From the time we learn to speak, we’re told that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. While this advice may work for everyday life, it is, as Kim Scott has seen, a disaster when adopted by managers.
Scott earned her stripes as a highly successful manager at Google and then decamped to Apple, where she developed a class on optimal management. She has earned growing fame in recent years with her vital new approach to effective management, the “radical candor” method.
Radical candor is the sweet spot between managers who are obnoxiously aggressive on one side and ruinously empathetic on the other. It’s about providing guidance, which involves a mix of praise as well as criticismdelivered to produce better results and help employees achieve.
Great bosses have strong relationships with their employees, and Scott has identified three simple principles for building better relationships with your employees: make it personal, get (sh)it done, and understand why it matters.
Radical Candor offers a guide to those bewildered or exhausted by management, written for bosses and those who manage bosses. Taken from years of the author’s experience, and distilled clearly giving actionable lessons to the reader; it shows managers how to be successful while retaining their humanity, finding meaning in their job, and creating an environment where people both love their work and their colleagues.
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How To Be A Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
By Kim Scott
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Kim Scott
All rights reserved.
BUILD RADICALLY CANDID RELATIONSHIPS
Bringing your whole self to work
IT'S CALLED MANAGEMENT, AND IT'S YOUR JOB
I USUALLY FELT a little surge of pleasure as I stepped off the elevator into the cavernous former warehouse in the East Village we'd rented as the office of Juice Software, the start-up I'd cofounded in 2000. That day, I just felt stressed.
The engineers had worked nights and weekends on an early "beta" version of our product, which would be ready in a week. The sales team had gotten thirty big-name customers lined up for beta testing. If those customers were using our product, we'd be able to raise another round of funding. If not, we'd run out of money in six months.
There was one blocker: me. The night before, one of our angel investors, Dave Roux, had told me he thought our pricing was all wrong. "Think about the last time you bought a used car — one that cost less than $10,000. Now, think about the guy who sold it to you. That's who your salespeople will be. That's who'll represent you in the market." I knew in my gut Dave was right, but I couldn't go to my sales team or my board and change everything just based on a gut feeling. I needed to sit down and do some analysis — fast. I'd cleared my calendar of meetings for the morning so I could do just that.
I'd gotten only a few steps into the office when a colleague suddenly ran up. He needed to talk right away. He had just learned that he might need a kidney transplant, and he was completely freaked out. After an hour and two cups of tea, he seemed calmer.
I walked toward my desk, past an engineer whose child was in the ICU. Must check in. "How'd your son do last night?" I asked. He hadn't improved — and as he told me how the night had gone we both had tears in our eyes. I convinced him to leave the office and go and take care of himself for an hour before returning to the hospital.
I left his desk drained, passing by our quality assurance manager. His child had better news: she'd just received the highest score in the entire state on a standardized math test. He wanted to talk about it. I felt emotional whiplash as I jumped from sympathy to celebration.
By the time I got back to my desk, I had no time or emotional reserves to think about pricing. I cared about each of these people, but I also felt worn out — frustrated that I couldn't get any "real" work done. Later that day, I called my CEO coach, Leslie Koch, to complain.
"Is my job to build a great company," I asked, "or am I really just some sort of emotional babysitter?"
Leslie, a fiercely opinionated ex-Microsoft executive, could barely contain herself. "This is not babysitting," she said. "It's called management, and it is your job!"
Every time I feel I have something more "important" to do than listen to people, I remember Leslie's words: "It is your job!" I've used Leslie's line on dozens of new managers who've come to me after a few weeks in their new role, moaning that they feel like "babysitters" or "shrinks."
We undervalue the "emotional labor" of being the boss. That term is usually reserved for people who work in the service or health industry: psychiatrists, nurses, doctors, waiters, flight attendants. But as I will show in the pages to come, this emotional labor is not just part of the job; it's the key to being a good boss.
HOW TO BE A GOOD BOSS
GIVEN MY LINE of work, I get asked by almost everyone I meet how to be a better boss/manager/leader. I get questions from the people who worked for me, the CEOs I coached, the people who attended a class I taught or a talk I gave. I get questions from people who are using the management software system that Russ Laraway and I cofounded a company, Candor, Inc., to build. Others have submitted their management dilemmas to our Web site (radicalcandor.com). But questions also come from the harried parent sitting next to me at the school play who doesn't know how to tell the babysitter not to feed the kids so much sugar; the contractor who is frustrated when his crew doesn't show up on time; the nurse who's just been promoted to supervisor and is telling me how bewildering it is — as she takes my blood pressure, I feel I should be taking hers; the business executive who's speaking with exaggerated patience into his cell phone as we board a plane, snaps it shut, and asks nobody in particular, "Why did I hire that goddamn moron?"; the friend still haunted by the expression on the face of an employee whom she laid off years ago. Regardless of who asks the questions, they tend to reveal an underlying anxiety: many people feel they aren't as good at management as they are at the "real" part of the job. Often, they fear they are failing the people who report to them.
While I hate to see this kind of stress, I find these conversations productive because I know I can help. By the end of these talks, people feel much more confident that they can be a great boss.
There's often a funny preamble to the questions I get, because most people don't like the words for their role: "boss" evokes injustice, "manager" sounds bureaucratic, "leader" sounds self-aggrandizing. I prefer the word "boss" because the distinctions between leadership and management tend to define leaders as BSers who don't actually do anything and managers as petty executors. Also, there's a problematic hierarchical difference implied in the two words, as if leaders no longer have to manage when they achieve a certain level of success, and brand-new managers don't have to lead. Richard Tedlow's biography of Andy Grove, Intel's lengendary CEO, asserts that management and leadership are like forehand and backhand. You have to be good at both to win. I hope by the end of this book you'll have a more positive association with all three words: boss, manager, leader.
Having dispensed with semantics, the next question is often very basic: what do bosses/managers/leaders do? Go to meetings? Send emails? Tell people what to do? Dream up strategies and expect other people to execute them? It's tempting to suspect them of doing a whole lot of nothing.
Ultimately, though, bosses are responsible for results. They achieve these results not by doing all the work themselves but by guiding the people on their teams. Bosses guide a team to achieve results.
The questions I get asked next are clustered around each of these three areas of responsibility that managers do have: guidance, team-building, and results.
Guidance is often called "feedback." People dread feedback — both the praise, which can feel patronizing, and especially the criticism. What if the person gets defensive? Starts to yell? Threatens to sue? Bursts into tears? What if the person refuses to understand the criticism, or can't figure out what to do to fix the problem? What if there isn't any simple way to fix the problem? What should a boss say then? But it's no better when the problem is really simple and obvious. Why doesn't the person already know it's a problem? Do I actually have to say it? Am I too nice? Am I too mean? All these questions loom so large that people often forget they need to solicit guidance from others, and encourage it between them.
Building a cohesive team means figuring out the right people for the right roles: hiring, firing, promoting. But once you've got the right people in the right jobs, how do you keep them motivated? Particularly in Silicon Valley, the questions sound like this: why does everyone always want the next job when they haven't even mastered the job they have yet? Why do millennials expect their career to come with instructions like a Lego set? Why do people leave the team as soon as they get up to speed? Why do the wheels keep coming off the bus? Why won't everyone just do their job and let me do mine?
Many managers are perpetually frustrated that it seems harder than it should be to get things done. We just doubled the size of the team, but the results are not twice as good. In fact, they are worse. What happened? Sometimes things move too slowly: the people who work for me would debate forever if I let them. Why can't they make a decision? But other times things move too fast: we missed our deadline because the team was totally unwilling to do a little planning — they insisted on just firing willy-nilly, no ready, no aim! Why can't they think before they act? Or they seem to be on automatic pilot: they are doing exactly the same thing this quarter that they did last quarter, and they failed last quarter. Why do they expect the results to be different?
Guidance, team, and results: these are the responsibilities of any boss. This is equally true for anyone who manages people — CEOs, middle managers, and first-time leaders. CEOs may have broader problems to deal with, but they still have to work with other human beings, with all the quirks and skills and weaknesses just as apparent and relevant to their success in the C Suite as when they got their very first management role.
It's natural that managers who wonder whether they are doing right by the people who report to them want to ask me about these three topics. I'll address each fully over the course of this book.
RELATIONSHIPS, NOT POWER, DRIVE YOU FORWARD
BUT THE MOST important question, the question that goes to the heart of being a good boss, doesn't usually get asked. An exception was Ryan Smith, the CEO of Qualtrics. I'd just started coaching him, and his first question to me was, "I have just hired several new leaders on my team. How can I build a relationship with each of them quickly, so that I can trust them and they can trust me?" Very few people focus first on the central difficulty of management that Ryan hit on: establishing a trusting relationship with each person who reports directly to you. If you lead a big organization, you can't have a relationship with everyone; but you can really get to know the people who report directly to you. Many things get in the way, though: power dynamics first and foremost, but also fear of conflict, worry about the boundaries of what's appropriate or "professional," fear of losing credibility, time pressure.
Nevertheless, these relationships are core to your job. They determine whether you can fulfill your three responsibilities as a manager: 1) to create a culture of guidance (praise and criticism) that will keep everyone moving in the right direction; 2) to understand what motivates each person on your team well enough to avoid burnout or boredom and keep the team cohesive; and 3) to drive results collaboratively. If you think that you can do these things without strong relationships, you are kidding yourself. I'm not saying that unchecked power, control, or authority can't work. They work especially well in a baboon troop or a totalitarian regime. But if you're reading this book, that's not what you're shooting for.
There is a virtuous cycle between your responsibilities and your relationships. You strengthen your relationships by learning the best ways to get, give, and encourage guidance; by putting the right people in the right roles on your team; and by achieving results collectively that you couldn't dream of individually. Of course, there can be a vicious cycle between your responsibilities and your relationships, too. When you fail to give people the guidance they need to succeed in their work, or put people into roles they don't want or aren't well-suited for, or push people to achieve results they feel are unrealistic, you erode trust.
Your relationships and your responsibilities reinforce each other positively or negatively, and this dynamic is what drives you forward as a manager — or leaves you dead in the water. Your relationships with your direct reports affect the relationships they have with their direct reports, and your team's culture. Your ability to build trusting, human connections with the people who report directly to you will determine the quality of everything that follows.
Defining those relationships is vital. They're deeply personal, and they're not like any other relationships in your life. But most of us are at a loss when we set about to build those relationships. Radical Candor, the fundamental concept of this book, can help guide you.
DEVELOPING TRUST IS not simply a matter of "do x, y, and z, and you have a good relationship." Like all human bonds, the connections between bosses and the people who report to them are unpredictable and not subject to absolute rules. But I have identified two dimensions that, when paired, will help you move in a positive direction.
The first dimension is about being more than "just professional." It's about giving a damn, sharing more than just your work self, and encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same. It's not enough to care only about people's ability to perform a job. To have a good relationship, you have to be your whole self and care about each of the people who work for you as a human being. It's not just business; it is personal, and deeply personal. I call this dimension "Care Personally."
The second dimension involves telling people when their work isn't good enough — and when it is; when they are not going to get that new role they wanted, or when you're going to hire a new boss "over" them; when the results don't justify further investment in what they're working on. Delivering hard feedback, making hard calls about who does what on a team, and holding a high bar for results — isn't that obviously the job of any manager? But most people struggle with doing these things. Challenging people generally pisses them off, and at first that doesn't seem like a good way to build a relationship or to show that you "care personally." And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them that you care when you're the boss. This dimension I call "Challenge Directly."
"Radical Candor" is what happens when you put "Care Personally" and "Challenge Directly" together. Radical Candor builds trust and opens the door for the kind of communication that helps you achieve the results you're aiming for. And it directly addresses the fears that people express to me when asking questions about the management dilemmas they face. It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to 1) accept and act on your praise and criticism; 2) tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; 3) engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again; 4) embrace their role on the team; and 5) focus on getting results.
Why "radical"? I chose this word because so many of us are conditioned to avoid saying what we really think. This is partially adaptive social behavior; it helps us avoid conflict or embarrassment. But in a boss, that kind of avoidance is disastrous.
Why "candor"? The key to getting everyone used to being direct when challenging each other (and you!) is emphasizing that it's necessary to communicate clearly enough so that there's no room for interpretation, but also humbly. I chose "candor" instead of "honesty" because there's not much humility in believing that you know the truth. Implicit with candor is that you're simply offering your view of what's going on and that you expect people to offer theirs. If it turns out that in fact you're the one who got it wrong, you want to know. At least I hope you want to know!
The most surprising thing about Radical Candor may be that its results are often the opposite of what you fear. You fear people will become angry or vindictive; instead they are usually grateful for the chance to talk it through. And even when you do get that initial anger, resentment, or sullenness, those emotions prove to be fleeting when the person knows you really care. As the people who report to you become more Radically Candid with each other, you spend less time mediating. When Radical Candor is encouraged and supported by the boss, communication flows, resentments that have festered come to the surface and get resolved, and people begin to love not just their work but whom they work with and where they work. When people love their job, the whole team is more successful. The resulting happiness is the success beyond success.
CARE PERSONALLY: THE FIRST DIMENSION OF RADICAL CANDOR
MY FIRST LESSON about why it's important to care personally took place in Moscow on July 4, 1992, while I was standing under a tarp in the rain with ten of the world's best diamond cutters, whom I was trying to hire. I was working for a New York diamond company. I'd graduated from college two years earlier with a degree in Russian literature. My education had seemed irrelevant to my current situation. My assignment just required common sense, not a deep understanding of human nature. I had to convince these people to leave the state-owned Russian factory that paid them in rubles, which were almost worthless. I, on the other hand, could pay with U.S. dollars — a lot of them. And that was how you motivated people, right? You paid them.
Excerpted from Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Copyright © 2017 Kim Scott. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
How to use this book
Part I: A NEW MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY
1. BUILD RADICALLY CANDID RELATIONSHIPS - Bringing your whole self to work
2. GET, GIVE AND ENCOURAGE GUIDANCE - Creating a culture of open communication
3. UNDERSTAND WHAT MOTIVATES EACH PERSON ON YOUR TEAM - Helping people take a step in the direction of their dreams
4. DRIVE RESULTS COLLABORATIVELY - Telling people what to do doesn’t work
Part II: TOOLS & TECHNIQUES
5. RELATIONSHIPS - An approach to establishing trust with your direct reports
6. GUIDANCE - Ideas for getting/giving/encouraging praise & criticism
7. TEAM - Techniques for avoiding boredom and burn-out
8. RESULTS - Things you can do to get stuff done togetherfaster.