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Radical Candor, The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss, by Kim Scott, First Round


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I respect Kim Scott, and think she has a worthwhile framework for understanding how to be a good boss.

The Sheryl Sandberg brutally honest story about UM resonated with me.

To illustrate radical candor in action, Scott shared story about a time her boss criticized her. “I had just joined Google and gave a presentation to the founders and the CEO about how the AdSense business was doing. I walked in feeling a little nervous, but happily the business was on fire. When we told Larry, Sergey and Eric how many publishers we had added over the previous months, Eric almost fell off his chair and asked what resources they could give us to help continue this amazing success. So... I sort of felt like the meeting went okay.”

But after the meeting, Scott’s boss, Sheryl Sandberg, suggested they take a walk together. She talked about the things she’d liked about the presentation and how impressed she was with the success the team was having — yet Scott could feel a “but” coming. “Finally she said, ‘But you said um a lot.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, no big deal. I know, I do that. But who cared if I said um when I had the tiger by the tail?’”

Sandberg pushed forward, asking whether Scott’s ums were the result of nervousness. She even suggested that Google could hire a speaking coach to help. Still, Scott brushed off the concern; it didn’t seem like an important issue. “Finally, Sheryl said, ‘You know, Kim, I can tell I'm not really getting through to you. I'm going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’”

“Now, that got my attention!” Scott says.

For all of us raised in a culture that preaches, “If you can’t say something nice…", that criticism might not sound so nice. But Scott knows now that it was the kindest thing Sandberg could have done for her. “If she hadn't said it just that way, I would've kept blowing her off. I wouldn't have addressed the problem. And what a silly thing to let trip you up.” (Incidentally, she did work with that speaking coach, and kicked her um habit handily.) In the years since, Scott has worked to operationalize what it was that made Sandberg such a great boss.

I should reiterate that radical candor is VERY VERY HARD to do as a manager. It's a big risk emotionally to say something that you're pretty sure at first glance the employee does not want to hear. It can be a big risk legally, particularly for majority-group managers with minority-group direct reports. You might be edging into areas that are ethically or morally challenging -- as any manager who has had a suicidal employee can tell you. It only works if your team members ALREADY perceive you to be deeply interested in their personal welfare. And let's face it, you might take these big risks and the radical candor may not have the desired result! Is it any wonder that so many managers basically chicken out so much of the time?

I think this is one of the biggest reasons why startups with two cofounders tend to be stronger than those with just one. It's psychologically super difficult to have every single person in the company hate you for something you felt you had to do as a manager, which probably you can't explain to them and the employee can. There is so much comfort in knowing you have at least one person who is a peer who can see things from your point of view rather than the employees'.

^ well said Joyce. Both points nail the trouble. Culture may improve the chances that candor is used and succeeds.