Book Review: Radical Candor

Teamwork depends on communication. Alignment, autonomy, and accountability—the building blocks of happy, productive teams—won’t happen without it. Nor will useful feedback, or personnel conversations that are anything more than downright uncomfortable. Small surprise, then, that Kim Scott’s Radical Candor measures managers by their ability to share timely, direct criticism, and devotes its bulk to helping them deliver.

The first rule of Radical Candor is to “care personally.” Readers won’t need Scott’s background as a manager at Google, and later training managers at Apple University, to recognize the importance of personal relationships. In an era that idolizes superhuman individuals, it’s all too easy to lose track of the different situations and motivations represented within group. Get to know them. Build trust.

The second rule, “challenge directly,” demands frank, frequent feedback. To deliver it without being obnoxious, managers must lean on the existing trust and caring within their team, but—where that trust exists—direct challenges help the team exchange criticism and find the right path. Solicit feedback. Offer it in turn. And celebrate the challenges and sense of agency that result.

At its heart, Radical Candor is a guidebook to the happy path between “ruinous empathy” (the domain of the too-nice boss, uncomfortable correcting mistakes or giving honest feedback until it’s too late), “obnoxious aggression” (candor without caring), and “manipulative insincerity” (which lacks both communication and caring). At its end lies an environment where managers care and their teams are comfortable challenging them.

None of these are radical ideas, but Radical Candor packages them up with excellent prose and memorable examples. Even for those of us working outside blue-chip tech companies, the reminder to develop relationships–and to leverage their results–are well worth a quick read.

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Hey, I'm RJ: sometimes-writer and intermittent micropoet. Broadcasts live from the Rose City.