By Phil Klutts
October 13, 2020

Radical Candor identifies skills needed to excel at being the boss

Radical Candor is an engaging read that combines fun anecdotes and practical advice.

Radical Candor: How to Be a Great Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

By Kim Scott

I forgot how much I like this book. Published in 2017, Radical Candor was recommended to me by a colleague two years ago. I read it then and started applying some of the mindsets and tactics. When I picked up the book to begin reviewing my notes and start reading it again, I was reminded of the wisdom included and found more nuggets that I missed the first time. 

Radical Candor’s author, Kim Scott, is a seasoned and well-respected leader in Silicon Valley and beyond. She has managed at Google, Apple, and now leads her own company focused on the ideas in this book. Radical Candor is, at its heart, a how-to book on giving feedback. The book expands on a few ideas beyond the core tenant of feedback. A few of these topics include team development, company culture, running meetings, and diversity.  Much like Never Split The Difference, Radical Candor is an engaging read that combines fun anecdotes and practical advice. 

You might be a boss, but chances are some of you don’t manage people, and you are wondering if this book is for you. Radical Candor can be helpful for anyone who is a boss, has a boss, or is any type of relationship (think spouse, father, daughter, friend, neighbor). The ideas and tactics Scott shares will help you in most, if not all, relationships you have. I’ll stick to the business focus because she focuses on being a boss, (she describes why she likes “boss” and not “manager” or “leader”) and this is a business publication. 

Guiding a team to achieve results

Scott sets the stage by first defining what bosses are responsible to deliver. She says “bosses guide a team to achieve results.” Guidance (feedback), teams, and results all share a single thing at their core: Relationships. The idea of Radical Candor is to build and optimize relationships through two factors. These two factors are to Care Personally and Challenge Directly. Caring Personally means you engage with your whole self and recognize your direct reports as human beings, not just business or abilities, but a whole person. “It’s not just business; it is personal, and deeply personal,” she writes.

Challenging Directly is about telling people when they need to do better. Doing this tends to upset people, but it is “often the best way to show that you care.” Being the boss means that sometimes your team is going to be mad at you. Scott reciprocates this by telling us bosses, in turn, need to receive feedback (even before giving it — that builds trust) and understand they are the one who will be upset. Most of us recover from the anger or being upset when we see results. 

In addition to a 2×2 matrix, Scott uses a simple illustration to easily understand the Care Personally and Challenge Directly models. The four quadrants work like this. If you Care Personally, but don’t Challenge Directly, you ruin the other person’s feelings.  If you don’t care and don’t challenge then you are insecure and manipulative. If you don’t care but you challenge, then you are obnoxiously aggressive. Finally, if you combine Caring and Challenging, then you are in the sweet spot. Now, to use the example in the book, apply those four quadrants to a colleague who has just walked out of the bathroom with their fly down. Do you give them feedback out loud and with embarrassment? Do you do so privately with care, or do you withhold the feedback out of fear or embarrassment? 

Throughout the book, Scott sprinkles in stories of her past with the likes of Steve Jobs and a crew of diamond cutters she managed in Russia. She taps in to the cultures at Google and Apple to share with us ways to make our company culture better. The book is split into two parts that make it easy to digest and reference for tips. Part One helps level-set and encourage you on the hardships of being a boss. Part Two conveys many tips and techniques on how to be a better boss. For me, one of the benefits beyond the feedback of Radical Candor is the time Scott spends sharing about team development. Building and maintaining great teams is hard, and there are great tips in this book to help. 

Giving feedback and having difficult conversations will always be a part of business and being a boss. Radical Candor offers a way to do this effectively and without feeling defeated. If you are going to lead a team to better results, then this is a book that will help you do so. 

As a caveat, There are a couple instances of minor vulgar language in this book. It’s easy to filter out these and get the benefits described above. But if you are totally against or offended by curse words then you might consider skipping this book. 

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About Phil Klutts

Phil is an Edmond native and has managed to keep his wife here instead of traveling the world, which they both enjoy. They have two boys who love the outdoors, adventures, and learning new things. Phil is a problem-solver at heart and enjoys connecting people to the resources they need.

In addition to being the co-owner of Edmond Business, Phil founded the CK Group LLC after working for large and small businesses in the Energy, Construction, and Fitness industries. He focuses on helping small businesses and entrepreneurs improve their systems and processes. CK Group LLC's mission is to eliminate chaos and create clarity for small business by connecting vision, strategy, and implementation.