What is radical candor

Instilling a culture that embraces the power of open communication is a lofty goal for any executive leader — your leadership abilities hinge on your desire to communicate your expectations, processes and goals effectively. To help guide your company culture in the right direction, consider implementing a new framework for professional communications known as radical candor.

This approach has the power to overhaul your organization’s culture, communications and daily processes by creating a positive, growth-oriented space where you and your team interact freely and openly.

What Is Radical Candor?

Kim Scott, a former executive for Google and Apple, developed a strategic plan for presenting the radical candor framework with leaders, executives and CEOs just like you in mind. Scott describes the meaning of radical candor as having the ability to care personally while challenging directly at the same time.

Radical candor definition

Scott’s radical candor model is designed to guide your professional interactions and conversations. The goal is becoming a better communicator while also transforming yourself into a powerful instrument for growth in the teams you lead and the organizations you manage. When explaining the idea behind radical candor, Scott asks you to consider the adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Consider that radical candor goes against this long-standing social teaching and emphasizes open and honest feedback for the benefit of everyone involved. Ultimately, radical candor is best defined as the ability to challenge directly while showing that you care personally at the same time.

In general, radical candor impacts your daily conversations and interactions by changing the way you think about the people around you. The result is a shift in your mindset and behaviors.

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The Difference Between Candor and Honesty

How do you show candor within your team? The definition of candor is “the quality of being open in expression, or frankness.” Most executive leaders understand the value of candor in communicating and interacting with their team.

The difference between candor and honesty becomes easily clouded at times. While honesty refers to truthfulness, candor is a quality in people that refers specifically to how openly they express themselves. While candor is often a good thing, it isn’t inherently truthful.

Caring Personally

Using radical candor helps you embrace your leadership traits and empowers you to use them to their highest potential. Often, leaders aren’t afforded the luxury of separating their professional and personal lives — you’re likely aware that leadership isn’t a trait you can turn on and off as needed.

Having empathy is a valuable trait for any leader, and your ability to identify with your team members is vital to your organization’s success. The success of both the company and the individual is something you care about deeply as a leader, and radical candor offers you a way to showcase that.

Caring personally means you’d feel like you failed someone around you by silencing your true thoughts or withholding your criticisms. Because you care deeply enough about them, you’re doing them a disservice by staying quiet and reserved.

Challenging Directly & Holding Accountability

Offering your most constructive feedback as a way to help others grow is a challenging aspect of great leadership. After all, your ability to teach others, guide their decisions and communicate your expectations of them all go into making you a successful leader. These are the ideas behind challenging directly.

How is radical candor a type of informal accountability? Though challenging directly sounds like a negative behavior, it only creates positive outcomes — challenging directly is taking an active role in the growth and development of your team members and offering your guidance for ways they can improve.

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The Radical Candor Model

As discussed, Scott developed the radical candor model as a way to help inform the way executives and leaders effectively communicate. It’s a compass for candid conversations and interactions.

The principles of radical candor aren’t always easy to put into practice, so it helps to have a baseline for what approaches you should take. The radical candor feedback framework is useful when you’re interacting with members of your team and organization.

The model has four main quadrants:

  • Ruinous empathy
  • Obnoxious aggression
  • Manipulative insincerity
  • Radical candor

Ruinous Empathy

The model demonstrates that holding your true thoughts back in order to keep from hurting someone’s feelings is ruinous empathy. If you withhold your criticisms and feedback because you’re overly concerned about feelings, you’re doing that person an even greater disservice than you would otherwise.

Obnoxious Aggression

Alternatively, obnoxious aggression is the opposite of ruinous empathy. Think of it as a complete disregard for a person’s feelings and offering your harshest criticisms upfront. This situation happens when you challenge directly without emotion. Ultimately, you come off as rude and overly blunt.

Manipulative Insincerity

The third quadrant is manipulative insincerity, which is what happens when you have the complete opposite of radical candor and is the worst type of feedback you can offer. It’s typically marked by insincere praise to someone’s face and ruthless criticism behind their back. As a whole, manipulative insincerity serves no purpose and is void of care or honesty.

Radical Candor

As stated, radical candor happens when you care personally while challenging directly. It’s the opposite of manipulative insincerity, as it’s marked by praising publicly and criticizing privately. This type of feedback serves the ultimate purpose, as you offer it with care and meaningful intentions.

Establishing a radically candid culture requires you to look closely at your behaviors. There are many benefits to practicing radical candor above the other quadrants of feedback, including your professional development and the growth of your company or organization.

Why Is A Culture of Candor Important?

As a leader, your honesty and directness will command the respect and attention of those around you. If the people you surround yourself with feel they can have an open and honest discourse with you, or challenge you directly, you can build trusting, fulfilling and long-lasting relationships.

Implementing radical candor is important because it fosters straightforward, open interactions with your team and those around you. The door is open to an uninhibited flow of ideas and meaningful conversations. This inevitably leads to the growth of your company while nurturing the professional and personal growth of you and your team.

Additionally, radical candor offers your organization a framework for freely communicating and interacting with one another. When your team feels they can offer their honest feedback or criticisms without fear of consequence, they’re much more inclined to invest more of themselves into reaching a desired outcome or goal.

Radical candor in leadership

As an executive leader, one of your jobs is motivating your team to perform their best for your company’s mission.


How Do You Practice Radical Candor as a Leader?

Any leader can practice radical candor by following a set of guidelines for having conversations and interactions with others. When you approach leadership situations with the radical candor framework in mind, you’re dedicating yourself to caring personally and challenging directly. It’s easy to incorporate radical candor principles into your daily behaviors and interactions after you shift your mindset as a leader.

How can radical candor impact your conversation? Ultimately, radical candor changes the way you speak and interact with those around you by conditioning you to carefully consider your words and actions. The first and most important step to practicing radical candor is soliciting feedback from your team. This way, you know what to work on first, and you can shape your approach as a result.

Why Is Radical Candor Important for Executives?

Establishing a radically candid culture is important for executives because it creates an atmosphere centered around constructive feedback free from looming worries and negative consequences.

Why is radical candor important? When done correctly, there are six key steps to implementing a culture of radical candor.

When done correctly, there are six key steps to implementing a culture of radical candor:

  1. Sharing stories
  2. Soliciting feedback
  3. Career conversations
  4. Perfecting your one-on-one conversations
  5. Offering guidance
  6. Assessing

1. Sharing Stories

Sharing your real-world experiences practicing radical candor will help introduce the concept to your team. Be sure to leave opportunities for them to share, as well. Talk to your team about your reasons for believing in a culture of radical candor, and use any stories you have to help support your cause. At this stage, you’re simply introducing the idea of radical candor.

2. Soliciting Feedback

How do you ask for feedback with radical candor? Soliciting radically candid feedback from your team is challenging because you’re the boss and your team is likely hesitant to criticize you. That’s a normal situation, and there are a couple of strategies you can use to loosen up your team.

First, ask your team to criticize you publicly, or in a group setting, where they have the support of their teammates. Even if they’re apprehensive to start, continuously solicit their feedback until they’re comfortable offering it to you. Do this by leaving out a suggestion box your team can easily access. Next, continue to ask members of your team for their feedback in small doses, such as short one- to two-minute conversations. Try to develop a few prompts or questions to help get them started.

Showing your team you’re open to accepting guidance and feedback from them makes returning it easier for you. It helps you establish credibility as an executive leader. Remember, this is an ongoing and continuous practice of the radical candor model. Gather your most trusted team members and solicit their feedback regularly.

3. Career Conversations

One of the most important things to understand as an executive leader is your team’s individual motives, dreams and goals. There are three crucial conversations you need to have with them before you can better understand them. The first is a conversation about their motives, values and passions. Next, have talks about the goals they have for their career. The last conversation is where the two of you sit down to develop a career action plan.

Review these action plans together regularly, such as once every year.

4. Perfecting One-On-One Conversations

Enhancing your one-on-one conversation skills is one benefit of practicing the radical candor framework. This step will pivot off of step three, career conversations, where you’ve had three spaced-out conversations with members of your team. At this point, you should begin noticing a culture change starting to happen. The team is beginning to trust you and the process, and your radically candid interactions are starting to pay off.

5. Offering Guidance

As an executive leader offering guidance and feedback to your team, you should always focus on providing the positives and keeping comments uplifting. Keep in mind that offering guidance in short conversations and interactions is the ideal way.

When you offer guidance to your team, be sure to include specific praise. As a leader, radical candor is a powerful tool for the growth and development of your team and organization. For it to work, you must point to something specific in your team’s performance that you thought worked well. These examples give you and them something tangible to point to when you come back looking for their best work.

6. Assessing

Now that you’ve implemented the first five steps of your radical candor rollout plan, it’s time to take a look at what’s working for you and where you need to improve.

Can you improve on one of the previous steps? Who’s buying in and who’s not? Are you following up on your conversations?

It’s important that you continuously assess your situation and progress. Keep any new ideas out of the mix until you’ve honed your skills accepting and providing guidance and gained a deeper understanding of your team by working through career conversations and developing action plans.

How Can Radical Candor Drive Great Results?

This strategy drives great results through its framework promoting a culture of open communication, honest discourse between team members and caring for others. If your team and organization embrace a radically candid culture, the benefits are a direct reflection of the time and effort you put into it.

If you’re dedicated to the radical candor framework, you’re creating an organization where everyone feels like they’re truly heard. A radically candid company culture inherently promotes important values including accountability, mutual respect and self-awareness. Thanks to radical candor, you’re accountable to your team and they are to you because you’ve challenged one another directly and understand what one expects from the other.

Additionally, you’ve established a mutual respect for one another after learning more about their dreams, career goals and life’s aspirations, and you care personally for one another. Naturally, your team is more self-aware from building an environment where guidance and feedback are promoted rather than avoided.

This strategy offers you a vehicle to establish yourself as a great executive leader by building solid relationships with those around you and your team. It’s a way to show you truly care for your team members both personally and professionally. People are far more likely to follow your leadership when they know your intentions are genuine.

Get Radical Candor From Our Leadership Coaching Services

At Dame Leadership, our core company values are trust, candor, accountability and serving others and we believe strongly in the radical candor framework and principles. Discover our trusted and confidential coaching services both in-person and virtually to meet your busy lifestyle needs.

If you’re ready to pursue radical candor in your organization, be sure to contact us or sign up for our executive leadership coaching.