fear of hurtingsomeone's feeling.
The otherpart which I find lacking in terms of bias is the concept of cultural fit. Westarted this discussion by saying the culture eats strategy for lunch- Thatquote has been attributed to several people from jack welch to others and whatit means is that a team with a great cultural fit and a great vibe, and workingwith you effectively, will always deliver more that the best strategy, writtenon paper executed by a disengaged and disconnected team. I agree with that. AndI also believe that team building means finding hiring and managing the rightpeople in the right roles in the right way. I also see that the concept ofcultural fit and team building and having the right people, leads itself tobias. We all tend to hire people that look like us, as much as we don't wantto, we tend to see cultural fit, as people that fit well with each other andfitting well with each other is often seen as lack of conflict and that canlead to lack of diversity. So, from my point of view this concept is great andit is true that we need to make sure that we have the right people in the rightroles. I mean, there is nothing worse, and this is also acknowledged in thebook, than having somebody who used to be a rock star or superstar a topperformer, suddenly, failing. And when that happens, usually there's just twocauses: either there's something deeply personal going on, or the person is inthe wrong role. What I want to point out is that a great team fit, doesn't meanlack of conflict. A team in team performance theory teams get to performingafter conflict. It means diversity is the key to a great team. Diversity is thekey to a great culture, it's what brings innovation, it's what brings differentway of thinking in the team. Cultural fit doesn't mean groupthink, doesn't meanthat everybody needs to always agree, or see things in the same way, it meansthat we all have that we all agree to the same values that we can work wellwith each other and that we are ready and open to be honest and build arelationship with each other. And once we have that in a team, and we are asmanager sable to put people in the right roles, then, we will have a team thatgels, with the right culture, no matter how diverse it is, and I would actuallygo one step beyond and say, the more diverse, the better.
The lastword I want to leave you with is one of the principles, which is in the middleof the book, and I found extremely valuable. I wish somebody would have told methis when I was leading a team: stay centred. You can't give a damn aboutothers, if you don't care about yourself first. You might be tempted to workmore to take on more responsibility to put in longer hours, because you want todeliver. And because you want to lead by example. And sometimes also because intoday's reality, the team might be understaffed, and you don't want anybodyelse to suffer. If you don't take care of yourself, you're also not modellingthe right balance. The best work can only happen when everybody brings theirbest self to work. And to do that, culture, personal connections, respect, andall those values that we talked about are needed, and balance, mental andphysical health are also. important.
If you enjoyed today's talk. Follow me onSpotify, Apple podcasts or any other platform where you get your podcast from.Thank you fully listening and till the next episode.