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!

Book Review: “The Boys in the Boat”

Author: Daniel James Brown

Finding courage on the water

No sport more exemplifies team than rowing. A balanced boat is faster than one with a few strong rowers. Power seats trying to drive alone will be passed by a crew – rowers with hearts that beat on the catch and breath that escapes on the release. Harmony comes not by seats, or pairs, or oars – only boats.

I was a strong rower in college. A power seat. A port. I could pull some pretty incredible erg times and enjoyed holding a 500/m split consistently that was always better than my last times. I raced against myself. And thus, I was a terrible in the boat.

There are no superstars in a boat. Pulling together, in perfect harmony, makes a boat fly across the water. Superstars just create drag. I was drag.

Daniel James Brown’s book “The Boys in the Boat” is the incredible story of 9 young men who come together and beat the odds. These men were never expected to amount to anything – many hailing from the poverty that was quite common in the Depression Era. The book is set against the back drop of the 1936 Olympics pitting the US against a powerful Nazi Germany. American under-dogs who rise up to beat one challenge after another….

This book is about much more than under-dogs. It is about team. And sacrifice.

Forged in the icy waters of the Pacific Northwest, the men of the University of Washington crew team learned what it means to matter to something greater than yourself. Daily, the crew rowed not for the win, or the school, or the glory – but for each other. In rain and snow and heat – these men left the safety of land in a boat about 15 inches wide and traveled miles into the unforgiving waters of the ocean. Distance and water have a way of cementing the truth that every oar is needed to bring you home. Failure then becomes the ragged breath or sagging shoulders in the back you follow.

So you sit straighter. You do not let your shoulders sag or your catch drop. And you swing together.

I learned that to go faster in my boat, I had to slow down. Attacking the catch created drag. Rushing the slide could almost stop the boat. Power misaligned was simply lost. Slowing down, finding pace with the other members of the boat, and swinging in harmony resulted in the near levitation of the boat across the water as it raced to the finish.

Today, I don’t get the chance to fill a mighty 8 and take it racing down the river. But I am still on many crews. And my boats are filled with people who are willing to slow down, and swing together.

Come row with us!

For more about the story of this incredible boat – check out the PBS film from American Experience, The Boys of ’36.

Want to row – check out USRowing.

Book Review: “The Obstacle is the Way”

Author: Ryan Holiday

The hard path is the true path.

Life is hard. Excellent! My struggle is my advantage.

Challenge, setback, failure, loss, and rock bottom are not exactly comfortable. Once you’ve experienced any of these, you likely learned a strong lesson about avoiding them in the future.  That hurt! We have visible and invisible scars. We likely lost friends and status. We probably lost money. Most of all, we failed ourselves. — But did we?

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. -Marcus Aurelius

Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way” opens with this powerful quote from one of history’s greatest thinkers telling us to stop running away.  Instead, we must turn boldly into our challenge and see it as an opportunity rather an obstacle.

Holiday lays out a path for turning what he calls “trials into triumph” by teaching us to control our perception of events. First, we must learn to master the only controllable part of any situation – our emotional response to it. Armed with this surprisingly powerful insight, Holiday then calls upon us to act. Deliberate, precise action that could fail, and fail again. This path is not one of reckless failure but rather it is a decision to act despite an unknown outcome. Finally, Holiday calls us to have the will continue forward. Our will fuels our courage to repeat the cycle – perceiving obstacles as advantages and motivating us to act–until we achieve our goals.

We are defined by what we do, not what we say we do. You know your obstacle. You now know your path.

Act.

Book Review: “Grit”

Author: Angela Duckworth

Find your Work. Find your Grit

We marvel at people who do hard things and get after challenging goals. People like you…if you choose it.

Do something hard! All around us, we see people seeking to find their own personal challenges. We are offered new quests daily, ripe for the taking! Read some “X number” of books this summer (library). Only eat cabbage soup and juice for a month (diet industry…and seriously?). Conquer physical trials such as marathons, Ironman events, Spartan races (Sports industry). And many, many, more.

It doesn’t really matter what the goal is – as long as it is your goal.

In a world with many challenges from which to pick, what do we actually seek? How do we achieve our goal AND is really our own? How do we see the goal all the way through to the end? What is the end???

Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit” provides insight into how we sort, prioritize, and achieve our most difficult goals. She has made a career of studying how groups of people – from West Point cadets to National Spelling Bee winners to professional sports teams – accomplish hard goals. Duckworth identifies the trait of Grit – the drive to maintain a long-term focus on one objective no matter the obstacle. She then digs deep into the foundation of Grit to reveal four cornerstones traits of some incredible people.

Duckworth identifies Gritty people as first having goals defined by a strong interest. You know this feeling – the topic or passion you simply cannot stop studying, daydreaming about, or clicking on. She then describes how to turn that interest into your life’s Work (sound familiar – see “The War of Art” post) through deliberate practice. Gritty people are internally driven to practice by a motivation, which Duckworth identifies as their purpose. Purpose is so central to the nature of the Gritter, that they often can’t quite articulate it beyond to say that they must matter. Finally – those with Grit have an eternal well of hope. It is hope that moves them past failure, setbacks, and obstacles, to see tomorrow as the next day forward in achieving their goal.

So go find your challenge.

Don’t wait for someone to make it up for you. Listen to your interest. Feel for your purpose. And then get after it with deliberate practice and the hope – knowing each day will bring you one step closer to your life’s work.

Landing 01

On very rare occasions, themes from a few books come together – forming one single coherent thought. The thought forms slowly as the mind tries different combinations of words and ideas.  The closer the thought to forming, the more the mind will race and wrestle with it. Then, in what feels like a flurry– for the briefest of moments – the thought lives.

In that moment the mind sighs, rests, and is content. This is a landing.

And then it is gone.

This is the first of what I will call a Landing Post. It is a summary of themes pulled from a few different books into a lesson or an idea.


I am not a good writer. Or at least that is what I have been told or made to believe. I am a scientist and engineer by training. This means I am to hate writing and love math. Math and science are certainly noble justifications for my poor writing. At nearly every stage of my adult life, I have been told me that I am a poor writer. “Don’t worry,” they tell me – this is totally okay given the rigor of science and math.

That is, it was okay – until I decided I wanted to write a book. No. I needed to write a book.

The last three books reviewed helped me chart a path to the realization that maybe I am not as bad a writer as I had been telling myself for decades.  Here’s how it all went down…

“The War of Art”

Read: December 2018

Everyone is afraid to create. Everyone is afraid to try something new. Everyone is afraid of judgement. Everyone has fear.

And everyone has Work to do.

And in response to that fear, we create an incredible weave of distractions to keep us from doing what we know – deep down – we need to do. Our life’s work.

I am not saying this kind of writing is my life’s work. But writing anything at all is lightyears away from what everyone has told me my work should be. Thank you Steven Pressfield for helping me use my fear as a guide – and point me away from a life hiding to a life of trying.  

“The Coaching Habit”

Read: September 2018

Unlike writing, I have been told since I could speak, walk, and point a knife-hand that I was a leader. I led in high school in sports, and work, extracurricular activities, and of course, my siblings. Leadership drove me to join the military.  Leadership then, became my living. Multiple deployments, hundreds of soldiers, and countless missions reinforced and refined my leadership methods.  Leading was me. I nailed it.

Until I didn’t.

Leaving the military forced me into a situation where my results oriented, single-person decision-making leadership (so many hyphens!) style didn’t work. I was efficient at planning and executing missions. I was a professional at “leading-by-driving.”

Learning how to use listening as a tool to help people find their own solutions meant I too was building deeper trust and finally seeing people at their best – that is – when they learn and grow.  “Leading-by-driving” became “leading-by-guiding” as people chose on their own, the right spot rather than me just putting them there.  And WOW – so much better!

Thank you Michael Bungay Stanier for opening my mind to 360 degree leading. Mostly guiding, pushing when I must, and listening always.  

“Originals”

Read: October 2016

Read again: July 2019

What is courage?

You’d think I would have a pretty clear answer for this with the whole “military, war, deployment” thing. I thought I did.  But I actually only knew OF courage. People who were courageous. Actions that were valorous. Courage as a trait observed – but not known or felt.

Until I was afraid.

And a little lost.

Courage

Thank you Adam Grant for giving me the courage to be myself.

Turns out I am just human. Afraid of failure, sharply attuned to judgment, and terrified of criticism.

I also have Work to do. I decided to stop hearing fear and start listening openly. With that choice, I took the first step toward doing my Work.

This is courage.

Book Review: “Originals”

Author: Adam Grant

Originals – Be Afraid. Act Anyway. We need you.

There are many defenders of the status quo – and I am not one. I am Shaw’s “unreasonable man.” Now, what do I do?

Adam Grant’s book “Originals” looks closely at the Rebels of our world – Rebels with a cause! Rebellion is a concept frequently glamorized in the movies as a cool, risky, life outside the rules of society. Grant successfully dispels every, single, movie stereotype to show how true rebels take calculated risks, laden with fear, to create lasting change.

“Originals” starts by identifying the non-conformist in our world. You know them. You have them in your office, your sport teams, and your neighborhoods. They are in history books and some are even on monuments.

These are people that see the world differently. Many people think like this – that the world needs to be different. We all enjoy thinking outside the box. We all relish in having a different perspective to offer.

Originals however are different.  They go one step further. They don’t just think different. They act. In fact, Originals cannot stop themselves from acting on their beliefs. Every cell in their body calls on them to make something change. These people are often the driving force–at times the only force–behind real, lasting change.

And they have a PLAN! (This isn’t “Sons of Anarchy”)

Planning and deliberate action was my key takeaway from Originals.  True non-conformists are not disruptive simply to shake things up.  They have a vision. They care about their organizations deeply and they have an unquenchable passion for their cause. They are internally driven; called to break the system.

But they are also sticking around to rebuild it. No matter how much we all hate them.

Originals play the long game, with a deliberate plan. One person, one office, one objective at a time. They are far from risky. In fact they are acutely aware of the risk, and they proceed anyway. With tremendous fear and self-doubt.

And Courage.

So cheers to the Originals. And all you do to make our world better.

Book Review: “The Coaching Habit”

Author: Michael Bungay Stanier

It is just a question – right?

A completely different approach to leadership found through sincere questions. Ask better questions to your employees, your kids, and most importantly – yourself. Unlock potential by having the courage to ask the question.

“The Coaching Habit” presents a playbook for using a question-based approach to lead teams, communities, and families.  The book begins by giving the novice coach some gentle questions to start deeper discussions and offers listening cues. As the reader increases confidence in the power of questions, the book presents an array of questions to be used in different situations and teaches the user to listen for when each variation could be applicable.

While reading this book, try asking yourself the questions. More importantly – give yourself the time to answer the questions. Some answers will arrive right away. Others might simmer for a while and surface at unexpected times.  The key to asking questions is having the patience – to wait – and to listen – for the answer.

  Embrace silence. Listening happens only when you are silent.

“The Coaching Habit” gave me a guidebook to become both a better question asker but also a better listener. I found giving myself the space to answer my questions was practice for giving others the space to answer questions. Genuine curiosity in the unexpected answer is at the heart of true human connection.

So get out there. Talk less. Listen more. Ask amazing questions. Then wait –