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Lattice Book Report: Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Chances are, you’ve had a “bad boss” experience or maybe you’ve been a boss frustrated about how best to manage your team. In either situation, you may have felt stuck, unsure about how to communicate and mend the situation.Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor”was written to mediate those relationships and think more largely about company culture. Scott, known as a successful manager at Google and Apple, uses her extensive management background in tech to illustrate in detail lessons she’s learned. Her management model, “Radical Candor,” is meant to encourage trust and open dialogue by really getting to know your team, based on the idea that a boss should “give a damn, personally.” Put simply, this book shows you how a good boss behaves, something that too often sounds like a pipe dream but doesn’t have to be.

Scott opens the book recounting a time when she was a really terrible boss at her own company, Juice Software. “I failed to create a climate in which people who weren’t getting the job done were told so in time to fix it,” she writes.

One example in particular -- what she calls the “low point” in her career -- haunts her. (She actually talks about it in depth in our Resources For Humans interview with her.) “Bob” was a likeable person and supportive colleague who lost confidence once he was hired. He spent weeks on a seemingly straightforward document that was completely incomprehensible upon submission. But Scott still told him it was a “good start” and that she’d help him finish. This led to a pattern of behavior from her that bled onto Bob’s team who also tried to cover up for him. Scott eventually realized that she was facing losing her team over Bob’s mistakes and finally confronted Bob and fired him.

He was utterly shocked, and she realized that maybe all this could’ve been avoided if she had openly communicated with Bob from the beginning.

Scott also shares an early lesson about the effects of caring personally. Before becoming a boss, Scott had been ambivalent about becoming one, thinking of them as “robotic dream-killers.” But one particular experience helped changed that. When on assignment at a New York diamond company, Scott was to convince Russian factory workers to leave a state-owned factory which paid them in almost worthless rubles. She thought what would motivate them was a lot of U.S. dollars, but she was wrong.

To her surprise, they asked her to hold a picnic. During this picnic, Scott answered their questions and listened to what they cared about, such as learning about the latest technology and English, and what mattered the most: her ability to help get their families out of Russia, if worse came to worst. They ended up switching over.

From then on, Scott changed her tune. Instead, she saw part of her job as a boss was creating more joy.

Why we love it: 

No nonsense, practical and empathetic approach to how to manage well. Instead of relying on empty platitudes, Scott provides real-life, detailed situations from her own life as well as those from her colleagues. Readers learn not only about her successes but her failures too.

Important insights:

  1. Radical candor facilitates open communication and trust, and squashes resentment. Humility is of utmost importance. It is not a “license to be gratuitously harsh.”
  2. Communicate clearly (but also humbly) so there’s no room for interpretation about what you really mean.
  3. Teams should have a balance of “rock stars” and “superstars.” Rock stars are the people who have “found their groove.” They are the people you rely on the most. Superstars need to be given new opportunities to grow. You need to let go of judgements you have of either group, and know they can change depending on life circumstances.

Quotes:

“Your three responsibilities as a manager: 1) 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 thingswithoutstrong relationships, you are kidding yourself.” (pg 7-8)

“Don’t think for a minute that because you’re a nice person, or because you used to eat lunch every day with the people you now manage, that people won’t see you differently now that you’re the boss, or that they will automatically trust you.” (pg 130)

“Giving guidance as quickly and as informally as possible is anessentialpart of Radical Candor, but it takes discipline—both because of our natural inclination to delay/avoid confrontation and because our days are busy enough as it is.” (pg 140)

Recommended for:

Anyone who manages at least one person.

Anyone who reports to a boss.

Anyone who wants to improve their working relationships and learn to communicate clearly.

Pick up the book here