Radical Candor by Kim Scott

★★★★ Recommended for all managers

Goodreads, Amazon

I read Radical Candor when it came out last spring, and recently reviewed it for a book discussion at work. I was struck by how much the core concepts have stuck with me and influenced my management philosophy.

The heart of the book is captured in the simple two-by-two matrix below: good management requires caring personally about people and giving them direct feedback to help them perform better. If you don’t want the best for people (and show it), direct feedback is (or will be perceived as) simply obnoxious. If you fail to give people actionable feedback, you’re not giving them the help they need to excel.

The theory is simple, but in my experience seeing the combination done well is quite rare. In my coaching capacity, I often find myself advising managers not to neglect one dimension or the other, and personally I’ve still got a ways to go, although it has gotten easier with practice. But the best managers I’ve had, and the people I’d most want to work for, all perform highly on this scale.

One thing I routinely stress with managers who are reticent to give direct feedback is that caring personally about someone — and understanding their goals — allows you to reframe feedback from “criticizing” to “helping.” This makes it easier to figure out what the feedback should be, since it forces you to think through things from the other person’s perspective, and it makes it much easier to give the feedback, since the conversation no longer needs to feel adversarial.

Beyond introducing the core theory, the book is full of advice for how to execute it well. Strategies like distinguishing between “superstars” (people with a steep growth trajectory) and “rock stars” (people performing solidly, but not growing as quickly) ensure that you are thinking about people as individuals and tailoring your advice to what they need to hear to achieve their goals.

There is also a smattering of other management advice, which is all pretty solid but lacks a framework to make it memorable. Some of it seems like a laundry list of management tactics that the author didn’t want to leave out. I can sympathize with that instinct. I also found the writing somewhat robotic, and the personal anecdotes fell flat for me (except for the “um” story, which is great). Still, all of this is more the norm than the exception for the genre.

Overall, I’m not sure if there’s a better book for new managers.

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