Book Review: “Radical Candor”

Author: Kim Scott

Direct feedback, no problem – right?

The military does feedback­­­—hardcore. Tasks have clear standards. Failure to meet the standards results in direct, swift feedback – written, verbal (perhaps this is too gentle a word), and physical. As a leader, I provided clear, objective feedback to my personnel and my unit.

Out of the military, I found my “direct” approach was not as well received (again, likely too gentle a word).  Additionally, I thought that everyone around me either gave no feedback or the feedback was trivial. ­ Transitioning from the military means interacting in a new, unfamiliar world. Without a feedback loop, I couldn’t tell how I was doing. The more uncertain I got, the more defensive I became — labeling people as “passive aggressive,” “super-introverted,” or “indecisive. ” I could not read them so I thought they were all wrong or just chickenshit. Then one day, I finally got some direct, candid feedback

It crushed me and it was exactly what I needed.

Kim Scott’s book, “Radical Candor,” fundamentally changed how I view feedback.  “Radical Candor” is written as a guide for managers, but the book spoke to both my need for feedback and the mistakes I was making when I gave it. Scott uses quadrants based on caring and directness to define approaches for delivering feedback.  Too direct – and you’re a jerk.  Too caring – and you are ineffective.

I was, what Kim Scott called, “obnoxious aggression” (aka jerk).

Scott argues that the most effective quadrant from which to give feedback is both direct and caring – which she calls “Radical Candor.” Be direct and specific with your feedback. Apply the same level of specificity to both the good things an employee does and areas where they aren’t cutting it. Make clear for your employee how they can improve.

Easy right? The tricky part comes with caring. Give feedback ONLY if you care about the growth and success of the other person.

When you care about another person, it doesn’t matter who is right and wrong. It’s not a contest for the best grades or the fastest times. Success is more than just winning – anyone can win. “Radical Candor” means defining success by growth.

When I framed feedback in terms of helping others grow, I fundamentally changed. I stopped competing with them and I started truly caring about the person. My ego and the desire to be right was replaced by my drive to help others overcome struggles and be better.

The funniest, most unexpected thing happened next ­— I got better at receiving feedback! Viewed through the lens of improvement rather than being right/wrong, I started to listen more closely to what a person was saying. I endeavored to really understand their assessment because I was myself on a relentless path to improve.

Slowly, my new world became a little less unfamiliar. I began to see hints of feedback all around me. The path was now defined by improvement and growth. I confidently stepped into the non-military world knowing that whatever it threw at me, and no matter my shortcomings, I would be just fine as long as I kept trying.

So bring on the feedback!

One thought on “Book Review: “Radical Candor”

  1. Josh


    I just finished listening to the updated version of Radical Candor. I had previously read the original and wanted to go back to it after a bit of application to see if I caught additional insights. In the updated version, Kim states that many folks misread her phrase Radical Candor to be direct candid feedback when she meant, much like how you describe it above, compassionate feedback based on care for the persons development and growth. Your bold words are right on!

    Personally, I have found it somewhat challenging to bring Radical Candor/compassionate growth engagement into my everyday conversations without coming across as overly intense. Often people/friends/employees simply want to engage within their safety zones.

    As leaders, we have to decide how and when to lead. Sometimes leadership is creating openings and growth opportunities. Sometimes we see an opportunity and the timing simply isn’t right.The person isn’t open to Radical/Compassionate Candor. I have found in those moments, leadership can simply be staying with the person, helping them to process, and then when the timing is right engaging them on the learning and growth opportunities. I think Kim would have a problem with that approach, seeing it as inefficient. But I would disagree. If it isn’t presented in a way that someone can hear, at a time when that person is open – inefficiency reigns.

    Thanks for the post –


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