A former Google and Apple exec says there are 4 ways to lead a team — and 3 are ineffective

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Radical Candor founder Kim Scott.
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Kim Scott

Kim Scott is no psychoanalyst – she’s a CEO coach – but when she talks about the genesis of ineffective leadership styles, she points straight to your experience at 18 months old.

At that point, Scott says, you’re taught: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Then, when you get your first job in your late teens, you’re told to “be professional.” In other words, to check your emotions at the office door.

These two messages, Scott says, tend to stick with people, even as they move into the working world and assume leadership positions. The result is an ineffective – and often destructive – management style.

Scott is a former Google and Apple exec and CEO coach who now runs her own company, Radical Candor. The company provides software and training to organizations to help create better bosses.

She recently published a book by the same name, in which she offers readers practical management lessons drawn from her own experience.

“Radical candor” is the most effective of four leadership styles that Scott outlines in the book. Each leadership style, she writes, is a behavior and not a trait – meaning it can be developed. So if you’re currently a mediocre or even a bad boss, you can work on that.

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Kim Scott’s leadership framework.
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Kim Malone Scott

Scott visited the Business Insider office in March and walked us through the framework she developed to talk about different leadership styles. (You can see that image on the right.)

The graph has two axes: Care Personally and Challenge Directly.

If you tend to challenge directly, but don’t care personally (i.e. if you follow the “be professional” advice), Scott calls your leadership style obnoxious aggression.

In the book, Scott writes:

“When bosses belittle employees, embarrass them publicly, or freeze them out, their behavior falls into this quadrant.

“This Obnoxious Aggression sometimes gets great results short-term but leaves a trail of dead bodies in its wake in the long run. Think about the Anna Wintour-inspired character played by Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada.'”

Next up is ruinous empathy, characterized by caring personally but not challenging directly (i.e. following the “don’t say anything mean” advice). Scott told Business Insider that this is the most common mistake that managers – and human beings in all relationships – make.

“Because you care, you fail to challenge directly because you don’t want hurt somebody’s feelings,” Scott told us. “You make a terrible mistake when you don’t give somebody a heads-up when they’re screwing up.”

“We all screw up. It’s actually an act of kindness to tell somebody when they’re screwing up. It’s not mean, and yet we often feel mean.”

The worst place to be is the manipulative insincerity square, characterized by neither caring personally nor challenging directly.

In the book, Scott writes:

“People give praise and criticism that is manipulatively insincere when they are too focused on being liked or think they can gain some sort of political advantage by being fake – or when they are just too tired to care or argue any more.”

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You display radical candor when you care about your employees personally and challenge them directly.
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WOCinTech Chat/flickr

Finally, the ideal leadership style is radical candor. It’s when you care personally and challenge directly. It sounds simple, Scott said, but it’s rare in today’s workplace.

You can start displaying radical candor by getting feedback from your team – and then giving it.

Scott avoids the “feedback sandwich” – in which you praise, than criticize, and then praise again – but she says it’s generally a good idea to offer more praise than criticism.

She writes:

“Be humble, helpful, offer guidance in person and immediately, praise in public, criticize in private, and don’t personalize.

“Make it clear that the problem is not due to some unfixable personality flaw. Share stories when you’ve been criticized for something similar.”

Again, these four management styles aren’t fixed traits. “The right way to use this framework is to judge conversations and to make sure you’re moving in the right direction,” Scott told Business Insider.

Above all, this framework makes it easier to evaluate your performance as a boss. Instead of wondering whether you’ve been encouraging or discouraging, motivating or de-motivating lately, you can measure yourself against the two dimensions.

As Scott said, you can “name what happens when you fail with really clear language.”