A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favorite authors of all time, Kim Scott for my podcast, The Product Breakfast Club.
For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read, check out the podcast episode below. This article will basically bring out some of the key conversations that Kim and I have had, and you'll find the full interview on the podcast.
For those who do not know, Kim Scott is the founder of Candor Inc. and is a well-known Silicon Valley CEO. She was a faculty member at Apple University, where she taught a lot and, before that, she worked at Google where she led AdSense, Youtube and DoubleClick teams. At the beginning of her career, she was co-founder and CEO of a software start-up, ran a war-torn pediatric clinic in Kosovo and built a diamond cutting factory in Russia. Kim: you need to relax, you're making everyone else look bad!
He also wrote this quite spectacular New York Times– the best-selling book called Radical glow.
Radical glow it was a book that entered my life in the best time possible. It was when my agency, AJ & Smart, was growing and I was having a lot of struggles as head and CEO. New people entered the company and I was really struggling to provide honest feedback and have difficult and uncomfortable discussions that are often needed when managing a company.
Somehow, and I really can not even remember why or where it came from, I got Kim's book, Radical glow, How to be a great boss without losing your humanity, and he completely upset me. It is honestly the best management book I have ever read.
If you are a manager and you have to give feedback to other human beings, buy Radical glow. I'll wait.
I have to be honest and say that I was a little nervous doing this interview because Kim is a total legend, but she was really a great interviewee. I could have chatted with her for hours, asking her endless questions about her career and getting her advice on my specific situation; however, we only had 30 minutes and I wanted to go deeper into some of the stories he shared in the book and let them expand on them.
I wanted to pull out some key points of the conversation for this article, points that I think if any manager (or anyone, really) started to bring into their lives, then their career and work relationships would be of great benefit.
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Management does not come naturally to everyone
Kim Scott: I spent years becoming an engineer or even learning to sell, yet for one of the most important jobs that none of us ever have, we receive very little help.
Often if you are tireless and driven, you will end up falling into a managerial position, very often without training. I know for myself personally that there are many things I would like to know before starting to manage people, and while I was reading Candid Radical I have seen myself in many situations.
It's funny because I remember going through these things thinking that only I lived this, and that the situation was unique to me and my company, but I had a huge sense of relief when I read Kim's stories – this happens to the best of we.
One thing I really got from talking with Kim is that we should be a manager like any other professional path – you have to train and work on those skills, and it's always a work in progress.
Care personally, challenge directly
One of the key messages in Kim's book, which really impressed me, is the idea of taking personal care and challenging directly. In the book, and when we spoke during our interview, Kim shared the story of how his manager at the time, Sheryl Sandberg, had to provide much direct feedback to Kim about his style of presentation. The way he did it was something that had a huge impact on the rest of Kim's care
Kim: He never let his concern for our feelings in the short term stop us from telling us things we really needed to know, which we really needed to know. It was simple It was a direct challenge and was personally concerned at the same time. This was the essence of good leadership, both praise and criticism.
Kim continues and identifies emphatically with the fact that, regardless of how "harsh" it may seem, offering clear and sincere feedback is in their interest, because you care about them and their development.
Kim: Your job as a boss is to make things clear to people and very often we'll say the thing, but we will not be heard. It is our task to make ourselves heard. Sometimes the key to making you feel is taking a moment and coping with the emotions in the room. To reassure someone that the reason you're telling them this is that you care about them and that you care about their professional growth. Very often the task of the boss is to go beyond the dimension directly of the challenge. Sometimes giving feedback seems like you have to take a 2 "x 4" and hit someone over your head to get to them … It's impolite not to be clear.
Being nice is not always nice: create an environment that evokes praise and criticism
If you've read Radical Candor, you'll know Bob's story: the heartbreaking story of a lovable employee and teammate, to whom everyone has a weakness for, but who simply is not doing. In short, with the risk of hurting Bob's feelings and / or looking like an asshole in front of the rest of his team, Kim Scott avoided giving Bob an honest feedback, but over time he realized that if he did not let Bob go away, she would lose some of her best performers who had become discontented picking up Bob's game, so he just fired him off to realize that he would love, and appreciate, hearing it before could change.
Kim: I did not ask for advice, praise or criticism, especially criticism, from Bob. I also failed to give him the praise that it was significant. The kind of praise I gave him was actually a little further than a selfish ego. I failed to tell Bob when his job was not good enough. I could not criticize Bob. Probably the worst thing of all is that I could not create the kind of environment where everyone would give Bob the kind of praise and the kind of criticism he needed to succeed where everyone would tell Bob what he really was good in his work and also to work with him but he would also say to Bob when he comes out of the tracks. Because I've failed in all these very important ways that I have to fire Bob for this now.
As for me personally, always being a manager has always been something to give priority over most other things. Regardless of whether the person was underperforming or not, I would rather have liked them than to deal with the problem, which of course is not the best thing for them, for the company or for their teammates.
Kim: It's the most natural thing in the world to want to be appreciated. Do not worry so much about people like you, but focus on the opportunity or not to do the kind thing for those other people. Are you putting their interests before your own interests? This makes it much easier to do the things you need to do to be an effective leader, because I think that very often we have this notion that we have to choose between being a total jerk and being truly effective. This is a wrong choice, we must not make that choice.
Related: 5 ways to switch from producer to manager and vice versa
Keep your star artists at the top of your mind
Something that very often happens to companies is that managers spend most of their time dealing with malefactors and underperformers, assuming that the stars in the company are fine to go on with things alone. This makes sense, I have this logic and I have experienced it personally, but Kim has a big point on why it is important for the individual and the company that you do not do it …
Kim: If you really focus on dedicating your time to helping the people who are doing the best job, keep improving the fact of being a good thought partner for those people, you will help not only those people, but the whole team. If you think of your time, pretend it's money, would it be fair to give everyone equal bonuses regardless of performance? No, of course, it would not be right. The same is true for your time. Your time is really a valuable currency and you should invest where you and the team get the most money.
Kim continues with a metaphor that I think is perfect for nails this mentality …
Kim: Some will also say that my approach to management is to take the right, so give them full autonomy and basically ignore them. It's like saying that the best way to have a good marriage is to marry the right person and then refuse to spend another time with that person.
When I read this in Radical Candor it completely resonated with me. It inspires me a lot more as a manager to move something that is nice to something that is extraordinarily large, rather than something that is bad to mediocre.
Kim: management is not Marxism. You do not need to spend all your time on people who are most in need.
Let your reports define the agenda for your 1-to-1
A very practical (and easily applicable) learning for me is having regular 1-to-1 with my direct reports, and allowing them to set the agenda for these meetings. I really like Kim's thoughts on this …
Kim: I would like to remind people that anything was a fair game, from strategy to decor, to the stuff that happened in your personal life. One on one was the moment when I put aside any direct relationship to talk to me about what they thought.
It's easy as a manager committed to reducing meeting times and free space in your calendar, especially when you think that 1 to 1 may not be necessary because the person is doing great, however, I'm realizing the importance of keeping these things going, because it is a space where brainstorming and problem solving takes place. A suggestion from Kim that I use regularly in my 1-to-1 …
Kim: It should not look like a calendar mess or something. That's why it's useful to do it for lunch, for a coffee or for a walk or in some way that the human connection is more likely to be in front and in the center, compared to updates or the agenda or something.
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Remember to praise.
Kim: If you think of praise and criticism, praise helps people see what more is done and criticism helps them see what to do less.
Being totally honest, praise is something I have struggled with. We've tried some different approaches in AJ and Smart, like bonus programs where you can reward colleagues for doing something exceptional, and I have not found anything that's really stuck, because for me the praise should not just make someone feel good – it should instead really concern people in the right direction and reward positive action. Kim's advice really brought home the importance of praise and its impact …
Kim: Your job as a leader is basically to show people what I look like is successful. Praise is a much more powerful tool to show people what looks like success than criticism. The criticism shows them only what does not seem.
So to sum up …
- Management is not always natural for everyone. It is your job as a manager to continuously improve yourself and look for opportunities for growth.
- Take care personally, challenge directly: it is rude not to be clear
- Being nice is not always nice: create an environment that evokes praise and criticism
- Keep your protagonists protagonists: concentrate on bringing things from great to incredible, rather than bad to mediocre
- Let your reports set the agenda for your 1-to-1: everything is a fair game
- Remember to praise: show people what looks like success
Managing people is difficult, there is no doubt, and I think every manager who reads this (if they are honest) will admit that even they have fallen at times and can relate to Kim's stories; however, following the guidance of experienced professionals like Kim and even implementing only 1 or 2 of the suggestions, you'll be NEAREST than most, and your team will notice (and appreciate) your efforts.
Want to learn more about praise, criticism and management?