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The Secret to Being Blunt Without Being an A**hole

April 5, 2017, 8:02 PM UTC

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.

Silicon Valley was an ideal setting in which to explore the relationships between bosses and the people who report directly to them. Twenty years ago, management skills were neither taught nor rewarded in Silicon Valley, but today its companies are obsessed with it. This isn’t for the reasons you might think—that they are run by new-age gurus ever in search of a theory, or because the people there are fundamentally different from people anywhere else. Nor is it because the companies there have huge bud gets for training, or have some fundamental insight into human nature unleashed by access to all that big data.

No, the reason why Silicon Valley turned out to be a good place to study the relationships between bosses and the people who report to them is that the war for “talent” there is intense. So many great companies in the Valley are growing and hiring that there’s no reason to stay with a company if you are unhappy or think your potential is being wasted. And there’s certainly no reason to pay the “asshole tax.” If you don’t like your boss, you quit, knowing that ten other companies will be lining up to hire you. So the pressure on companies to get these relationships right is enormous.

Even in Silicon Valley, relationships don’t scale. Larry Page can’t have a real relationship with more than a handful of people any more than you can. But the relationships you have with the handful of people who report directly to you will have an enormous impact on the results your team achieves. If you lead a big organization, you can’t have a relationship with everybody. But the relationships you have with your direct reports will impact the relationships they have with their direct reports. The ripple effect will go a long way toward creating—or destroying— a positive culture. Relationships may not scale, but culture does.

Is “relationship” really the right word? Yes. The relationship between Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO from 2001–2011, and Larry Page was one of business history’s more interesting dances. And the willingness of Tim Cook, then COO and now CEO of Apple, to give part of his liver to Steve Jobs, and Jobs’ refusal to accept the sacrifice, exemplifies a profoundly personal relationship.

What is the proper nature of this relationship? Managerial capitalism is a relatively new phenomenon, so this human bond was not described by ancient philosophers. Even though almost everybody today has a boss at some point, the nature of this connection has gotten short shrift in philosophy, literature, movies, and all the other ways we explore the relationships that govern our lives. I want to fi x that, because at the very heart of being a good boss—at Apple, at Google, or anywhere else on earth—is a good relationship.

The term I found that best describes this relationship is Radical Candor.


This is an unedited excerpt from Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, by Kim Scott published March 14, 2017 Copyright © 2017 by Kim Scott. Reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.