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Radical Candor—Common Sense Can (and Needs to) Be Taught

At a one-day conference I attended recently, three different speakers used the word “radical.” I took it as a sign that it was time to read Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. This book is hot off the press, just published in 2017, and is clearly making the rounds of management, as evidenced by stories I’m hearing from people about their workplace cultures.

If I can be radically candid, I initially thought the author suffered from “I/Me/My Syndrome.” I had a boss once that, no matter what the topic, could always turn it into a story about himself. So I had some bias that caused me to struggle in the beginning. The author did explain at the end of the book that her use of personal stories was intentional. She enjoys learning through stories, as many of us do, and believes it’s important in getting your message across. I do think it’s possible to use stories that don’t include you with equal effectiveness. Malcolm Gladwell is a great example of an author who can do this.

Conversely, the second half of the book positively flowed for me. It focuses on the tools and techniques to use in developing an effective, efficient, inviting workplace. I wished I had read a book like this years ago, as it would have informed my teaching, specifically the part about “when you know something deeply, it’s hard to remember that others don’t.” (p. 105)

Much of the content of Chapter 7 could be as instrumental in teaching methods of career counseling as it is in managing businesses. Scott’s story of her colleague, Russ Laraway, and his development of a Career Conversations method of management is a great career counseling resource! (pp. 174-181) He even came up with a handy tool to help people figure out future career goals and how they can take specific actions toward attaining them. He asks people to come up with three to five different future scenarios, create a document with a column for each scenario, and then list the skills needed to achieve them as rows. He has his employees further clarify where they feel that are at in terms of competency in those skills, and identify how they might go about getting or strengthening the skills in the next several months. Perfect career counseling!

The underlying premise of Radical Candor is that ineffective management communication styles (ruinous empathy, manipulative insincerity or obnoxious aggression) should be replaced by personally caring and directly challenging (radical candor). Part 2 gives concrete steps on how to avoid management mistakes in important areas such as hiring and firing and how to make meetings and workflow more effective. Much of it seems like common sense, but judging by how often leadership struggles to manage effectively, there are many lessons to be learned here.

This book deserves its place on the New York Times bestseller list.

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