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Companion Channel EpisodesLeadership

Radical Candor

The desire for harmony prevents many leaders from giving critical feedback. This behavior is driven by the belief that criticism is disrespectful. The opposite is true: Beating around the bush or withholding criticism prevents your employees from learning. And that is disrespectful! This companion channel episode provides the concept of radical candor. It helps leaders to build stronger relationships than ever. And we, of course, share the practical steps to live it.

In order to illustrate this further and to clarify this misunderstanding, we would like to share the concept of radical candor with you today.

It was created by Kim Scott who was a member of the faculty of Apple University before she was leading YouTube, and Online Sales and Operations at Google. She shows that as leaders, it is our moral obligation to be open and direct – this is, to give feedback with radical candor.

For the best possible feedback, we need two dimensions: caring about people’s well-being and the willingness to challenge people. The idea is for leaders to do and demonstrate both at the same time. Because in fact, one without the other is grossly disrespectful! Let’s go through the different constellations. And we are sure you will recognize many own leadership situations from your past – with your bosses or as a leader yourself.

If you only care personally and do not dare to challenge, this is what Kim Scott calls “ruinous empathy”. Leaders in this case, do not want to hurt someone’s feelings. But: they steal the opportunity to learn. We see a lot of this in many different companies.

And then, probably even worse, if you neither challenge nor care, this is what we call “manipulative insincerity”: a leader with this behavior is obviously not interested in his employees’ success or development at all. Maybe he even wants him to fail, so he says nothing at all. These leaders are basically not in contact with their people.

The next constellation is interesting. We call it “obnoxious aggression”, when  a leader only challenges but does not care. He just thinks of getting rid of his message, says what he thinks and does not give a damn whether the other person can take it or not.

And then, finally radical candor! As you know, the upper right corner is always the one to choose. But seriously, if you personally care for your employees and trust them that they can take on a challenge, grow and learn, this is the perfect basis for radical candor. You may express things that feel very uncomfortable for both, you and the employee, but it is necessary to address them if you want to make others successful – and that is exactly what great leaders do. Every single day, not every third Tuesday.

Trust your employees that they can learn from criticism – with your support. Show them respect by actually caring how they are doing and how they can improve. And be fair by letting them know where they stand and how you perceive their work.


Now, how to put this in practice? There are 6 steps for rolling out radical candor as a leader.

Step 1: Share Your Stories

First, you obviously explain radical candor to your team so they understand what you’re up to. Please do that in your own words in order to be authentic. And share your own examples and stories while explaining the concept! This will mean a lot more to your team than other people’s stories, because they mean something to you.

Step 2: Ask for Feedback

The best way to make your team more ​receptive to receiving feedback​ is to ask them to give it to you first. Getting people to challenge you directly can be the difference between success and failure, which means you need to make a concerted effort to get feedback. In case you are really convinced that you are ready for feedback with radical candor then, and only then, we recommend you to use these two guidelines for how to get others to provide honest feedback:

#1 Be persistent: Convince your team you really do want to hear what they really think. Show them that your requests for criticism are genuine and that you sincerely appreciate it when they say what they think. Keep asking for criticism regularly. Do not expect that it comes immediately.

#2 Reward the candor: People need to see and feel that there is a benefit of criticizing you. While it may take time for people to build up enough courage to give difficult feedback, reward small wins along the way.

Step 3: Growth Management: Career Conversations

To build a great team, you need to understand what motivates each team member, and how each person’s job fits into their life goals. Get to know their life stories, their dreams and career plans. Remember, people change, they grow, and you need to change with them! That’s why it’s a good idea to do one round of Career Conversations a year with each of your direct reports during your 1:1 time.

Step 4: Connect in your 1:1 Meetings

Make sure you have regular, meaningful talks with your employees. 1:1s are quiet, focused collaboration time for employees and leaders to connect. You can also schedule them over a meal if that is more comfortable for both of you. Or what about a walking meeting outside? We don´t have to be within the company building only because we are used to.

Step 5: Give Guidance & Feedback

To make sure you’re not praising or criticizing someone’s personality when delivering criticism, make sure that you address to following 4 aspects​:

  1. Context ​– You cite the specific situation.
  2. Observation – Describe what was said or done. Be precise.
  3. Result​ – What is the most meaningful consequence to you or the team?
  4. Next​ – What are the expected next steps?

Step 6: Estimate Feedback

Be aware of the other person’s reaction by listening to what they say, observing their body language and asking yourself, “How do they seem to be feeling?”

Along these 6 steps you are able to build strong, meaningful working relationships with your people. Needless to say, but one cannot stress it enough: it takes time. Quick wins in leadership are rare. So, please, take that time and practice, practice, practice!

And finally, a brief remark for our dear German fellows: we understand that “radical” in our language has a negative connotation. Unfortunately. Because the word goes back to the Latin word “radix”. And that means “roots”. So radical does not describe something too harsh but something that goes to the real essence of an issue. So to speak, the opposite of superficial. If you are interested in dialogues, joint reflections that are not superficial, here is the concept and the steps to live it!

See you next week in our companion channel!

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