How to be a good manager according to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur

Kim Scott talks to The Independent about how a boss should achieve the perfect mixture: caring personally and challenging directly

Olivia Blair
Thursday 06 April 2017 12:12 BST
( Barry Wetcher/20th Century Fox/REX/Shutterstock)

Management is a skill: one that requires training, practice and something that many people get wrong – which can have a detrimental effect on their colleagues.

Kim Scott is an entrepreneur who has managed people at some of the biggest Silicon Valley companies in the world. At Google, she managed a team of 700 people and she even taught a class on management during her time at Apple.

She has also been managed by some of the best-known senior tech personnel in the world: Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Larry Page, the co-founder of Google and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo.

Under Ms Scott’s ethos, there is one type of ideal management style: Radical Candour.

“Radical Candour is the ability to show you care personally at the same time you challenge people directly,” the 49-year-old told The Independent.

‘Care Personally’ and ‘Challenge Directly’ sit on an axis and Radical Candour is the optimum measure of both. The three other areas are Ruinous Empathy, Manipulative Insincerity, and Obnoxious Aggression.

“The whole point of Radical Candour is that it really is possible to Care Personally and Challenge Directly at the same time. We can break free of a false dichotomy that leaves too many people feeling they have to choose between being a jerk and being incompetent,” Ms Scott explains. “That’s a terrible choice, and nobody has to make it. In fact, if you really care personally about somebody, you will tell them if you think they are making a mistake — and also, of course, when they are doing something great.”

(Kim Scott
(Kim Scott (Kim Scott)

The vast majority of bosses fall into ‘Ruinous Empathy’, according to Ms Scott. This is when the boss is afraid of hurting the feelings of the person they are managing so they fail to say something which may sting in the short term but help in the long term.

“When you fail to tell somebody about a mistake they are making because you don't want to hurt their feelings, and the result is that they continue to make that mistake and ultimately underperform or even get fired for it, it's not so nice after all. It's deeply unkind, and unproductive,” she explains.

The next category of unhelpful management is Obnoxious Aggression: when you challenge directly, and often come across as rude, by also failing to share that you care personally.

The most harmful type of management comes in the form of Manipulative Insincerity: “When you fail on both dimensions - when you neither show you care nor challenge directly - you've made the Manipulative Insincerity mistake. This is when passive aggressive or even political behaviour creeps in. Those are strong words, but they're also nearly universal mistakes at work.

“ Think about the last time you were rude. Odds are, you issued the ‘false apology.“ You moved in the wrong direction on the challenge directly dimension rather than the right direction on the care personally axis. You went from bad - obnoxious aggression - to worse -manipulative insincerity.”

Ms Scott says her scale shouldn’t be used to label different types of managers but instead used to guide behaviour in the workplace. It was partly the mistakes she made in her early management days that encouraged her to write the book, so other bosses could be deterred from acting the same way, as well as her experience at being poorly managed by bosses.

“My experience is that having a bad boss is utterly debilitating. I once had a boss who was so belittling that I literally shrank half an inch—my doctor was quite concerned. I'm only five feet tall and don't have any height to lose. I've seen employees of bad bosses develop insomnia, full-body rashes, and depression. When you're miserable five days a week at work, it's really difficult to enjoy your weekends. A bad boss can ruin your life,” she says.

This is not to mean that bad bosses are inherently unkind or offensive people as Ms Scott says: “All too often good people become bad bosses.”

The guidance in the book is meant for both men and women equally but as a female leader in a predominantly male industry, although having been under the leadership of some of the most senior female managers in the world, she has an insight into how men and women can differ in leadership styles.

“Male bosses tend to be more ruinously empathetic with female employees because they've been taught since they were little boys to pull their punches with women. If you're a woman working for a man, I suggest that you not only solicit feedback, you work extra hard to get it. It may sting a little bit in the short term, but it's good for you,” she advises. “Female bosses tend to get unjustly accused of obnoxious aggression when they are in fact being radically candid. When gender bias causes a distortion in the way that people hear you, this is a special case to the ”feedback gets measured at the listener's ear“ rule. If you're getting unfairly accused of being ”abrasive“ or ”bossy,“ the key thing is not to back off your willingness to challenge directly. That's moving the wrong way. Instead, you need to take a moment to share you care personally. But don't overdo it… Don't accept ridiculous demands that get put on you because you are a woman.”

So, is everyone suitable to become a boss? Ms Scott says if management is not in your interest, you should not feel compelled that being in charge of a team full of people is the only way to progress your career and hails Google’s scheme of creating career paths for engineers who wanted career progression but had no interest in managing people.

Additionally, if you want to be a boss because you crave power and control, Ms Scott says you should not be a boss.

“Power and control work well in a baboon troop or a totalitarian regime, but none of us want to work in those kinds of environments... In general, though, anyone with the right motivation to be a boss—because they care about the work and the people they are working with—can learn to be a great boss.”

Radical Candor: How to be a Great Boss without Losing your Humanity is out now, published by Macmillan.

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