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Video: A Ruinous Empathy Story

Kim shares a story about a time that she describes as the worst moment of her career. She learns a hard lesson after being Ruinously Empathetic with one of her employees for a period of several months. Although she Cares Personally and tries to be “nice,” her lack of Direct Challenges causes issues for her, for the employee, and for her whole team.

Watch her story:


Listen to episode 4 of the Radical Candor podcast to hear Kim and Russ discuss this story and provide tips for avoiding Ruinous Empathy.

Have you found yourself in a position like this one? We’d love to hear your story! Reach out in the comments below or on Facebook.

Resolve to Be a Better Leader in 2017

It’s that time of year. A time for new beginnings. A time for renewal and resolution. Like many, you may be feeling inspired and committed to a set of New Year’s Resolutions. But have you committed to any that will help you be a better leader in 2017?

Maybe you’re not sure where to start, what leadership resolutions to choose. John Farmer, one of our engineers, and I developed a list of “Leadership New Year Resolutions” to help you start thinking about this. We recommend picking one, at most two, and truly resolving to do it better.

We’ve organized these resolutions around the 3 core responsibilities of a manager:

  1. Giving and receiving feedback
  2. Building a high-performing team

Which are both in service of:

  1. Driving better results

Feedback Resolutions

1. Listen more and be comfortable with silence

Have you ever counted how many ears you have and compared that to the number of mouths you have? For most people that is a 2:1 ratio – twice as many ears as mouths.

When you talk, you only repeat what you already know, but if you listen you may learn something new.

(Dalai Lama, big hitter.)

Resolve to listen more so that you can truly hear and learn more from the people on your team. Here’s an Andy Grove inspired process for soliciting their feedback. You must adjust your mindset and truly believe that the people on your team have a lot to teach you, and then you must listen!

2. Embark on a listening tour

It’s not just the people on your team that can teach you a lot. You probably work closely with peers as well, those who share your boss or cross-functional collaborators. Have you heard from them recently?
Resolve to ask ten peers how you can improve. Buckle up. I recommend specifically steering clear of “what am I doing well?” and just ask the question, “what can my team or I do better?” Remember to truly listen.

And here’s the trick – Don’t get mad, get curious. Understand going in that you might hear some difficult-to-hear things. That’s GREAT! Would you rather have those things whispered behind your back or show up suddenly on a peer review? Or would you rather go out there and hear them face to face and get a chance to improve?


3. Give more praise

Too many managers do praise poorly, if they do it at all. Praise is not about making someone feel good. Praise’s purpose is to show people what success looks like, what to do more of. Roanne Daniels at Bain Capital says beautifully, “Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.”

Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.

Resolve to give (approximately) 3 instances of praise for every instance of criticism. This will be easy once you form the habit. Think about this: you’re not walking around firing everyone on your team, which means they’re doing an awful lot more well than not. Take the time to see and immediately communicate those good things in 1-3 minute, informal conversations.

4. Ask your employees how happy and productive they feel at the end of each week

One of the great services you can provide to your employees is being a blocker eliminator. Sometimes your folks experience real blockers and sometimes they perceive blockers. In both cases, it will be hard for you to be helpful if you don’t know how the person is currently feeling.

Resolve to ask, “how productive were you this week?” to uncover and discuss blockers. Also ask, “how happy are you?” to understand the things either frustrating or enriching your team members. This will give you a chance to go all Darth-Vader-in-Rogue-One on those frustrating items and the opportunity to double down on those sources of happiness.


Resolutions for Building a Stronger Team

1. Let your directs fully own the agenda for your 1:1s

Not long ago, we posted an article about holding effective 1:1s. The idea that your employee owns the agenda is a simple, symbolic practice that helps them feel ownership and autonomy for their work and their time.

Resolve to give your employees this responsibility, as a way of saying, “You tell me what’s important.” Of course, you can coach and guide them over time to help refine their thinking about what’s important. Remember that Steve Jobs said “we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”

2. Understand your employees’ long term career aspirations

Part of your job as a manager is to help your employees grow. Have you ever asked yourself the question, though, “grow into what?” How can you hope to offer a shred of relevant career advice to your people if you don’t understand their dreams?

Resolve to ask your employees, “What do you see yourself doing at the pinnacle of your career – when you are happy, challenged and not longing for anything else?” And then listen. And listen. Ask clarifying questions. Push for a few dreams, not just one. Do not accept incremental steps that don’t sound like dreams. ONLY AFTER you understand their dreams – blurry, foggy versions of the dream – use three questions to bring them into focus. What’s the role? What’s the industry? What’s the size of company? Write these vision statements down. They’re gold.


Check out this video for a bit more on helping your employees grow.

Resolutions for Achieving Results

1. Delegate decision making

Your team will execute better and faster if you devolve decision-making responsibility deeper into your organization. You’re probably less likely to do as good a job as the people closest to the facts. Also, every time you make decisions for your team, realize you are robbing your employees of a chance for both growth and visibility. Finally, you can never scale as a manager if you continue to act like an individual contributor. Let it go. They will deliver.

Resolve to delegate more important stuff to your team. Focus more on what, not how, by making sure that your team has clear, measurable goals each quarter. Push decisions “into the facts”– explicitly identify who the decider is for key decisions, and make sure that person has what they need to decide.

2. Tighten up your meetings

The more time you and your team spend in ineffective meetings, the less time you spend on achieving important results. Ever felt like a meeting had way too many people in it, or that it was taking much longer than it needed to? Ever been a part of a meeting where half the room is trying to make a decision and half the room is just debating? These situations are a huge waste of time and a source of frustration for everyone.

Resolve to publish an agenda for your meetings. (Google Spreadsheets is great for this) Make it clear exactly what the objective is for each agenda item. You might use these objectives:

  • Relate = pass on information, ie “there will be fire drill today at 1:30PM”
  • Solve = brainstorming and problem solving. Debate lives here.
  • Decide = make a decision.

Clarifying the objective of an agenda item helps all attendees know what you’re trying to get done and can help identify who needs to attend. You can also set a time limit for each agenda item. Meetings should only take the time that they need – if a meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes and you are done in 45, CELEBRATE the fact that everyone gets back 15 minutes.


The Gimme/Candor-plug Resolution

Of course, we all know that resolutions often only last about six weeks into the year. It’s hard to change your behavior. And we want to help you continue your commitment to being a better leader throughout the year.

Resolve to listen to the Radical Candor podcast for weekly leadership lessons, inspiration and tips. Subscribe in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or sign up here to get email notifications.

Also resolve to read Candor’s monthly newsletter for more stories and advice. Subscribe here.


Which of these resolutions will you commit to in 2017? Do you have other leadership resolutions? Tell us about them in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you!

Video Tip: Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

When thinking about how to best deliver feedback, think not only about the manner in which you give it, but also the setting you choose. Radically Candid praise is delivered in public and Radically Candid criticism is delivered in private. When you share specifically what was great and why it was great publicly, not only does it have more meaning for the person being praised, it helps the whole team learn something new. If you’re criticizing a person, it’s much kinder to do it in private. It will also be more clear, because private criticism is much less likely to trigger a person’s defense mechanisms.

Russ shares some tips for how to remember to give criticism in private and praise in public.


Read our article about scenarios that might call for reconsidering public praise and private criticism.

Praise And Manipulative Insincerity

Praise & Manipulative Insincerity

Manipulatively Insincere praise is given not because it is genuine, but for another motive or agenda.

Here’s a story about how realizing you have been Obnoxiously Aggressive can lead to a worse place, Manipulative Insincerity — a not uncommon path.

A couple months after joining Google, Kim had a disagreement with Larry Page about his approach to an AdSense policy and wrote an openly critical and arrogant email (watch the video here).

Kim still didn’t understand why her assessment of Larry’s new policy was wrong. But she let fear drive her behavior. The next time she saw Larry, she stopped him and apologized, then offered him some praise that she didn’t really mean: she said she knew he was right (even though she didn’t). Apologizing was reasonable, but insincerity was exactly the wrong move. Larry had a finely tuned BS meter, and Kim isn’t a very good liar. He glared at her. A colleague standing nearby smiled in sympathetic solidarity as Larry walked away and muttered, “He likes it better when you disagree with him.”

Fear drove Kim to say something she didn’t really believe, in the hopes of gaining approval. Just remember that being under pressure can make anyone act like a jerk. And when one is called out for being a jerk, it’s an all too natural instinct to become less genuine and more political — to move from Obnoxious Aggression to a worse place, Manipulative Insincerity.

More about this story and others is included in “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” published by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more

Praise And Ruinous Empathy

Praise & Ruinous Empathy

Praise can be Ruinously Empathetic when bosses try to be “nice” and get things wrong. Below are a few cautionary tales of how trying to make a person feel good without taking the time to understand the details of their work to challenge them appropriately can go astray.

Wrong assessment

Perhaps the most famous example of praise gone wrong was when Bush said on national television to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during Hurricane Katrina: “Heck of a job, Brownie!” What was so horrible about that? Brown was under enormous stress, and Bush was trying to be a supportive boss.

Problem was, FEMA was doing a disastrous job, and everybody knew it. Still, wasn’t Bush right to be supportive in the midst of a crisis? No! By publicly praising a person who was failing, Bush inadvertently highlighted what a terrible job Brown was doing and made him a laughing stock. Just because you’re the boss – or even the President of the United States – doesn’t mean that anyone will believe your assertion that somebody is doing a good job when in fact they are not. And your assertion will make you look either ignorant or soft-headed.

A boss’s job is not to win popularity contests. A boss’s job is to point out to people as clearly and with as many specifics as possible when they are doing a bad job, AND when they are really doing a good job. It’s generally a good idea to point out the good things in public and the bad things in private. But telling somebody in public they are doing a good job when in fact they are doing a bad job is far worse than just saying nothing at all.

The key is to avoid pat phrases like “good job,” or other things you’d say to your dog, and to be specific.

Wrong Thing

Another point to keep in mind for praise is to make sure to remark on something of substance.

A friend worked extremely hard on some analysis for the CEO of his company, and the only thing that got praised was the formatting of the presentation. No amount of criticism of his ideas could have been as discouraging as the flip praise of something he thought was unimportant.

When giving praise, it’s important to praise what is in fact best and most important. Be specific about what’s most relevant.

Wrong Person

One boss tells a cautionary tale about a time he praised the wrong person right after a major launch. The team was working all night, and very late he bumped into an engineer, “Anatoly,” and asked him about a particular feature. Anatoly answered his question, and told him about several important aspects of the feature. A couple days later, when celebrating the launch, this boss, wanting to praise Anatoly, congratulated him on his excellent work on the feature. But Anatoly hadn’t worked on that feature. All the engineers who had worked on it now thought Anatoly had claimed credit for something he hadn’t worked on. Chagrined, Anatoly sent an email out to the whole company, explaining that he hadn’t worked on it and listing the people who had. The boss realized that, trying to make Anatoly happy, he’d accidentally thrown him under the bus by not being deep enough in the details when he gave praise.

In short, when giving praise, take just as long to get your facts straight when giving praise as you would when criticizing. Be specific.

More about this story and others is included in “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” published by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more

Video Tip: Radically Candid Praise is Immediate

Radically Candid praise is immediate. You’ll remember the specifics much better when you see something great and point it out right away.

At Candor, Inc. we of course think great feedback is extremely important, and so in addition to trying to help others improve their feedback, as a company we’re internally focused everyday on building a culture of great feedback, a culture of Radical Candor. We give feedback frequently and think about how it is received, both through in person conversations, like in one of our previous videos, and with the Candor Gauge.

In our video this week, Kim and Russ give tips about why immediate praise is important and how to do it, and they share an example of immediate praise here at Candor:


Read our longer blog post for more tips on giving immediate feedback.

Praise & Obnoxious Aggression

Praise can be Obnoxiously Aggressive when it is given without any care for the recipient. Belittling compliments are one of the best examples of this.

Below is a perfect example: an email that a boss at a legendary Silicon Valley company sent out to his team of about 600 people, 76 of whom had just gotten bonuses. It sort of screams, “I’ll praise you if it gets more work out of you but I really couldn’t care less how you feel.” The names & email addresses have been changed, but the text, grammar errors and all, is word for word what was actually sent out.

From: John Doe
Date: Tue, Oct 27 at 9:53 AM
Subject: Spot Bonus Winners!

Dear Giant Team,
In Q3 there was a number of you that really excelled and went above and beyond the rest of us to deliver significant impact to Corpx. These team members and their accomplishments have been recognized with the Q3 spot bonus attributed by the Management Team. I want to take this opportunity to share who these extraordinary people are and provide you an overview of their accomplishments in the list below.


John Doe
Vice President, Giant Team

  • 33rd Name: Level 5 seller, he drove the highest QTD revenue of any seller: $7.5M in Q3. His comp at $70k base and OTE of $116k is 50% below market; retention risk.
  • 39th Name: she has done all of the dirty work in getting XYZ off the ground with endless spreadsheets, updates, legal calls, security calls, financial modeling, fallback matrices and has done a great job (well above her level 3 status)
  • 72nd Name: Exceptional effort in the past 4+ months. Additional responsibility covering John Doe.

Imagine how Person 33 felt when he saw his salary had been sent out to 600 people, along with the fact he was being paid half of what he should have been and was probably looking for other jobs! Just think how motivating it must have been for Person 39 to learn that she did all the “dirty work.” It probably wasn’t any consolation to learn she did such a great job that she was considered to be “well above her level 3 status.” At least there was some comedy in the fact that Person 72 had to be given a bonus for “covering John.” In other words, John Doe was such a jerk the company had to pay people a bonus if they worked closely with him.

This was Obnoxiously Aggressive. John Doe was plenty specific about what had gone well, but he had clearly gathered this information by asking all the managers who worked for him to send him a justification for the bonus. He cared so little about the people he was praising that he didn’t even bother to edit (or ask an assistant or an HR partner to edit) the justifications. He just copy-pasted them and fired off this email.

More about this story and others is included in “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” published by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more

Praise & Radical Candor

Radically Candid praise acknowledges the good work that someone has done and challenges them to do even better.

Kim learned that praise can be Radically Candid from Sergey Brin, Google co-founder, one day in front of the Executive Management Group (“EMG”). Google’s “EMG” spent hours every day listening to presentations — some new ideas, some updates on old ideas, some requests for additional resources — from various teams.

Kim was presenting details about how the size of the business was continuing to grow at a staggering rate, and she was hoping for extremely positive reactions.

Instead, Sergey commented, “That’s pretty good, but have you thought of…” and had a great idea for a couple of things Kim’s team could do that would help their customers make a lot more money with AdSense. Kim quickly got over her need for praise because she was excited about Sergey’s idea.

Sergey was giving praise that was Radically Candid. He was challenging Kim to do even better, which is the highest praise there is. “What you did is great, but I believe you can make it even better” is a more productive way to praise somebody than just saying, “You are a genius!” Saying “you are a genius” would be to make the same fundamental attribution error that saying “you are a moron” would make. If you say, “you’re a genius” when the business is going well, what does that make the person when the results are bad (which they inevitably will be, from time to time)? It makes the person a moron. It’s important to remember to praise the work, not the person’s intelligence.

The best way to show people you Care Personally and Challenge them Directly at the same time is to praise them in a way that inspires them to do the best work of their careers.

More about this story and others is included in “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” published by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more

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