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Care personally, challenge directly

"You know, Kim, I can tell I'm not really getting through to you. I'm going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid."

Women Giving Feedback

Do you give and receive guidance? Should you?

Kim Scott is a coach for big companies like Twitter. She is a candid, outspoken mentor whose advice includes: It’s important to look after yourself before you try to look after other people.

Ask yourself how can I improve as a leader in 2016?

This is not profound advice but it’s so simple and seemingly mundane it’s often forgotten by leaders. As we say goodbye to 2015 and our thoughts turn to 2016 it’s something to consider. How can I improve myself as a leader and be more approachable for my team?

Most of us resist feedback when we can

Scott thinks the answer to this lies in guidance. She thinks this is actually quite different from what we often term ‘feedback’. Most of us hate feedback as it normally goes like this: I liked the way you did x but’ and for most people when they hear the conjunction ‘but’ they’re waiting for, the initial praise is lost forever. We all remember criticism and often deflect praise.

Good leaders don’t hide behind the ‘no time for micro management’ card

If you consider the definition of audio ‘feedback’ it’s something that is unpleasant, loud and distorted. We can’t wait to end. If that sounds like a recent feedback session you’ve experience then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Guidance, Scott argues should be very different to this. Often it’s the one thing people are absolutely desperate to receive. Leaders often resist this need and say; ‘I don’t have time to micromanage.’ And therefore real guidance that’s meaningful and constructive is never forthcoming.

Why is radical candour good for a leader and a team?

When Scott talks about guidance she terms it: ‘radical candour’. This is something she explains by using an anecdote. While working at Google and after a particularly successful presentation to the Google founders, her immediate boss asked Scott to accompany her back to the office. The conversation began with some praise and then continued with a ‘but. The ‘but’ moment was actually quite small in Scott’s eyes. Her boss informed her: ‘ You said um a lot in your presentation’

‘You sound stupid.’

Scott was a little dismissive and relieved that the ‘um issues’ was ALL there was to criticise. To quote her she thought: ‘Oh, no big deal. I know I do that but who cares when I had the tiger by the tail?’

Her boss would not be put off and asked whether nerves contributed to this mannerism and whether a speech coach would help. Scott dismissed it by saying it was trivial and she didn’t have time for such things as speech coaches.

Her boss then delivered this killer piece of radical candour:

"You know, Kim, I can tell I'm not really getting through to you. I'm going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid."

Do you care enough to offer real guidance?

Well, imagine that! Note she didn’t say ‘you are stupid’ but ‘you sound stupid’, two very different things. We should think carefully about why Scott’s boss decided to do this. Was it to undermine her successful meeting, to embarrass her, to pull rank or to show how much she listened, cared and wanted Scott to make even more progress?

Care personally and challenge directly

This guidance obviously had an effect on Scott and she started to work out what radical candour might actually look like in practice. There are two parts to this: caring personally and challenging directly, but it is a minefield. 

If you are offering guidance, you need to consider the quadrant before you do anything. Where do your comments fit? If you offer radical candour without caring personally then it’s likely you’ll end up in the obnoxious aggression territory. Click here to read her views in more detail

A good leader has to care

But you can see from the quadrant that it’s very easy to fall into ruinous empathy that gets nothing achieved and manipulative insincerity that can be sniffed out easily like a bad smell. A leader needs to care. A leader must take a team seriously and offer guidance that is meaningful and sincere, that comes from observation and the belief that things and people actually matter not just data. The need to make a team better than it even thought it was possible must underpin guidance.

One of the key observations and one with which I would concur totally is the need for leaders to make it easier to speak truth to power. Scott says:

If you’re a manager of managers, you need to make sure that everyone on your team feels they can criticise their boss,” This is not a negative griping session but these observations need to be put together for a ‘manager guidance session’. Issues should be prioritised it’s not an ‘and there’s another thing’ meeting. It can then become a way of discovering thoughts, feelings and ideas that could end up a situation where a leader might say ‘Why didn’t I realise this? Or how was that allowed to happen?

The business culture has to be one of guidance and radical candour that is designed to guide, improve and develop the whole team including the leader.

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