Radical Candor: 5 Lessons on Being a “Kick-Ass Boss”

boss lessons radical candor

Silicon Valley is one of the most competitive hiring environments in the world.

The best of the best go toe-to-toe for even entry-level jobs at the top companies like Google, Facebook and Apple. But to court that type of talent, companies have had to go beyond Friday happy hours and break room ping-pong tables to win recruits. To really attract the very best, companies have had to do what they do best: apply a scientific mindset to developing corporate culture, finding what user experience is most conducive to productivity and employee retention. In many cases, it all comes down to managers and how employees relate to them.

Enter Kim Scott, legendary Silicon Valley CEO coach and a former executive at Google and Apple. She’s now written the book on how to be a great boss called Radical Candor and has started a management consulting firm of the same name, aiming to help other bosses work better with their reports. To help you apply Scott’s CEO guru mindset, here are our five favorite lessons from her new book, Radical Candor.

Lesson #1: Caring is part of the job

We’re all busy—that’s no secret. Bosses, especially, feel the time crunch and may try to cram their entire relationships with their reports into an elevator ride’s worth of small talk. According to Scott, that’s not going to build the kind of relationship needed to get things done. Instead, the time spent learning about employees and their lives is not time wasted—it’s central to the boss’ mandate.

For example, let’s say that talented account manager Tim’s work begins to slack. His productivity is down and he seems distracted. A boss who has not built a relationship with him might criticize him or reassign his work, putting Tim on the road to eventually quitting or being fired. A boss who has learned to care about her employees, however, might take Tim aside and ask him if everything is okay as she’s noticed his typically excellent work has not been up to his usual standards lately. She might then learn that his father died in the last week and he’s been distracted trying to help with funeral arrangements. This boss then might do well to give Tim time to grieve and recover so that he can return to work in a better frame of mind and bring the full force of his talents to the table for years to come. A boss who doesn’t care about her employees would never learn this information and would risk needlessly losing a terrific employee over a personal tragedy.

Also read: Three Traits of Successful ‘Superbosses’ – and One to Avoid

Lesson #2: Be direct

While everyone has a story of the mean boss who seemed to live for unconstructive criticism, many also have encountered the people-pleasing boss who wants too much to be liked. This boss may wish to avoid honest feedback at all cost. This boss, however, is doing no one any services. Clear and direct feedback is not mean. It is necessary, Scott writes. What is mean is firing an employee who has never had a chance to correct his errors because his boss was too afraid to offer direct and actionable guidance when it was relevant. Scott confesses that she, once, was guilty of doing just that. 

Lesson #3: Welcome feedback 

A healthy employee-report relationship has to be a two-way street. Every boss should welcome and encourage honest feedback from her employees as a way to begin building the trust necessary to their relationship. Employees will often be reluctant to be honest and critical with their bosses. Scott writes that it’s important that each boss find a strategy that will open the door to frank discussions where employees feel they can be heard, even when their feedback is not glowing. That way, when the time comes for the boss to offer criticism, the relationship is strong enough to withstand it.

Also read: How to Provide Feedback to Your Boss

Lesson #4: Don’t wait for the annual review 

Feedback should be given often in the workplace. Waiting for an annual review can make critiques feel irrelevant and personal. Rather, a boss should seek to do short check-ins with her employees whenever a relevant issue arises. However, Scott cautions, informal, frequent check-ins do not mean that a boss can be flippant about giving critiques. It is always necessary to give criticism to employees privately.

Lesson #5: Recognize where employees are in their career and honor that choice

Not every employee wants speed through promotions to reach the C-Suite. Not every employee wants to be the team backbone and stay in his role for a decade. Every employee has his own career trajectory—and that trajectory can change from year to year. A good boss, Scott writes, must recognize where her employees are on their personal career trajectories and help them move forward accordingly.

For example, if she has a fabulous salesman on her team, she may think the only way to reward him is through a promotion. However, she may find in discussions with him that he really is happy where he currently is and does not aim to be a manager. By taking the time to understand his motivations, she will avoid putting him in a role where he is not equipped or driven to succeed.

Bottom Line: 

The era of the cold and distant professional relationship with one’s reports may no longer be effective or productive. Instead, Scott explains that bosses must build personal and caring relationships with their employees to create a positive, productive and thriving work environment where honest feedback is welcomed and implemented without hurt feelings. For more, check out Kim Scott’s book: Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.