Criticism, Candor and Kindness
In her book, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity – our most recent choice for Rick’s Read to Lead group — author Kim Scott shares her management style, grown from live-and-learn leadership experiences. But first, she confesses that, at one point in her career, her efforts to be “nice” set off a chain of events that eventually put her company out of business.
Bob, an employee who came to the company with great references and experience, simply could not meet company standards for the work he was assigned. He was a great guy for whom everyone in the office had a fondness. That being the case, Ms. Scott says she could not bring herself to criticize his work. Instead she would sometimes redo it herself. Although never asked to do so, employees picked up on the “mercy” that was being shown to the kind-hearted but under-performing employee and started to do the same – helping to clean up his work before it was submitted. But Bob was never confronted about the issues with his work. Knowing that Bob’s work was not held to a high standard, other employees let the quality of their own work slip, missed deadlines, showed up late for meetings. Eventually, Ms. Scott decided she had to do something so asked Bob to meet her for coffee. Without a real plan for the meeting, she ended up firing him. His question to her was, “Why didn’t you just tell me?”
This epiphany revealed that her efforts to be “nice” had actually been cruel to Bob, unfair to her other employees, and destructive to her company. And it kindled a dream to create a business environment “where people loved their work and each other.”
Moving on to work at both Google and Apple she witnessed an entirely different approach to interactions between team leaders and those who report to them. It was characterized by “an impressive display of very productive but extremely direct feedback,” yet without ill feelings towards each other.
Motivated by her experience with Bob and the refreshing openness of the cultures at Google and Apple, she developed a give-and-take management style she refers to as “Radical Candor” which she details in her book. She is candid with employees about their work and asks them to be candid with her. She gives criticism but asks for it as well. She claims that this openness yields a new freedom that enables employees to be themselves and bring their greatest assets to their work, evolving within the company in roles that are a fit for them.
At the heart of this management style are genuine, strong relationships. It advocates both assertiveness and empathy as elements of guidance that incorporates both praise and criticism. Designed to produce outstanding results for the company it also enables employees to be involved in decision-making, peer-to-peer guidance, to challenge each other, and achieve individually.
This book is written for bosses, which Ms. Scott claims, are often stressed and question their effectiveness as a leader. She advocates “bringing your whole self to work” and proving that you can “take it” in addition to dishing it out. She includes many personal stories that illustrate the philosophies and practices she advocates.
This is an interesting read and sometimes a bit complex in its dissection of the concepts associated with Radical Candor. But it also compelled us to think about how we interact with our employees and colleagues. It provides a great deal of insight into the implementation of a concept that is fundamental to meaningful personal relationships – empathetic authenticity – into business relationships as well.