According to Kim Scott, Radical Candor means challenging directly while caring personally. Kim is a leadership development coach who's worked with some of the top tech companies' leadership in the world. Her model has released me to be more me as leader and human. One of my favorite ah-hah!’s from Kim’s stories was recognizing that I can be perceived as obnoxiously aggressive or ruinously empathic and I might have been consciously practicing Radical Candor all along. The goal is not to have everyone going around and hi-fiving me for being perfectly radically candid!
Radical: late Middle English (in the senses ‘forming the root’ and ‘inherent’): from late Latin radicalis, from Latin radix, radic- ‘root’.
Practice doesn't mean perfect and I can always find a better way to be in my sweet spot. According to Michael Meade, one of the root meanings of the world radical is anchor root!
This is where the other part of this equation comes in. As a leader and supervisor in my own organization, challenging my staff to challenge me directly and care personally about each other and the work we are doing helps me find the sweet spot between those two extremes. For example, if I am laying on too much challenging directly, I’m going to burn everyone out around me and appear to be having one long and very exhausting tantrum (i.e., I will come across as being obnoxiously aggressive). On the other hand, if I am caring personally too much and not challenging directly those who are trying to accomplish goals to grow and build a great product, I’m going to either over praise a mediocre product that doesn’t get us all the success we want or I will become enmeshed in the problems of those serving within my organization and our work will become tangled in the weeds (or I will be ruining the effort with too much empathy!). If I get too sucked into this infinity loop of feeling perceived as ruinously empathic or obnoxiously aggressive, I will disconnect from my body and go into numb or survival mode, which will likely put me in the 4th quadrant according to Kim’s book — Manipulative Insincerity. My staff will feel me using them because they will non-verbally pick up that I am using myself and playing the part without feeling the part and staying engaged in the everyday challenges, disappointments, mistakes, and failures of being a human leader in a human workplace with a group of people trying to transcend the status quo and co-create an extraordinary product!
To continue learning about Radical Candor, check out our latest podcast where Elizabeth Bishop and I explore themes of Bridging the Divide: Between human and helping others.
About the Author
Ruth Diaz, LPC, Psy.D. is a counselor, consultant, and coach on returning to compassionate connection in relationship with ourselves and each other at every level. She works as an organizational psychologist in Portland, Oregon.