Managing people is hard work. It’s easy to want the title of manager, but many people lack the willingness to be an emotional babysitter, says entrepreneur Kim Scott in her book, Radical Candor: How to Be a Great Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. “We undervalue the ‘emotional labor’ of being the boss,” says Scott. “That term is usually reserved for people who work in the service or health industry like psychiatrists, nurses, doctors, waiters, flight attendants.”
Only 18 per cent of managers have a high degree of leadership skills to manage talent according to the Gallup State of the American Worker report. Such skills include being able to motivate every individual on a team, build relationships, and boldly review performance.
In a practical and highly-detailed guidebook, Scott shows managers and leaders real-life examples of how to give guidance, care deeply, and develop strong relationships with teams, without being obnoxious, aggressive, or mean. Here are four do’s and don’ts for the job straight from Scott’s book:
ON CARING FOR YOUR TEAM MEMBERS: Don't avoid saying the hard things.
Human decency is something that every person owes each other, regardless of position. Only when you care about the whole person with your whole self can you build a relationship with each person and your team. Care enough to say the hard things that team members need to hear, and forget the old adage, "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all." It's your job to say it. Show you care by helping them grow and improve.
Scott first learned the crucial importance of caring personally in the 1990s when she was working in Moscow. Her goal was to convince 10 of the world’s best diamond cutters to leave the state-owned Russian factory; Scott was trying to motivate them to be paid in U.S. dollars. Well, they didn’t want the money. After a long picnic, Scott learned that they really wanted to know one thing: if everything went to hell in Russia, would Scott get them and their families out of there? She then realized that the most important thing she could do was to simply give a damn, personally. They took the job.
ON HOW TO GIVE GOOD GUIDANCE: Don’t sandwich criticism between bogus positives.
Guidance is called feedback. People dread feedback— both the praise, which can feel patronizing, and especially the criticism. When you criticize someone without even taking two seconds to show you care, your guidance feels obnoxiously aggressive to the recipient. There are two dimensions to good guidance: care personally and challenge directly.
Scott shares a lesson from her own experience: Once after a meeting with Google Co-founder Larry Page, Scott received very productive but extremely direct feedback from Sheryl Sandberg: “You are one of the smartest people I know, but saying ‘um’ so much makes you sound stupid.” Even though it stung a bit, Scott said this about Sandberg’s feedback: She said I “sounded” stupid rather than I was stupid. And I wasn’t in this alone: she offered tangible help, I didn’t feel like an idiot with defects, but a valuable team member she was ready to invest in.
ON BEING DIRECT: Don’t challenge people for things that don’t matter.
Challenging people takes real energy, so do it only for the things that truly matter. It takes getting used to, but if you stick to it, you’ll find that you learn a great deal about yourself and how people perceive you. A good rule of thumb for any relationship is to leave three unimportant things unsaid each day.
Scott shares a story about one of the most radically candid managers at Google. A few years ago, he became the president of a five-hundred-person online advertising platform in Beijing. There were significant problems with the business, so he came clean to everyone on the board and his team. He went to extraordinary lengths to show his team he cared personally and would do everything to help them be successful, including mortgaging his home so they could be paid on time. He now runs one of the most successful businesses in China.
ON MAKING DECISIONS: Don’t tell people what to do.
Bosses aren’t always the deciders; rather, bosses should encourage debate according to Scott. She says that decisions really didn’t get made by authority at Google— not even by the founders.
Once a team of engineers suggested a solution to a problem that was different than what Co-founder Sergey Brin wanted. He hit the table with frustration and said, “If this were an ordinary company, you’d all be doing it my way. I just want a couple of people to try my idea!” Scott says his grin showed that he was proud of a team that could stand up to him.