Last weekend, I was watching Silicon Valley. I love this show because of how it accurately skewers the business and tech worlds. Sometimes, for the sake of humor, it gets things really wrong like in the episode called "Chief Operating Officer."
On this episode, the audience was introduced to the character Ben who was being interviewed for a COO position. During the interview, Ben says he practices something called "radical candor," which he explains is about telling the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is, adding the first tenant is to "just say what you think."
After watching the episode, you might come away thinking radical candor is just some new tech leadership style where you get to say whatever you think, #nofilter, no matter what the circumstances. And perhaps be glad you don't work for such a boss.
This portrayal of radical candor couldn't be farther from the truth. According to Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, the character's behavior was "a clear-cut case of Obnoxious Aggression" and "Manipulative Insincerity" as Ben went from speaking his mind unfiltered to claiming he was speaking his mind but lying instead.
If you want to know what radical candor sounds like, Scott said, "The person on the show who showed Radical Candor was Jared when he told Richard, 'If you're really going to start working with Ben, at least give Dana the common courtesy of telling him the truth about what you are doing. Because if you don't tell him, you're the dog."'
So what is radical candor?
Developed by Scott, a real Silicon Valley veteran whose leadership enriched companies like Google, Apple, Dropbox, and Qualtrics, the goal of radical candor is to build positive relationships with your employees so they will be receptive to your constructive feedback. It is not to horrify them with your unfiltered truth. In the end, it's all about being a kick-ass boss by caring personally for employees and challenging them directly.
Caring personally is about finding time to have real conversations with employees. It goes beyond the human-resource-safe idea of "being professional."
According to Scott, caring personally is about giving a damn about what happens to your people because everything that happens at work is personal, no matter that it's happening in an office.
At my company, I adopt Scott's advice by establishing trusting relationships with my direct reports. Besides listening to stories about what's going on in their lives and getting to know their dogs (we have a dog-friendly office), I'm also engaged and connected with them.
For our marketing huddles, I always check in personally with how everyone is doing. Or when my sales partner is looking stressed, I take her aside to see what's going on and how I can help. Checking in is essential to fine-tuning employee culture.
I put "Check personal development goal" on each meeting's agenda. Instead of constantly asking them how their work is, have they reached their targets, etc. I get to ask them how many times they've skied this season, or if they like that gym they wanted to join.
The second part of her radical candor philosophy is to challenge people directly. Challenging directly is about telling people when their work needs improvement--and when it's great (which we also need to do more of as leaders).
For Scott, challenging directly means caring enough about your team to point out what's going well, what's not going well, admitting your own mistakes, and making commitments to fix them
At my marketing meetings, for example, I always ask what's working, what's not, and how can it be improved. This way the meeting becomes more about problem-solving than apportioning blame. When employees realize that feedback is about learning how to improve, they offer more ideas and give more candid critiques.
Through this learning process, my company has significantly increased our business, we've been featured in the Inc. 5000 fastest growing businesses three years in a row, and I like to think I've become a kick-ass boss without losing my humanity.