radical candor kim scott

HR Books Review: ‘Radical Candor’

I first heard of “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” while reading the First Round website. 

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Who is Kim Scott?

Kim Scott has an impressive LinkedIn profile, which is what you want in an HR books author! She was the co-founder and CEO of Juice Software, ran the business development functions at Delta Three and Capital Thinking, and worked as a senior policy advisor at the FCC. She also managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo, started a diamond cutting factory in Moscow, and has her MBA from Harvard Business School. Oh, I forgot to mention that she worked with Sheryl Sandberg. Not too shabby, right?

Kim is known for saying, “If you can’t be radically candid with your employees, the second best thing you can do is be an asshole.”

Pretty bold, am I right?

What is Radical Candor™?

You want to know all about radical candor, right? First, it’s a trademarked name and written like this: Radical Candor™. Kim defines it as the ability to challenge your employees and show you care about them as human beings at the same time.

Tough but tender. Direct but compassionate. Radical Candor™ isn’t about giving negative feedback, and it’s not about saying what’s on your mind. Instead, Kim wants you to take a stand in your employee’s development and speak and about performance and growth with integrity and straightforwardness.

According to Kim, the worst thing you can do is lie to an employee when she’s failing. Being nice—also known as ruinously empathetic—isn’t helpful. Nice isn’t specific. Nice isn’t actionable. Nice is selfish. It eases your anxiety about hurting someone else’s feelings without thinking of your employee and her long-term best interests.

Instead of being nice, be intrepid. Care about someone enough to develop a relationship with mutual trust and regular check-ins. Give a damn. Once the relational infrastructure is there, it’s possible to be direct and precise with your language and feedback without breaking someone’s heart. 

“I Don’t Want to Be a Bad Boss”

Radical Candor™ might make you worry about being a bad boss. Makes sense, but management requires tough decisions. If the choice is between being nice and being an asshole, Kim tells you to be an asshole. It’s better than lying. Trust that your employee will hear what you’re saying and correct his behavior.

But that’s a false choice, and we’re reminded that we don’t have to be assholes. We can learn to speak more effectively at work with our partners, direct reports and peers. If you’d like to learn how to develop a better communication style as a leader, you can start by picking up a copy of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

It’s an HR Books favorite, and I think HR leadership teams across the world would enjoy reading about new and creative ways to conduct crucial conversations in the workplace.

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