Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

Reviewed on , book by Kim Malone Scott

I thought this would be a book about just the concept of Radical Candor: to give feedback early and often, by both being direct and it coming through that you care about the person personally. The book gets a lot of shit because it’s been misused in phrases such as: “Let me be radically candid with you, [feedback that is direct but does not demonstrate you care about the person’s growth].” However, it turned out to be one of, if not the, best management book I have read. It is filled to the brink with practical advice on leading teams through various situations. One Russian analogy in the book is about a guy who loves his dog so much that when he needs to amputate its tail he cuts off an inch of his dog’s tail a day. Summarizes things well.

A rough, ultra-condensed summary of some points I liked. Teams cannot be just super-stars, they need a healthy mix of them and rockstars that serve as the foundational bedrock of a team. She stresses again and again that you can’t ignore your highest performers. If they did well in a meeting, but you think they can do really well, give them that feedback. It’s too easy to focus too much on your low performers. It reminds me of a study that airlines increase revenue more by elevating mediocre experiences to excellent (e.g. by offering good service and a free drink) than by attempting to lift negative experiences to mediocre. People change their growth trajectory from year to year. It can be a disfavour to them to assume they want to grow as fast or as slow as previously. Let your long relationship compound, not rust.

Kim has one of the fairest chapters on letting people go I’ve ever read. Assume for a moment that it’s their role, not their person. What would have to change? What role might they be able to do excellent in? Look at their bright spots. When you approach performance-management this way, even if it doesn’t work out, you can be a reference in finding them a new job if you fundamentally don’t believe they suit your business. I have yet to see this in real life, but I can see how you could get there. There’s a lid for every pot.

There’s much more in the book, but today if someone would ask me: “I am a new manager. What is the first book I should read?” It would be Radical Candor. Kim knows her shit, and she’s learned from the best.