Episode 162 — Kim Scott — Radical Candor: How to Be a Kickass Boss

Kim Scott boasts an extremely impressive background, with a BA from Princeton and an MBA from Harvard. She has held leadership positions at renowned companies like Apple and Google, and her coaching expertise extends to CEOs of prominent organizations such as Dropbox and Twitter.

In this captivating episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, Kim sits down with Michael Mogill and unveils the groundbreaking insights that propelled her best-selling book, Radical Candor. She shares invaluable advice for aspiring bosses, equipping them with the essential knowledge to excel in their roles, such as:

  • Why it’s crucial for every CEO to encourage their entire company to provide feedback and criticism
  • Why it’s important for leaders to embrace direct challenges and become comfortable with them
  • How to effectively deliver news of someone’s termination while ensuring they still feel respected and valued
Episode 162 — Kim Scott — Radical Candor: How to Be a Kickass Boss
Show Notes:

Origin of Radical Candor. “Fundamentally, the reason why I wrote the book stems from an early management experience I had. I came into the office — a small software company about 65 people — and about 10 people had sent me the same article. And you know when 10 people send you the same article, you better stop what you’re doing and read it. The article was about how people would rather have a boss who is a real asshole but very competent than one who’s really nice but incompetent. And I thought, ‘Gosh, are they sending me this because they think I’m a jerk or because they think I’m incompetent? Surely those are not my two choices.’ I think for an awful lot of people there is this false dichotomy that you’re either super successful and a bad human being, or you’re a really good human being and kind of a pushover. That is a false dichotomy. So, I think a lot of my management career has been about breaking free of that false dichotomy, and certainly writing Radical Candor is about breaking free of that false dichotomy.”

What is radical candor? “Radical candor means the ability to care personally about someone, but at the same time that you challenge them directly. To me, that’s the essence of being a good boss. It is really the essence of having a good relationship, period. But, in particular, it’s important when you’re the boss because it’s your job to tell people when things are going really well, but it’s also your job to tell them when things are not going so well. And you always want to do both things in a way that shows that you care about the person.”

Receiving public criticism. “There’s one exception to the ‘praise in public, criticize in private’ rule, and that is when you’re the CEO or when you’re the leader of your team. One of the things that I did was I encouraged the people who are most likely to criticize me in private to do it publicly — and I did that for three reasons. One reason was that whatever their criticism was, I could be sure 30 other people had the same criticism. Now I could address that all at once rather than 30 times. It also gave me the opportunity to model for the whole organization how to receive feedback: how to solicit feedback, and how to respond appropriately to it. At the core of good management is a good human relationship. It’s not a friendship — it’s different. One of the things that’s most damaging to a human relationship is a power imbalance, and therefore one of the most important things you can do as a leader is actually put your power down. By soliciting criticism in public, it was a way for me to put my power down and to say, ‘Your opinions matter, and it’s my job to solicit your opinions and to act on them.’”

Solicit authentic feedback. “You’d rather do almost anything else in those two minutes in between meetings than call the person and have this quick conversation. But if you put it into practice, it’s really like brushing and flossing — it’s not like a root canal. It’s something you just get in the habit of doing, and you feel kind of bad when you don’t do it once you get it. The hard thing of course is getting in the habit. One of the things that I recommend doing is saving five minutes at the end of your one-on-ones with people who work for you and asking them to give you feedback. Don’t just say ‘Do you have any feedback for me?’ because if you do that I can already tell you what the answer is: ‘Oh no. Everything’s fine.’ So, you want to figure out how you’re going to ask it, and you need to ask it in a way that feels authentic.”

Praise over criticism. “There was a guy who worked for me whose team often found him intimidating and negative. They were afraid of him a little bit, and he knew it. I was trying to talk to him about this and was trying to give him very specific examples of when he was being negative at the end of meetings, and by the fourth time I pulled him aside, he said, ‘I know. This is my personality. I can’t change it.’ Then, I realized that I was being negative with my feedback, and what I needed to do was a little more positive target identification. I said, ‘I’m going to point out every time I see you get it right. Every time I see you encouraging someone in a meeting, every time I see the positive in a meeting, I’m going to point out when you’re getting it right. We’re going to figure out how to change it that way.’ He later became one of the most beloved leaders at his company. So, remember that radical candor is not all about criticism. It’s even more importantly about praise. Praise shows what success looks like. Praise reminds people of what’s possible, and is a more effective tool in your toolkit than criticism.”

Challenge directly. “These are the moments we fear, but is what usually happens — the person doesn’t hear you or your criticism. The ‘Oh, it’s no big deal. I’m busy. I forgot…’ excuse. That is when you have to forget about caring personally for a moment. That’s when you have to move further out on the ‘challenge directly’ dimension than you might be comfortable moving. In fact, when I was writing Radical Candor, I sent that story that’s in the book to Sheryl and she said, ‘Gosh, did I really say that you sounded stupid? That’s so mean.’ So, it was harder than it seemed for her to move out on the ‘challenge directly’ dimension. It’s hard for all of us. Very few people are eager to go there, but you’ve got to go there. It’s your job to clear when someone’s not hearing you.”

What does being a game changer mean to you? “Being a game changer to me means living the life I imagined. The reason why I started my business career was to subsidize my novel-writing habit. Finally at this point, my business career and my writing career have merged in a way that brings me a lot of joy, and I hope helps a lot of other people be their best selves and live the lives they imagined.”

Radical Candor by Kim Scott
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Sergey Brin
Eric Schmidt
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Francoise Brower
Russ Laraway
Christa Quarles
Jason Rosoff
Situation-Behavior-Impact Feedback Tool
Fred Kofman

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