book cover
“When bosses are too invested in everyone getting along, they also fail to encourage the people on their team to criticize one another other for fear of sowing discord. They create the kind of work environment where being "nice" is prioritized at the expense of critiquing and therefore improving actual performance.”

Radical Candor Book Review

Radical Candor: How to Get What you Want by Saying What you Mean, Kim Scott, 2019


If you’re sceptical about leadership books don’t start with this one! One reviewer summarised it thus – “Here’s what Google and Apple do. Also, Twitter. I don’t know anybody at Facebook.” It’s a book popularised by strong marketing and TED; plus name dropping, lots of it. That said, really useful tips can be gleaned.

So What? 

Radical candor can be defined as ‘care personally and challenge directly’. The book we reviewed was a revised edition with a 17-page preface which attempted to explain how not to misuse radical candour. It seems many managers were using the book as a manifesto for ruinous empathy, manipulative insincerity and obnoxious aggression. Three things to be avoided, particularly the latter. In part this is a consequence of internal inconsistency within the book, and an imbalance favouring challenging directly over caring personally. The so what here is to cherry pick the very best of the guidance.

“At Apple, as at Google, 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; more to do with debating than directing; more to do with pushing people to decide than with being the decider; more to do with persuading than with giving orders; more to do with learning than with knowing.”

Now What?

Approach any problem with the view that it doesn’t matter who is right, but rather how to get it right. Be clear on your guidance, clarifying what you say. Trust helps, but the more manipulative and aggressive you are perceived to be the less likely it is that you’ll achieve trust. Encourage people to stop complaining and start helping. Do it yourself too.

  • Caring personally begins with quality discussions one to one; challenging directly starts by asking for, and taking, criticism yourself
  • Give hard feedback when necessary but show the person you are giving it to that you care about their feelings. “It hurts, I know, but we have to deal with it”.
  • Praise in public, criticize in private and don’t personalize
  • Learn about what motivates each person on your team
  • Accepting mediocrity is not good for anybody. Tolerating bad performance is unfair to people performing well
  • Address performance problems as soon as possible. Before firing someone, ask yourself: did I give this person radical candor guidance, what is the impact of this person’s performance on our colleagues, what advice did I get from others? 
  • Clarify everything you say. People will try to use your thoughts to do stuff. Be sure they understand correctly

The most telling bit of guidance to managers is to Listen -> Clarify -> Debate -> Decide -> Persuade -> Learn, in that order. On the cover of the book the author is described as a ‘kickass boss.’ If you can set the kickass style aside, you can get a lot from what’s in this book.

Once you’ve finished this book and for a really great insight into feedback there’s the ThreeWhats High Performers and ThreeWhats Mindset Playbooks.