Being a good boss is no easy task, and it’s made even harder by the fact that the managers that appear in movies and television shows typically exemplify one of two extremes. There is the highly critical and abusive boss who makes all of his subordinates miserable, as depicted in Horrible Bosses and Office Space, and on the other end of the spectrum, there is the boss whose desire to be well-liked leads to incompetence – think Michael Scott in The Office.
This binary portrayal of bosses in the media makes us believe that as managers, we too must inevitably fall into one of two equally undesirable camps. However, according to Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and co-founder of Candor, Inc., this could not be farther from the truth.
In the first two episodes of the new Radical Candor podcast Scott and Candor, Inc. co-founder Russ Laraway launched in January, Scott says that it is not only possible, but also imperative to be competent while caring personally about your employees.
“A show about how not to hate the boss you have … or be the boss you hate”
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Scott and Laraway assert that the key to achieving this combination of qualities requires “managing through relationships,” or forming strong positive relationships with subordinates that later enable you to deliver direct criticism without seeming mean. They call this philosophy “care personally, challenge directly.”
During the first two episodes of the Radical Candor podcast, Scott and Laraway offer five concrete steps managers can take to put this philosophy into practice.
1. Don’t rely on small talk to build relationships.
“Schmoozing sucks,” said Laraway. “You’re not at a cocktail party. You’re at work. You don’t have to schmooze to build relationships.”
Rather than exchange meaningless pleasantries, both Scott and Laraway suggest building relationships with your subordinates by taking every opportunity you can to demonstrate to them that you truly care about them on a personal level.
It is both possible and imperative to be competent while caring personally about your employees.
For example, Laraway said that when he was a commander in the marines, he knew that his boss cared about him when he made it clear that Laraway would be able to return home for his grandfather’s funeral.
2. Give feedback on an as-needed basis.
“Try to give your feedback in impromptu, in-person conversations that happen right after the event that requires feedback,” said Laraway.
In a conversation in between meetings that lasts no more than three minutes, you can give your employees praise and criticism while the situation that inspired it is still top of mind. This strategy, according to Scott, is far preferable to writing down your thoughts and saving them to be unleashed during a meeting scheduled for weeks in the future.
3. Offer three times as much praise as criticism.
“Think about offering praise three times for everyone one criticism,” said Laraway. “Praise is really important.”
But Laraway says this suggestion isn’t designed to make your employees feel better. “The purpose of praise is to help people know what to do more of. Show them what success looks like and what’s valued.”
“You don’t have to schmooze to build relationships.”
4. But don’t buttress your criticism with praise.
Scott and Laraway are quick to denounce the “feedback sandwich,” or the idea that criticism should always be preceded and followed by praise in order to lessen the emotional blow of the negative comment.
“The best way to challenge someone directly is to be really clear about what it is that needs improvement,” said Laraway.
If you accompany all of your criticism with praise, you risk your employee not really hearing the main point. “It’s another version of sugar coating,” he said. “It really obfuscates the message.”
5. Stay attuned to what co-workers are thinking and feeling.
“I’m acutely aware of what people around me are feeling,” said Laraway.
That kind of sensitivity doesn’t come naturally, she says. You have to go above and beyond. “Take a moment to show that you care and establish a human bond,” said Laraway.
“Take a moment to show that you care and establish a human bond.”
Doing so could be as easy as making a point to introduce yourself before a meeting and giving other attendees an opportunity to introduce themselves as well. “It’s a little step to demonstrate that I care about the people around me,” said Laraway.
Being a good boss requires an ability to effectively deliver criticism without coming across as mean or aggressive. According to Scott and Laraway, only bosses who “care personally, challenge directly” are able to do this.
If you build strong personal relationships with your employees and let them know that you care about them, they will understand that any criticism you deliver is truly intended to help them.
This understanding eliminates the need for sugar coating and allows you to deliver clear feedback without worrying that your employees will interpret it as a personal attack.
Such candid communication between bosses and their subordinates helps managers address challenges and make changes to overcome them.