Radical Candor | Book Review

“Am I showing my team that I care personally?”
“Am I challenging each person directly?” (p. 172)

Kim Scott shares a personal, insider’s view of leadership in Silicon Valley. Read her deep and candid acknowledgement (pp. 233-238) section first, and consider what Scott poured into this book. Consider Radical Candor a contemporary guideline how to conduct Crucial Conversations as part of an everyday leadership approach.

Scott shares many classical, hard-driving, management focused traits at the beginning of her career. Eventually, she found herself caring less and less about the core business metrics, instead figuring out how to define and teach others this “better way” to be a boss that she had developed (p. xiv).

An organic development -- from manager to coaching-leader -- anchors the book. Scott realized that a boss’s ability to achieve results had a lot more to do with listening and seeking to understand than it did with telling people what to do (p. xvi).

Part one frames the current leadership landscape and introduces the Radical Candor Quad Chart and Get Stuff Done (GSD) wheel, while part two explains how to apply Scott’s tools and techniques as a modern, effective leader. This review summarizes key leadership principles (and relevant Academy Leadership workshops) from each of the two sections. Chapter Three: Understand What Motivates Each Person on Your Team– may be considered the anchor of her book.

New Leadership | Trust | Feedback

In our Leader’s Compass workshops, we define what leadership means to us and learn that credibility and trust form the foundation of effective relationships. Scott’s definition of a leader: 

Bosses guide a team to achieve results. (p. 6)

She comments that very few people focus first on the central difficulty of management (via her colleague Ryan): establishing a trusting relationship with each person who reports directly to you (p. 7).

Radical Candor may occur when we care about our whole self and care about each of the people who work for us as a human being (p. 9). How do we challenge others directly? Scott informs us the hardest part of building this trust (challenge directly) is inviting people to challenge ourselves (p. 14) first.

According to Scott, challenging others is better than passivity, or if you can’t be Radically Candid, being Obnoxiously Aggressive is the second-best thing you can do (p. 25).

radical candor quad.png

Both left-hand quadrants, Ruinous Empathy and Manipulative Insincerity are to be avoided, likely the result of sustained conflict avoidance. Manipulative insincerity happens when we don’t care enough about a person to challenge them directly (p. 30).

Scott challenges the classical  9 Box Matrix talent model developed by McKinsey in the 1970s (p. 46), preferring the word growth to potential. Or put another way, she believes everyone has potential, but not everyone aspires to the same vocational goals. This was a belated, yet significant realization for Scott, and says a lot about her leadership philosophy.

For example, people in a superstar phase are bad at rock star (think steady performer not seeking promotion) roles, and people in a rock star phase will hate a superstar role (p. 49). Recall in our Coaching to Develop Leaders workshops, that our ultimate scorecard as leaders will reflect how well we coach the average (think rock star rather than superstar) performers.

To achieve collaboratively what you could never achieve individually, you need to care about the people you’re working with, which leads to Scott’s Get Stuff Done (GSD) wheel (p. 81).

The wheel starts at the top with listening. As with a knowledge sharing process (see The Knowing-Doing Gap), Scott instructs we may create a culture of listening by (p. 86):

radical candor cycle.png

1. having a simple system for employees to use to generate ideas and voice complaints,
2. making sure that at least some of the issues raised are quickly addressed,
3. regularly offer explanations as to why the other issues aren’t being addressed.

Take a look at debate. It’s an unusual listing. Scott reminds us the spirit with which a debate is launched often determines the tenor of what follows (p. 95), like the safezone from Crucial Conversations.

Recall a good leader explains why, rather than rely on pure authority. Scott emphasizes classic steps of persuasion: pathos, logos, and ethos representing emotion, logic and credibility, respectively (p. 102). She implores continuous learning, even when pressure to be consistent and burnout conspire against us (p. 108-109), as the hallmark of a continuously growing leader.

Tools & Techniques | Feedback | E2L

Recall day one of a Leadership Excellence Course, and particularly the Energize2Lead workshop, focuses on learning about ourselves. Scott likewise prioritizes the same: The essence of leadership is not getting overwhelmed by circumstances. You can’t give a damn about others is you don’t take care of yourself (pp. 114-115). Scott cautions against treating values sharing as a merely a writing exercise. The most important thing to do is to stay in touch with your personal values, and to live them (p. 121).

After learning about ourselves, we may then learn about others. As in our Feedback workshops, Scott promotes using the “platinum rule”, or figuring out what makes other people comfortable, and doing just that (p. 124).

On page 129, Scott introduces a Guidance Box, similar to a Johari Window, which includes Praise and Criticism on one axis, and Get from, Give to & Encourage between along the other axis (p. 129). This aligns well with the three forms of feedback: (see Thanks for the Feedback) Appreciation, evaluation and coaching. Continuous coaching leads to positive outcomes. Scott captures a very good list of coaching questions on pages 204-205.

Scott shares many examples and stories that essentially describe her growth as a coach. She attributes a noteworthy quote to Fred Kofman: (Conscious Business

“Is there anything I could do or stop doing
that would make it easier to work with me?” 
(p. 132)

Scott reflects that one of the funniest things about becoming a boss is that it causes an awful lot of people to forget everything they know about how to relate to other people (p. 142). For example, it’s important to have career conversations in which you get to know each of your direct reports better, learn what their aspirations are, and how to help them achieve those dreams (p. 174).

A terrific chart is included (p. 197) comparing traits of Absentee Management, Partnership and Micromanagement models. One example is Hands-off, ears off, mouth off; Hands-on, ears on, mouth off; and Hands-on, ears off, mouth on, for each of the three traits, respectively.

Another golden nugget: Scott shares a list of different meeting types (p. 200), and emphasizes that 1:1, or face-to-face meetings are the most important:

1.   1:1 Conversations
2.   Staff Meetings
3.   Think Time
4.   “Big Debate” Meetings
5.   “Big Decision” Meetings
6.   All-Hands Meetings
7.   Meeting-Free Zones
8.   Kanban Boards
9.   Walk Around
10. Be Conscious of Culture

Imagine how effective each of your meetings would be if the objective or type meeting is announced in advance with specified outcomes.


The ultimate goal of Radical Candor
is to achieve results collaboratively. (p. 199)

Scott Sheffer, who took over Scott’s job when she left Google, said repeatedly that the single most important thing she’d done to help him set him up for success was to focus on the team’s culture. (p. 224)

Note: Kim Scott generously provided a copy of her book for review.

JE | June 2018