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Radical Candor for growth leaders

Article originally published in May 2024 by Stuart Brameld. Most recent update in May 2024.

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This article provides a quick overview of Radical Candor, the New York Times bestselling book by Kim Scott, on building better relationships with your employees.

“The ultimate goal of radical candor is to achieve collaboratively what you could never achieve individually”

Kim Scott, Radical Candor

Why growth leaders need radical candor?

If you want to achieve something truly get, you have to care about the people you are working with. As a leader your job is to guide your team to produce results.

The old command and control styles of management can hinder innovation and team efficiency. For all leaders, but perhaps more so in growth, it’s less about control and more about encouraging agency.

In her book, Kim talks about moving from a traditional “talent management” mindset to a “growth management” mindset – something we believe in at Growth Method.

Talent ManagementGrowth Management
Fixed mindsetGrowth mindset
DirectOpen debates
Control, authority and superiorityAutonomy and agency
KnowingLearning and feedback
Being the deciderPushing others to decide

We want to help people do the best work of their lives, to avoid the gravitational pull of organisational mediocracy, and to build some of the best relationships of their careers.

What is not Radical Candor?

Radical Candor is what happens when people care personally and challenge directly at the same time. Understanding what is not can help you better understand what kind, clear, specific and sincere communication looks like.

Ruinous empathy

Most people try to be nice to others. We don’t want to hurt peoples feelings, to upset or offend people. We want to be liked so often avoid giving direct, candid feedback.

But, this often means we avoid telling them things that they are better off knowing in the long run.

Your job as a leader isn’t to be liked, but to care about other people. It’s more important for you to demonstrate that you care, than that you be liked. Leaders need to be others focused, to think about what’s most important for them over your own discomfort in the moment. It’s unkind not to tell people when they’re making a mistake. Think about what’s most important for them and what they want.

Read more about ruinous empathy.

Manipulative insincerity

Manipulative Insincerity is praise that’s non-specific and insincere, or criticism that is neither clear nor kind.

Leaders often give praise and criticism that is manipulatively insincere when they are too focused on being liked, when they think they can gain some sort of political advantage by being fake, or when they are too tired to care or argue anymore

“Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.”

Colin Powell

Read more about manipulative insincerity

Obnoxious aggression

Obnoxious aggression (or acting like a jerk) is what happens when you give clear feedback or challenge someone without being kind. This can involve belittling people, embarrassing them in public or excluding them, and often results from extreme frustration with a situation.

Giving feedback in this way hurts people and it’s inefficient as it often causes people to enter fight or flight mode.

Read more about obnoxious aggression.

What is radical candor?

As a leader you don’t have to choose between being successful and being a jerk – there is another way. Radical Candor is what happens when people care personally and challenge directly at the same time.

source

Care personally

Do things that will create the conditions for a good long-term relationship – have meaningful conversations, understand their life story (past, present and future), understand what motivates them at work and what they want to achieve.

“Only when you care about the whole person with your whole self can you build a relationship”

Some tips on caring personally:

  • Be more than just professional
  • Show vulnerability to people that report to you e.g. admit when you’re having a bad day
  • Be physical e.g. a hug, if appropriate
  • Find time for real conversations
  • Get to know one another
  • Understand how people derive meaning from their work

Invite your team and their partners to your home for a meal is a great way to open yourself up and show you care.

Challenge directly

Challenging directly is equally as important as caring personally. Give direct and specific feedback, especially if you think are likely to be defensive. Gauge how your feedback lands – if it gets brushed off keep pushing, if the person looks upset, move up on the care personally dimension.

Some tips on challenging directly:

  • Tell people when their work isn’t good enough
  • Deliver hard feedback and hold a high bar for results
  • Don’t avoid saying what you really think
  • Take 2 seconds to show you care before criticising (“I can see that you love your job.dog, but …”, “I admire that about you, but …” otherwise your guidance can be obnoxiously aggressive
  • Be specific

How to give feedback

The most important thing you can do for someone who’s really good and really being counted on is to point out to them when their work isn’t good enough.

Steve Jobs

Give praise and criticism, but think more about how to give praise

HIP / HHIIPPP

  • Humble
  • Helpful
  • Immediate
  • In-person
  • Private criticism / Public praise
  • Not about Personality
Humblego into the room being humble. here’s how I understand the situation I want to understand how you understand it. say with humilty – “maybe I’m wrong but it seems like …”

Share a story of when you’ve been criticised e.g. “I always appreciate when people point out to me when I’ve done the same thing”
Helpfulstate your intention to be helpful. be explicit. telling them this to be helpful, not to try and be dominantn Demonstrate you care
Be specific, crystal clear and explain wh
Be invested in helping them improve, and get back on track
Immediatehave the conversations right away, almost immediately. don’t wait for a better moment. don’t say up for a 1 or 1 or performance review, give it in the moment.
In-Personhave conversations synchronously, ideally phone over video (more noise than signal in body language)
Private criticism / Public praisegive praise more focus than criticism – always start with soliciting feedback and offer more praise than criticism. don’t start by what done wrong, start with what had done right. Not the feedback sandwich. shit sandwich. context- > observation -> result -> next step (corn)

context- > observation -> result -> next step (corn)
not about personality – don’t get praise or criticism about personalities. context- > observation -> result -> next step.
Not about Personalitynot about personality – don’t get praise or criticism about personalities. context- > observation -> result -> next step.

Read more about giving feedback

Soliciting feedback

As a leader you should start by actively soliciting and being open to feedback (not by giving it out).

Do *not* say “do you have any feedback for me?”, because nobody really wants to give you criticism. Instead, how one “go to” question, for example:

  • What could I do or stop doing to make it easier to work with me?
  • What’s one thing I could be doing better?
  • What’s one way I could help you be more successful?
  • What’s one way I could help you more?

Write down your question and put in calendar. Use 5 minutes at the end of every weekly 1-to-1 to solicit feedback from your direct reports. Make it part of your weekly routine.

Some tips on soliciting feedback:

  1. however good your question the other person will still feel uncomfortable. be prepared to embrace the discomfort. the only way out is through. so still have to embrace it – close mouth and count to 6. 6 seconds is a really long time.
  2. Listen with intent and then reward the candor listen with the intent to understand, not to respond. you will probbaly feel defensive. best tactic is to think of some follow-up questions.
  3. reward the candor – person takes a huge risk to give critical feedback. so need to reward that feedback richly. if agree, fix the problem, and make your listening tangible. thank you for telling me. demonstrate to people that they are not wasting their breath. what to do when get feedback you don’t agree with? look for the 5-10% of what the person said that you can agree with. as for the rest of it, I want to think about it and get back to you – then must get back to them.
  4. Never accept “no” for an answer (“you know I’m not perfect, I know I’m not perfect. I’d really like you to think of something or notice something for next time, it’s really important for me”)

Additional resources

Radical Candor — The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss https://review.firstround.com/radical-candor-the-surprising-secret-to-being-a-good-boss/

The Radical Candor Get Shit Done Wheel https://www.radicalcandor.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/How-To-Get-Shit-Done-With-Radical-Candor.pdf

When they win you win https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-They-Win-You-Manager-ebook/dp/B09CNF2GPL

“If we have the data about what works, let’s look at the data, but if all we have are opinions, let’s use yours”

Russ Laraway, Cofounder at Candor (adapted from Jim Barksdale at Netscape)