The Most Important Responsibility as a Boss? Radical Candor

One of the aspects of my job that I enjoy is the managing others. I’m fortunate to have had this opportunity inside and outside of the work environment. Before business school, I took on responsibility in managing others and I’ve held a bevvy of positions in undergrad and grad school as a leader and manager and have always tried to be the best version of a manager that I would want for myself.

One of my mantras of which I try to practice is to deliver honest feedback in a way that shows compassion and care for others. Jeff Weiner calls this managing compassionately, and Kim  Scott calls this radical candor. In a recent interview with First Round Review (Sidenote: I highly encourage you to start reading FRR) outlined her approach to managing and leading at companies like Google and Apple. Her mission: “Create bullshit free zones where people love their work and working together.”

Throughout the article, Kim articulates her approach to managing teams, and in her own words, “The single most important thing a boss can do, is focus on guidance: giving it, receiving it, and encouraging it.”

The kind of feedback she is referring to is radical candor. To illustrate her point, Scott recounts an interaction with Sheryl Sandberg, where Sheryl initially asked Scott if she wanted some professional help with her presentation skills. It wasn’t until Sandberg said, “‘You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’” It worked – Scott heard the message loud and clear, and signed up for the speaking coach.

At many points in our lives, the phrase “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is appropriate for maintaining civility and respect, but when it comes to managing others and delivering feedback it’s not very helpful.

So, how can you actually practice radical candor in a way that’s not only effective, but that doesn’t hurt or offend the people that work for you?

 

1) Give a Damn – Scott recounts that part of the reason why she took what Sheryl said to heart was because she knew that Sheryl cared about personally and professionally, and demonstrated it through both actions and words. When you make it known through your actions and words that you care for your people, they’ll be more likely to understand what you’re saying is for their own good, and not meant personally.

2) Make it Accepted and Expected – One of Scott’s biggest mistakes was not delivering radical candor towards a team member until it was too late. This team member was very nice but not good at his job, and was impacting the entire team. Scott realized she was being unfair to the rest of her team, and when she finally sat down this team member to fire him, all he could muster in return was “Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ To avoid this, you need to create a culture and environment where radical feedback is not only accepted but also expected. Getting honest feedback, especially negative feedback may not be easy to handle, but it should not come as a surprise.

3) Do it everyday – Just like inculcating a positive habit, the key to ingraining radical candor in your work environment is consistency. Scott urges managers to not only practice radical feedback everyday, but to create a reinforcement mechanism so others understand the importance of it’s nature. She says, ““Get a couple of stickers, one color for praise and one color for criticism, and ask people to put stickers where they think your last interaction was on the graph. You’ll be surprised how clear people will be with you about their reactions to the kind of guidance you’re giving them.”

 

Scott says, “I would argue that criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation. If you’re like me and believe Scott’s point, trying out radical candor with your team is worth a shot.

The art of “Thinking and Doing”

As a 20-something and young professional, I go through periods where I get anxious and nervous about my career. Despite having a good job, stable income, and positive future prospects, my mind races through a series of questions and doubts. These questions tend to keep me up at night, as the thought of not having answers can be stressful. These questions include:

  • Will I become successful in pursuing my goals?
  • Am I actually good at what I do, or did I just get lucky?
  • What if my success runs out?

As an analytical and thoughtful person, I tend to mull over this more than I should.

While the mulling over those questions is not always fun, I often come to realizations and insights as a result of thinking through some of those questions. Furthermore, I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I can’t keep things locked inside my head, and during those times I often reach out to others to get their thoughts and perspective on what I’m thinking about. Generally speaking, I usually feel better about where I am after I go through one of those cycles.

thinking

This cycle has ups and downs, but illustrates what I think is an important dichotomy: the balance of thinking and doing.

 

Thinking means taking the time to reflect and honestly ask yourself tough questions, and to pursue truthfulness and authenticity in finding the answers to those questions. This process helps you become more self-aware, spots trends and reoccurring themes, and helps you make sense of where you are and where you want to go. It can shift you to a course you want to take, and at the very least, reaffirms that you are moving in the right direction. Thinking helps us remove the tunnel vision we often get when we focus too much on doing.

 

Doing is critical because it takes your thoughts and turns them into tangible actions. It takes the theoretical and turns it into the practical, and gets you to make action-oriented steps towards a particular goal. Doing is also where gain experience, make mistakes, and develop muscle memory, which builds not only our abilities, but also our confidence in those abilities. Doing breaks those times when we get too caught up in our thoughts, and helps us take our ideas about where we want to go and makes them a reality.

 

Here’s my three step process for Thinking and Doing

  • First, you need to practice both thinking and doing. Since most of us are “doing” things every day, start asking yourself honest questions about what you are doing, and make an effort to search for those answers.
  • The second step, once you’ve started to identify when you are thinking, and when you are doing, is to know when it’s appropriate to think, and when it’s time to do. Look for triggers in both aspects – when are you starting to anxious or restless after thinking about something? When do you begin to lose sight of the goal you are actually working towards? Finding these triggers or moments will help you understand when you need to hit the pause button and move in the other direction
  • The last step is understanding the right balance of thinking versus doing. Is it 50-50? Is it 60-40? I believe it’s different for everyone, but in general, I do believe that actions speak louder than words, so I tend to err more on the side of doing than thinking. Figuring out what works best for you should be your goal.

 

Practicing and using the thinking versus doing framework will improve your self-awareness and help you understand the how and why behind what you do every day.

At times, it will be uncomfortable, and it may even take you down a path that you did not envision, but I believe it will help improve your self-awareness, define what it is you really want to be doing, and pursue actions that are aligned with what you want. You may even be able to answer those questions that keep you up at night.