Radical Candor - Management Style: Sunny With a Chance of Bananas

By Elisa Hebert, Head of Operations and Client Solutions

This is the third post in a multi-part series about Radical Candor and authenticity in the workplace. To start at the beginning, check out the first post in the series.

I am a deep believer in personal accountability and in servant leadership, and these two things dovetail nicely. I’ve spent the last 10 years mildly obsessed with evolving as a manager. I’ve looked at what I’ve loved (or not) about the ways I’ve been mentored and managed, and how I can leverage those learnings for the folks I work with today. Along the way, I’ve cast aside what I see as less mature management styles. Micromanagement is known to make people crazy — but so does absentee management.

It’s my job to cultivate a partnership: to support and protect the people who report to me, and to make sure they have what they need to be successful (tools, training, perspective, support, coaching). It’s their job to constantly be pushing to operate at the top of their game — to ask for help when they don’t understand or don’t have what they need, and to be looking at themselves constantly as a work in progress (as are we all).

To really work, this takes Radical Candor on all sides; it has to tie back to Caring Personally and Challenging Directly.

In my career, I’ve managed and mentored a lot of humans in different industries and roles. Admittedly, I used to be terrible at it. In the early days, it was more about organizing than managing. Are you showing up on time and wearing the right t-shirt?

I learned over time and trial that to be successful, and to help people find their own success, it’s a conversation and a partnership, and there’s no perfect formula. I needed to grow into understanding how people hear and process information differently, what is motivating (and demotivating), and that while my direct style can be extremely helpful for many folks, it doesn’t work for everyone — and in that case, it’s our job together to figure out what does.

Ultimately, my partnership with each of my direct reports should operate like a mini high-performing team. What can we capitalize on that is working, what can we look to mature, how do we fix what’s broken quickly and transparently to each other, and how does working together make each of us exponentially better?

A recent Radical Candor podcast brought up the notion of unique context. We all come with our own calculus of life and work experiences, background, point of view, and skill sets. Your boss, your peers, your mentors and colleagues — what unique context do they have that can help you evolve your own thinking?

  • What things can you get done with them that are so much harder without? How do you involve others actively in your success?
  • What unique context do you bring to the party? How can you help accelerate others, including your boss?
  • How does your involvement in their growth make them exponentially better, faster, clearer, crisper?

Creating Radically Candid relationships helps us understand that unique context more explicitly. It lets us really know the other person, and it helps us cherry pick our own context in a way that could be most helpful to them. Finally, it gives us visibility into the highs and lows they’ve had that we can learn from and capitalize on.

In my own journey as a leader in this organization, I take on this task myself — and I ask the same of my own manager. She has always been Radically Candid with me, and gives me the space to be Radically Candid with her as well. It is uncomfortable sometimes. Overheard in one of our recent one-on-ones: You make me bananas 12% of the time, but as long as we learn and grow, and it’s not the same 12% over and over, we are doing it right.

So how do you create a Radically Candid relationship with your direct reports and/or your manager? It depends on your starting point, but the easiest way is to just go for it. I’d start by reading the book (or listening to the podcast, or watching some videos) so you have more context to set. Then establish a baseline, maybe like this:

I have been learning about Radical Candor, and I think it could enable us to have a better partnership and help each other succeed. It might be uncomfortable sometimes, but I think it’s worth it.

The premise is this: timely, specific feedback, because I care about you and your success.

I’ll start by making a promise to you that if I see you do something awesome (or not so awesome), I will come to you immediately and tell you, as clearly and specifically as I can.

What I will ask of you is the same, but also that you tell me if my feedback is helpful, and if not, why?

  • Is it too mushy to be actionable by you to do it again, or to fix whatever the issue was?
  • Am I squirming around too much, and you feel bad and therefore can’t focus on whatever it is I am saying?
  • Am I doing it just right, even though hearing whatever it is sort of feels icky in the moment because it’s spotlighting something you might want to change about your approach?

Like I said, it’s hard work.

But the net result is this: instead of a relationship that makes you bananas 25% or 50% or (oy vey) 100% of the time — or worse, one that you just feel meh about — you can up the game and get closer to that 12% mark. It not only feels really good 88% of the time (even when the feedback is hard), but it’s also deeply satisfying to be able to laugh about all those bananas.

If you enjoyed this article, good news! It’s the third in a series. Catch up on all the articles in Elisa’s series on Radical Candor here:

Part 1, The Daily Practice of Crit(ique)
Part 2,
Calling Yourself Out
Part 4,
Pink Hair, Piercings, and Professional Services
Part 5,
Pandemically Candid
Part 6,
Rocket Fuel for Your Teams

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