Highlights from “Radical Candor”

Do we really need a book about being candid? Well, that is a topic for another blog as we do live in interesting times :)

Based on personal practice and experience, I am interested in the topic of candor at work. So, I picked up this book.

This was a good follow-up to “High Output Management” (HOM) as this book does deep dive into the “what” and “how” of being radically candid while HOM alludes to how management can benefit from radical candor.

The book has two parts. The first focuses on what and why of radical candor while the second focuses on the how/practice of radical candor both as an individual setting and as an enabling organization. In addition, the book is filled with real world examples from different companies with sufficient contextual information to ensure the exposition is balanced. I really liked this part.

My only qualm with the book was that it could have been more succinct. Besides that, the book has lots of useful and actionable information.

Now for the highlights. Here are few of my highlights. As I read the book through the lens of management, many of these highlights may be more focused on management (instead of radical candor).

  1. Radical Candor is that command and control can hinder innovation and harm a team’s ability to improve the efficiency of routine work. Bosses and companies get better results when they voluntarily lay down unilateral power and encourage their teams and peers to hold them accountable, when they quick trying to control employees and focus instead on encouraging agency.
  2. That is what happens in Ruinous Empathy — you’re so fixated on not hurting a person’s feelings in the moment that you don’t tell them something they’d be better off knowing in the long run.
  3. Compassion is empathy plus action.
  4. Compassionate Candor engages the heart (care personally) and the mind (challenge directly).
  5. “We hire people who tell us what to do, not the other way round.”
  6. All teams need stability as well as growth to function properly; nothing works well if everyone is gunning for the next promotion.
  7. “Management and leadership are like forehand and backhand. You have to be good at both to win”
  8. Guidance, team, and results: these are the responsibilities of any boss.
  9. Very few people focus first on the central difficulty of management that Ryan hit on: establishing a trusting relationship with each person who reports directly to you.
  10. Your three responsibilities as a manager: 1) to create a culture of guidance (praise and criticism) that will keep everyone moving in the right direction; 2) to understand what motivates each person on your team well enough to avoid burnout or boredom and keep the team cohesive; and 3) to drive results collaboratively.
  11. The key to getting everyone used to being direct when challenging each other (and you!) is emphasizing that it’s necessary to communicate clearly enough so that there’s no room for interpretation, but also humbly.
  12. People who are more concerned with getting to the right answer than with being right make the best bosses.
  13. Not all artists want to own a gallery.
  14. Plenty of individual contributors remain on a steep growth trajectory their entire careers, and plenty of managers are on a gradual growth trajectory.
  15. It’s a boss’s job to put the team’s work in context, and if you share why the work gives you meaning, that can help others find their own inspiration. But remember, it’s not all about you.
  16. You [the manager] must take the time to help the people doing the best work overcome obstacles and make their good work even better.
  17. A lot of companies ration the number of top ratings. Avoiding “grade inflation” is a good idea.
  18. If a person enjoys teaching and answering questions [and they are good in that area], by all means encourage and reward them for doing it.
  19. The best way to keep superstars happy is to challenge them and make sure they are constantly learning…..my team and I were lucky to have them [superstars] in our orbit for a little while, but trying to hold them there was futile.
  20. Assuming that people who are not thriving are therefore “mediocre’ and can’t do any better is both unjust and unkind. Allowing them to continue down that path may be the worst case of Ruinous Empathy that managers regularly display and a great source of wasted possibility.
  21. Is it time to fire her? There’s no absolute answer to that question, but here are three questions to consider: have you given her Radically Candid guidance, do you understand the impact of Peggy’s performance on her colleagues, and have you sought advice from others?
  22. Just because the person is not good at the job they do for you doesn’t mean there isn’t another job out there they could be great at.
  23. It’s not always clear when you are giving people an opportunity to grow and when you are sending them into the lion’s den.
  24. Make sure that you are seeing each person on your team with fresh eyes every day. People evolve, and so your relationships must evolve with them. Care personally; don’t put people in boxes and leave them there.
  25. “I didn’t say Steve [Jobs] is always right. I said he always gets it right. Like anyone, he is wrong sometimes, but he insists, and not gently either, that people tell him when he’s wrong, so he always get is right in the end”
  26. Steve [Jobs] got it right by being willing to be wrong and by insisting that the people around him challenge him.
  27. You have to find a way to listen that fits your personal style, and then create a culture in which everyone listens to each other, so that all the burden of listening doesn’t fall on you.
  28. “It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
  29. As a boss, you are the editor, not the author.
  30. It’s not just important to understand new ideas clearly; it’s equally important, and often more difficult, to understand the people to whom your team will have to explain the ideas clearly.
  31. Pixar has a technique calling “plussing.” Rather than saying “No, that is a bad idea,” people must offer a solution to the problem they are pointing out. [To learn more about how Pixar manages creativity, read “Creativity Inc.]
  32. Make thoughts/ideas drop-dead easy for others to comprehend.
  33. Keep the conversation focused on ideas not egos.
  34. Kick-ass bosses often do not decide themselves, but rather create a clear decision-making process that empowers people closest to the facts to make as many decisions as possible.
  35. The decider should get facts, not recommendations.
  36. You need to learn toggle between leading and executing personally.
  37. What we bring to work depends on our own heath and well-being.
  38. The essence of leadership is not getting overwhelmed by circumstances.
  39. Be relentlessly insistent on bringing your fullest and best self to work — and taking it back home again.
  40. You already spend a lot of hours every day with your colleagues and direct reports. Use that time to build relationships. For the most part, it’s better to use the time after work to keep yourself centred than to socialize with work colleagues.
  41. Even non-mandatory events can feel mandatory.
  42. You do need to respect other people’s values when they do share them with you.
  43. Listen with intent to understand, not to respond.
  44. Listen to and clarify the criticism — but don’t debate it.
  45. Don’t “save up” guidance for a 1:1 for a performance review.
  46. Your job as the boss is to help them think about how they can acquire those skills: what are the projects you can put them on, whom can you introduce them to, what are the options for education?
  47. An effective staff meeting has three goals: it reviews how things have gone the previous week, allows people to share important updates, and forces the team to clarify the most important decisions and debates for the coming week.
  48. Becoming a boss is like getting arrested. Everything you say or do can and will be used against you.
  49. “If something’s in your way, it’s always your job to fix it!”

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Programming, experimenting, writing | Past: SWE, Researcher, Professor | Present: SWE

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