Radical Candor - How to give Feedback without losing your humanity

by The Architect on Dec 18, 2017

'Radical Candour' is a leadership style developed by Kim Scott, a long-time director at Google and advisor to Twitter, Shyp, Rolltape, and others. Here's a personal story Scott shared in a Linkedin article that gets right to its essence:

Kim Scott had just joined Google. She was feeling good after speaking in her first meeting. Sheryl Sandberg took her for a walk afterwards.

Scott says Sheryl praised her a lot. “Finally she said, ‘But you said um a lot.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, no big deal. I know, I do that. But who cared if I said um when I had the tiger by the tail?’”

"Sheryl said, ‘You know, Kim, I can tell I'm not really getting through to you. I'm going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’”

“Now, that got my attention!” Scott says.

Scott knows now that it was the kindest thing Sandberg could have done for her. “If she hadn't said it just that way, I would've kept blowing her off. I wouldn't have addressed the problem. And what a silly thing to let trip you up.” (From this Linkedin article).

Scott calls this the perfect balance of feedback:

  1. challenging directly, but
  2. coming from a core of personal care. Sandberg had already shown that care in 'a thousand small ways', so Scott believed that the feedback was for her development, and took it in her stride.

Radical Candor Chart

Feedback is tricky for all Leaders

We are emotional creatures that are being trained to stifle our emotional response in a professional environment instead of being taught the right way to use our emotions at work. Without that sort of training, most leaders are not giving or receiving meaningful feedback.

That often leads into the 'obnoxious aggression' (criticism without care) or 'ruinous empathy' (never speaking for fear of hurting their feelings) parts of the graph.

Practical lessons for giving Feedback is one of our top-requested topics, and a key technique is making sure you are referring to the person’s behaviour, not the person, in any part of your feedback. Such as with Kim’s boss not referring to her as stupid, but her saying ‘um’ a lot was giving that impression.

(Here's some more useful 'do's and don'ts' of Feedback) »

Is going 'Radical' the right approach?

One thing I will say for it is that it will absolutely help develop the MOST DESIRED leadership trait... that only 25% say their bosses have. Integrity.

Our job here at the Leadership Hub is facilitating Honest Conversations between Leaders. We spend months developing organisations with a learning network to a point where their leaders are comfortable having honest conversations to further their development, and ultimately further the organisation as a whole.

It’s a process, a cultural change, to get to that point.

It takes time to demonstrate your personal care for others and build the rapport necessary for this level of powerful honesty. So, Kim’s Radical Candor won’t give you a map to organisation-wide candid feedback overnight.

But it is absolutely useful for your personal development as a leader in that regard, which is the first step to bigger change.

"Be humble, helpful, offer guidance in person and immediately, praise in public, criticize in private, and don't personalize.

Make it clear that the problem is not due to some unfixable personality flaw.

Share stories when you've been criticized for something similar." Kim Scott

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