Become a Radical Manager

January 27, 2016 02:47 AM
Become a Radical Manager

How frank conversations can make a more efficient farm team

Nearly 15 years ago, Kim Scott stood on a street corner in New York with the new puppy she adored. It was misbehaving, so a stranger looked at the puppy and sternly told it to sit. 

“It’s not mean, it’s clear,” he said. 

Those five words catapulted Scott down a path to fundamentally change the way managers communicate with their employees. Farm managers can adopt the lessons she’s learned to help their teams do better work through frank conversations.  

A blend of direct conversations and genuine care is often the best formula for business change.

A manager since 1991, Scott has helped tech giants such as Google and Apple develop solid communication. After that encounter on the streets of New York, Scott decided to pursue her passion of helping managers improve communication. 

Defining Radical Candor. Scott has developed a management style she calls radical candor—the ability to communicate clearly or “challenge directly” while showing you care. 

Managing this way will help your employees do their best work and improve your business, Scott says. 

“The willingness to challenge others and to be challenged is key to being a good boss, but it will not make you loveable,” Scott says. “This is hard. Being disliked is no fun.”

Scott admits she doesn’t have a magic formula for criticizing people in a way that doesn’t sting, and she doesn’t recommend praise that is mere flattery. “Your job is to criticize work that is bad, to make it better, and to praise good work in a way that pushes good to great and great to ‘insanely great,’” says Scott, borrowing a phrase Steve Jobs used to describe the Macintosh computer.   

The other aspect of radical candor requires managers to show employees they personally care. This is the most crucial part of the equation, Scott points out.

Almost everyone knows how to show people they care, Scott says, but the disconnect happens when managers feel they need to be professional and don’t allow themselves to connect with employees.

“I think the problem with being professional is that we all have a friend-or-foe mentality,” she explains. “When you’re trying to be overly professional, you treat people as if they are foes.” 

Speech Tips. To achieve the proper balance of criticism and caring, focus on delivery of the message you wish to convey. Tone of voice is crucial to clear messages, says Dr. Laura Sicola, founder of Vocal Impact Productions.

“Words convey the content, while tone conveys the intent of your message,” Sicola explains. “It is crucial employees understand both the content and the intent of what you’re trying to say.”

If an employee comes to a manager because there’s a problem, the manager’s response won’t matter if tone and facial expression aren’t in sync. “Your tone and expression could say, ‘I’m too busy for this, don’t come to me with problems,’” Sicola points out. 

That kind of miscommunication can negatively affect an entire team, costing a business time, productivity, money and efficiency, she says. 

How can managers improve their tone? Sicola suggests managers record a video of themselves starting the conversation they intend to have. Watch it and adjust as needed.

The book “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott will be available in 2017. To learn more about the management style, visit

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