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Learning Radical Candor to Become a Better Boss

This article was based on the First Round Review, “Radical Candor – The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss,” by Kim Scott.


Radical Candor — The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss | First Round Review


What is Guidance?

Kim Scott shares that the most important thing a boss can do is focus on guidance.  By guidance she means criticism and feedback, which must be given, received, and encouraged.  Learning how to encourage criticism between the people who work for you gives you leverage because the guidance it provides is something most of us long for.

When guidance is great, it is called radical candor, and to explain this Scott told a story about a time her boss, Sheryl Sandberg, criticised her. She had just had a great meeting but afterward Sandberg politely told Scott that she said “um” so often that it made her sound stupid.  While this may sound like a harsh criticism, Scott knew that it was the kindest thing Sandberg could have done for her because it enabled her to break the habit and become a better presenter. In the years since, Scott has worked to operationalise what it was that made Sandberg such a great boss.


Understanding Radical Candor

To help teach radical candor to her own teams, Scott has developed a four-quadrant framework. The vertical axis is caring personally, and the horizontal axis is challenging directly.  Radical candor falls in the upper right-hand quadrant.


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Scott has named the vertical axis the ‘give a damn’ axis. Part of the reason Sandberg was able to be so blunt in her feedback was because Scott knew she cared about her personally. Caring personally makes it much easier to do the next thing you have to do as a good boss, which is be willing to upset people.

The horizontal axis is what Scott calls the ‘willing to piss people off’ axis. Directly challenging others is difficult for many people because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.  As a boss, it’s your job and moral obligation to do be equally clear about what is going wrong, and what is going right.

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Radical candor is a combination of caring personally and challenging directly. Scott has an acronym, HHIPP, to help people remember the rules of radical candor. Radical candor is humble; it’s helpful, it’s immediate, it’s in person — in private if it’s criticism and in public, if it’s praise — and it doesn’t personalise.


Characteristics of Poor Management

The second quadrant is obnoxious aggression, which is when you challenge directly without caring personally.  The third quadrant, manipulative insincerity, is a lack of caring and challenging combined with deceptive behaviours.  The last quadrant is the rarest, and it is known as ruinous empathy. This is when a boss completely fails to give proper guidance and criticism.

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Four Key Pillars to Better Management

In her years managing people, Scott has discovered that there are four key pillars that help managers reach radical candor:

  1. Impromptu guidance – share the quadrant with teams and track your interactions, the goal with daily guidance is to push toward radical candor
  2. Make backstabbing impossible – this fosters a culture of guidance between the people who work for you
  3. Make it easier to speak truth to power – make sure that everyone on your team feels they can constructively criticise the boss
  4. Put your own oxygen mask on first – you need to care about yourself before you can care about others


Becoming a Better Boss

Changing behaviour to become a better boss is hard.  Remember that even when a lot of things are going wrong, there are always things that are going right. When you take care of yourself and follow the four key pillars, you can attain radical candor and the leverage that comes with it to create a successful team and become a great boss.


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