Radical Candor from a School Principal

One of our podcast listeners, Nadia, wrote in to share this story with us and gave us permission to share with you as well. It’s such a great story about advice that Nadia received years ago, that has stayed with her all this time. We’ve re-written her story here:

When I was in middle school, so about 15 years old, I was chairperson of the Middle School Council. Each week I met with the principal of my school, Adam Heath, to discuss the agenda for the upcoming council meeting. For me, they always felt like meetings that I had to do just to check a box — they didn’t seem that valuable.

One meeting, the principal noticed that I was upset about something and asked me what was bothering me. I was taken aback that he had noticed — in that moment I realized that he really cared about me personally. So I opened up and told him how one boy at school had been calling me Mrs. Bell, as if I were a teacher. This upset me because I already felt alienated from my peers just by being in a leadership position. I didn’t want to be thought of as patronizing or old.

Mr. Heath responded candidly that leaders are often lonely, even the good ones. He also said that I shouldn’t fret about being perceived as a leader — the very fact that I was worried about being patronizing suggested I wouldn’t become so. He said that invariably our worst traits are instead the ones of which we are totally ignorant.

It was a funny kind of praise and advice bound up into one, but I’ve never forgotten it.

Nadia, we love this story. Thank you so much for sharing. Shout out to Nadia’s principal Adam Heath (now teaching in Australia, but was in NZ when Nadia was at school) for giving such impactful and lasting advice!

This praise both showed that he Cared Personally and also Challenged Nadia Directly to continue being a great leader.

Russ says all the time, it’s lonely at the top. Kim says that as a manager you’re often an emotional punching bag for your team. And as we talked about with Dick Costolo in episode 3 of our podcast, it’s a bad idea to lead by trying to be liked. So we agree, it can be a lonely existence as a leader.

We also like the note that when you’re worried about becoming something you are less likely to become that thing. A lot of times we even over-correct!


Do you have stories about Radical Candor in education? Share them with us!