AKO Keynote Recap: Practicing Radical Candor with Kim Scott
Creating a positive work culture while doing great work isn’t easy and demands that both managers and employees balance caring for one another and challenging each other when appropriate. As a coach and leader in many high-level Silicon Valley firms, Kim Scott knows firsthand how difficult this can be. But she’s passionate about helping others encourage and support employees while also pushing them to be their best.
Radical candor is a combination of “caring personally and challenging directly” — and it can help you “do the best work of your life and build the best relationships of your career.”
“It’s not mean; it’s clear.”
The idea of radical candor came to Scott while walking with her new and very spirited puppy. Scott loved the dog, but didn’t know how to manage her. One day, while waiting at a light, the puppy ran in front of a cab and nearly missed getting hit. A man watching nearby approached Scott and said something that changed her life.
“I can see you love that dog,” he said, “but you’re going to kill that dog if you don’t teach her to sit.”
In a strong voice, the man commanded her dog to sit —and, for the first time in her life, she did. Then the man looked at Kim and said, “It’s not mean, it’s clear” — and walked off.
Scott was left with a better-behaved dog and the beginnings of a revolutionary concept. This stranger on a street corner had let Kim know he cared, not by being obsequious or overly nice, but by telling her in a caring but firm way precisely what she needed to hear. He had blended care with directness in a way that allowed Scott to be a better dog owner.
Learning how to be candid
Scott applied the stranger’s advice to dog training but also started to use it in work situations. When it comes to caring personally and challenging directly, she realized that most people struggle to find a balance. Some people fall into what Scott calls “obnoxious aggression” — a tendency to forgo the caring part of a work relationship and go for the feedback jugular. Others struggle with what Scott calls “manipulative insincerity” and say things they don’t mean to keep the peace or get people to do what they want.
But Scott says the vast majority of people she knows are genuinely kind and struggle with telling those they manage hard truths that will make them better at their jobs. Most people learn that if they can’t say something “nice,” they shouldn’t say anything at all. In theory, this concept might sound kind, but Scott believes it actually holds people back. To be a good leader, Scott says, you have to turn this idea on its head.
“When you really care about your employees, it’s your obligation to let them know what they’re doing well and what’s not going so well,” Scott says. “Being an effective leader requires courage and intentionality.”
3 tips to better workplace conversations
So how do you apply radical candor in the workplace and inspire a culture of caring and excellence? Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor and Just Work, walked through a compass to help guide workplace conversations to a more candid, productive place. Here are some insights from that discussion:
- Be more than professional. You can’t care personally about others if you show up to work as a robot. Create a culture where people can be more than professional and show up authentically.
- Build real human relationships at work. Relationships don’t scale, but culture does. Care personally about your direct reports and challenge them directly — this creates a culture of radical candor.
- Tell people when their fly is down. Common human decency is the one thing you can offer to every person you work with, regardless of your position — and the kindest thing you can do is help someone be better.
Pavilion members can find the recording of Kim’s session and her slides in our Guru Knowledge Hub.
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