Lots of professionals have stories about their coworker, mentor and, most commonly, boss being really honest with them—and that honesty helping them evolve.
Kim Scott, former leadership coach to top tech CEOs and founder of Candor, Inc., popularized this concept in Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.
We highly recommend the book. But if you want the highlights, or simply a sneak peek, read on.
The three responsibilities of a leader
According to Scott, a leader must accomplish three things: create a feedback culture (praise and criticism), form a cohesive team, and produce results everyone is happy with.
Okay, that’s easier said than done. But Scott says it all comes down to your communication style.
The four types of communication
You don’t give negative feedback because you want to avoid the awkwardness it’ll cause or are too lazy to voice your concerns.
You don’t give negative feedback because you’re worried you’ll make your employee feel bad.
You give negative feedback, but you don’t care about your employee, so it’s hurtful.
You give negative feedback, but you care about your employee and deliver it with empathy, so it’s effective.
Unsurprisingly, Scott wants us all to practice radical candor.
Figure out what drives your employees
To care about your direct reports, you need to understand what motivates them. Scott gives us two more categories:
“Agents of change”—highly motivated, always looking for opportunities to grow.
“Agents of stability”—content with the status quo, looking for stability.
Neither type is better than the other. If everyone on your team is a superstar, you’ll have trouble keeping them all satisfied and engaged. If, on the other hand, everyone is a rockstar, you’ll struggle to keep the team’s momentum.
Identify the superstars and rockstars on your team. Then go a step further and probe into their long-term goals. How does this role fit into the bigger picture for them?
Knowing these details about each person you manage will show them that you’re invested in their growth and help you help them.
Encourage healthy debate
A leader should not be a dictator. Scott explains that making big decisions by yourself—even though it might seem like the most efficient route—will alienate your team. And that’ll sabotage your plan because, remember, they’re the ones who will be executing it!
If you want your employees’ buy-in, you must involve them in the discussion. Scott shares this framework:
Really listen, rather than waiting for your turn to talk. Make it clear you care about your team’s opinions.
Don’t react until they’ve had a chance to fully explain their idea. Ask questions rather than immediately saying, “That won’t work because…” or “We shouldn’t do that since…”
Encourage (respectful) discussion. The best ideas are born from a lot of back-and-forth.
Now make the call. As the leader, you have the final say.
Share the plan with the larger team. It’s your job to sell this idea to the higher-ups.
Manage the plan’s execution.
Reflect on the results, ask yourself whether you’d do the same thing again and/or what you would change, and then apply those takeaways to the next project.
There’s a simple way to earn your team’s respect and show them you’re receptive to hearing feedback, too.
Ask them, “How can I support you more effectively? Is there anything I’m doing that makes your job harder?”
Take what you learn and apply it. After you’ve done this a few times, it’ll be clear that you’re invested in the process.
Scott also encourages managers to print out the Radical Candor matrix (which lays out the four communication types) and follow up with employees after their last interaction to see where they’d place it on the grid. Finally, radically candid bosses should eliminate any potential for backstabbing. Don’t act as the go-between for two of your reports; get them to talk to each other and try to resolve their issues first before coming to you. This makes your team culture healthier and more honest.
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