Sunday, March 11, 2018

Leading with Radical Candor

I'm coming back to blogging after a few years buried under project work, and I want to explore some lessons learned as a technology leader managing a department growing rapidly and going through significant changes. My department builds educational software products and has grown from a couple employees and a dozen consultants to over 70 employees and 100 contractors/consultants over 3 years.
One of the hardest things to do as a leader (or person) is confronting someone who is struggling that you are responsible for supporting (i.e. someone in the team/organization who "reports to you"). I discovered the radical candor framework a couple years ago when one of my team leaders brought it back from a conference. As a concept, it is fairly simple. In a nutshell, you should care about the individual person enough that you are willing to directly and frankly challenge them for their benefit.
This is much easier said than done. Human tendency is to avoid friction by saying what others want to hear (this is on the opposite spectrum from challenging directly - the left side of the diagram above). Some people may even prefer to treat everyone the same way which probably means treating them as resources instead of people (the bottom of the diagram). To be a truly impactful leader who people want to work with, you need to care personally and challenge directly (the upper right in the diagram).

So practically, how do we do this? Here are a few things I try to do every week to better support my teams as a servant leader.

  1. Tell them what your goals are with them and for them.
    For example, tell them you want to have a good relationship and you want them to be successful. Tell them you care about them and care what they think. That you want them to be better at things than you are. It's important that you actually do want these things for them. If you don't then you probably need to reconsider if leadership is for you.
  2. Be candid and specific with your expectations.
    Do you have a bunch of mind readers working for/with you? If so, then they already know what you expect of them. If not, you need to be really clear repeatedly about what you expect from them in whatever role they are in. (Setting expectations is a bit of an art and probably deserves an entire training series...) Did their last release go badly? Talk to them about it and explain what you think should have gone better. Were they late with a recent delivery or was it poor quality? Don't act like that was good enough, tell them how it should have been better and why that matters. Failing to set expectations high enough and make them clear to people will leave them stagnating and set them up for failure.
  3. Ask how you can support them better.
    Are you proud of yourself and all your accomplishments as a leader? That's human and pretty normal but you have to be careful to not let your ego take over and become the primary in your relationship with the people you are responsible for supporting (the ones who "report to you"). Are you afraid they will tell you that you are not supporting them? Are you afraid that asking how you can support them means that you will lose power over them? If so, it is even more important for you to admit you cannot get your job done without them. Swallow your pride and talk to your team like they are more important than you... because they are.
Welcome to caring personally and challenging directly!

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