“Be brutally honest.” That was the advice a dealer-principal shared at a recent best practice group that I lead. This insight got the group talking about how best to achieve good results from employees, colleagues, vendors, etc. His choice of words sparked discussion on if and how to provide feedback, and what to expect in return.
Literally the next day I heard the phrase “radical candor” while listening to the radio and my ears perked up — maybe we’re onto something interesting with two similar references back to back. I listened to Kim Scott, a former executive of Apple and Google, describing the idea behind her best-selling book “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.” Many of the concepts in this article come from her website (www.RadicalCandor.com).
As I listened more, I realized that farm country people management is not so far from Silicon Valley.
Care Personally and Challenge Directly
Let’s illustrate the concept of radical candor with a situation.
Suppose you have a precision farming specialist, let’s call him Dan, who is one of your high potential employees. You’ve just observed Dan presenting your precision farming capabilities to a group of your best customers and prospects. The content of the presentation was informative, accurate and timely, but Dan’s speech patterns used “Um” or “You know” many times in his talk. His manner of presenting got in the way of the good ideas he was presenting. He thought he had done a good job.
What do you do? Here are some possible ways to give feedback to Dan, if you decide to do so (which you certainly should).
Option A: “You really ruined your presentation by the way you presented.”
Option B: “You should feel good about your presentation, but I wish you would have done better.”
Option C: “Good job, you really laid it out well. Let’s get to work.”
Option D: “You can do better. You reduced the impact of your excellent content with the way you presented. That made you look like less of a professional than I know you are. To be most effective, you must speak without hesitation or repeating ‘you know’ several times.”
The Radical Candor approach has two dimensions — how much you care personally and how much you challenge directly (“Be brutally honest”).
Of the possible responses,
- Option A is an example of Obnoxious Aggression. This happens when you challenge but don’t care. It’s praise that doesn’t feel sincere or criticism that isn’t delivered kindly.
- Option B is an example of Ruinous Empathy. This is when you care but don’t challenge. It’s praise that isn’t specific enough to help the person understand what was good or criticism that is sugarcoated and unclear.
- Option C is Manipulative Insincerity, which happens when you neither care nor challenge. It’s praise that is non-specific and insincere or criticism that is neither clear nor kind.
- Option D is an example of Radical Candor, which is the ability to challenge directly and show you care personally at the same time.
Basically, radical candor is being brutally honest with your employees and team members and expecting the same in return. Being brutally honest can be an HR nightmare, but what is wrong with giving honest, fair feedback in a respectful way? Yes, delivery is everything, but not delivering the message in some fashion is a failure on your part as a leader. How can you make your company and employees better if you are not giving them constructive feedback, debriefing on a major mistake or coaching them in areas they need improvement?
Over the course of a week, for every criticism you deliver, give 2-3 compliments. But don’t just give the compliment to soften the candor. Give compliments when people deserve it, otherwise people will feel that you are being manipulative or inauthentic. If your team member did something great, let them know. And if they did something wrong, let them know that too.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Radical Candor to Be a Radically Awesome Leader
Here are some Dos and don’ts of Radical Candor, according to Adam Hergenrother, founder and CEO of Hergenrother Enterprises. Hergenrother Enterprises works to develop leaders and businesses world wide.
DO practice constructive criticism. Often the criticism is taken very personally when it comes out of the blue or seems inauthentic. You know that feeling you get when you are in a room with a co-worker or employee and you know exactly what should be said to them — good or bad? Say it. No good comes from holding that information or feedback in. You know it needs to be said and so do they.
DON’T make it personal. Keep your radical candor professional and steer clear of personal criticism such as dress, weight and personal hygiene — unless it directly affects their performance on the job. No matter your intention, your perceived relationship with your team member, or your delivery, making it personal is never a good move.
DON’T dish it out if you can’t take it. If you are prepared to be brutally honest with an employee, be open to unfiltered feedback in return. In fact, you should solicit this sort of feedback regularly, yet informally, from your team. A great question for this is: What could I be doing differently or stop doing to make your life better?
DO criticize and compliment. As leaders in a dealership you should be giving candid feedback to your team regularly. But remember, too much candor without any positive feedback could back fire.
Kim Scott’s epiphany about leadership came from another well known CEO. Like Dan in the example above, Kim had delivered what she thought was a great presentation while working for Google. Her then boss, Sheryl Sandberg, now CEO of Facebook, gave her direct, immediate, helpful feedback which may have hurt at the time but changed her for the better.
You can and should do that for your employees too.