Book review: Radical Candor: How to be a Great Boss without Losing your Humanity

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Title: Radical Candor: How to be a Great Boss without Losing your Humanity
Author: Kim Scott
ISBN: 978-1-5098-4535-4
Reviewer: Kate Wadia, Managing Director, Phase 3 Consulting
Reviewer's rating: 4 out of 5

Radical Candor book

‘Radical Candor’ appeals. I think it’s important when reviewing a book to explain a rating and this book gets a 4 out of 5 from me for the pleasure of the read, because I’d wager most readers who pick it off the Amazon shelf will enjoy it. That said, the concept is not radical. By implication nor is the title desperately candid.

And to explain the premise:

‘Radical Candor’, says Scott, is the combining in a “boss” (and she likes that word, as do I), of caring personally and challenging directly. This avoids three equally hideous of four style quadrants:  ruinous empathy, manipulative insincerity and obnoxious aggression. These need little explanation.

Radical Candor is to be firm but fair – and to keep your heart in your leadership too. I like the bold assertion that a boss should ditch the mantra to “keep it professional” and there are some reasonably bold tips scattered through the chapters. Yet, if I am to be candid, don’t expect to be radically transformed in your leadership approach.

After a helpful headline introduction, Kim explains each part of the Radical Candor quadrant in some more detail. We are reminded that to be firm is “not mean, it’s clear”. We are asked to appreciate the vanity in people-pleasing. Instead the way to start creating a radically candid leadership style and culture is to invite feedback first, so that those who report to you understand that feedback can be a natural part of trusting relationships, whether performance is low, average or high.

She quotes Steve Jobs (and there is rather a lot of that, which can be off-putting);

“The most important thing…you can do for someone who is really good…is to point out to them when they are not, when their work isn’t good enough. And to do it very clearly and to articulate why….and then to get them back on track.”

The strongest point of the book I think is the stress on the different growth trajectories that your team may be following. The author points out that all teams need a balance between ‘rock stars’ and ‘superstars’; that there are points in a career where the foot is on the accelerator pedal and points where we are on cruise control (the analogy there is mine, not Kim’s). Understand what motivates people. Think about managing growth, not managing talent.

On how to drive results, the ‘Get Stuff Done’ (GSD) wheel is an example where I find the book rather gimmicky. Whilst the idea to promote only “plussing”, which means that in meetings your colleagues are not allowed to dismiss ideas but to improve on someone’s suggestion positively, “spelunking” is a step too far.

There is a great distinction suggested between “debate meetings” and “decision meetings”. I’m heartened as this is something I notice I’d set out within my own company to make sure to be the practice, but had perhaps not expressed that in such a helpfully clear way. It does, I believe, work.

Part II offers take-away practical guidance on each of relationships, guidance, team and results. “Relationships do not scale; culture does” is a key and meaningful point. I found it difficult to agree on all content about how to manage emotions and I’m curious about Scott’s mission on gender politics.

I wouldn’t regard the suggested framework for how you set up your boss meeting structure as a prescription to be taken in full, but these passages are certainly worth reading for some ideas to consider. Innovation hackathons are so much in vogue that, for example, I rather took to “fix-it weeks”, these being the reverse where old problems not new ones are solved.

‘Radical Candor’ is to be applauded on a clear reading structure and ends with a brief chapter on prioritised steps to get started. It is unfortunate that those who need to read it more likely won’t and those that don’t more likely will.

But assuming so, you will enjoy the book, reminded in closing pages that you can by adopting a challenging but human approach “eliminate a terrible source of misery in the world: the bad boss”.

About Kate Wadia

Kate Wadia - Phase 3 Consulting

Kate’s passion at work is for bridging the gap between technology and people at work, translating for HR professionals the language of HR systems and making meaningful their potential.

She believes that success with people technology is through people and that people are the differentiator. Using simple techniques drawn from HR experience, project management, business psychology and analogy with everyday life, Kate presents and explains how to work well with technology and technology projects in an HR leadership role.

With a background in contrasting private and public sector HR management, Kate developed her thinking in seeking for herself to understand her first HR systems project-work.

Currently she leads the Service Delivery for Phase 3 Consulting, offering an independent take on the HR systems market in the UK, through a network of experts. Kate’s guiding principle is that openness offers knowledge-sharing, credibility and trust.

Incorrigibly enthusiastic and up absurdly early for a working morning, she swears that she only drinks three good coffees a day, but nobody believes her!

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