ICE Book Review: Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

(From the E-i-C.. getting ready for summer? Check out our past book reviews to put together an awesome summer reading list <The Books of 2017, a Year End Review>)

Book Review by: Rob Cooney

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Becoming a better leader and educator often involve a complimentary skill set. Giving and soliciting feedback in order to improve our own and our learner’s performance is one such skill that fits within this category. So is functioning as an effective team within the healthcare environment.  If these are skills that you find yourself using, Radical Candor holds a wealth of knowledge for you!

What is Radical Candor? Radical candor is a work “philosophy” proposed by Ms. Scott that involves bringing your “whole self” to work in order to be able to “care personally” and “challenge directly.” She begins the book with an overview of her model. The key abilities incorporate building radically candid relationships, giving (and receiving) praise and criticism, understanding motivation, and driving results collaboratively.

In describing Radical Candor, it is helpful to view the 4 quadrants of work “behavior.” While we all spend time in each of the quadrants, our goal should be to move towards Radical Candor as much as possible.

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Manipulative Insincerity

Manipulative insincerity can be viewed as giving someone the “silent treatment.” This may be due to the fact that you have judged them unworthy, are too tired to argue with them, or you are being political. Sometimes, we land in this quadrant when we are more concerned about being liked by the team.

Ruinous Empathy

Ruinous empathy comes about when we avoid tension. Often we care personally for the individual but do not want to hurt their feelings. In this quadrant, it is difficult to build trust. We avoid discomfort and make every attempt to ease it instead of working through tough issues. When I think of many difficult feedback conversations, I worry that I may spend too much time in this quadrant.

Obnoxious Aggression

Obnoxious aggression is the quadrant for “competent jerks.” Leaders in this quadrant tend to be belittling and their behavior yields short-term gains at the expense of long-term losses. Leaders using this style tend to erode trust in their team and lose the opportunity to promote psychological safety.

Radical Candor

This is the most effective quadrant for leaders to live in. When you care deeply about your team, challenge them while giving encouragement that is more concerned about finding the right answer then being right, you are practicing radical candor.

Building Radically Candid Relationships

Giving Guidance

Giving guidance can be a tricky area for leaders. One thing to remember is that we should always be coaching. This includes subtle areas for improvement we give to our team or more dramatic sessions. Whichever they are, remember to be clear, specific, and in context. The author relays a story about telling a colleague that she valued that he coached his son’s Little League team. The next week, he told her that he thought she was being ruinously empathetic because he knew that she hated sports. It was only when she explained that the reason she valued his example was that it demonstrated his ability to separate work and life and to make family life a priority for him, something that she was worried she wasn’t doing as well.

Understanding Motivation

Motivation can be a tricky area for leaders. Too often, we assume that achieving more, earning awards, or getting promoted motivates everyone. This isn’t the case for everyone. Ms. Scott makes the distinction between people she refers to as “rock stars” and “superstars.” Rock stars tend to be individuals who value stability and challenge. They are not necessarily motivated by promotion and awarding them with promotion can actually be demotivating. Supporting rock stars involves finding what they love and giving them more of it. Superstars, on the other hand, are your ambitious team members who want challenge, new opportunities, and growth. They tend to be change agents for your team. Supporting them involves identifying and assigning them new challenges, supporting their opportunities for growth, and opening the door to new opportunities even if it means that they may leave your team.

When to fire someone?

In this part of the book, we learn to manage middle and poor performers. Middle performers need leaders to “diagnose” the reasons why they aren’t thriving, remove those obstacles or provide more support. Poor performers may need to be let go, but not before you’ve answered the following:

  • Have I given radically candid guidance?
  • Is their performance negatively affecting the team?
  • Have I sought out a second opinion from someone I can talk through the problems with?

If the answer to these is yes, it is time to help that individual find new opportunities elsewhere.

How to begin becoming a “radically candid” boss?

  • Start by asking for criticism. Show that you are aware that you are (often?) wrong and that when you are, you want to be challenged
  • Ask your team members if there is anything that you can do or stop doing to make their lives better
  • Balance praise and criticism. Remember that the best praise can also provide a challenge for improvement.
  • Before praising or criticizing, reflect on how much time you spend getting the facts straight. Take care to defer judgment until you have the facts.

Overall, this book is one that I will pull from my shelf frequently to reread and glean new pearls. It gets my award for the best leadership book of 2017.