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Clear the Path for Criticism

Why being candid is helpful and clear, not mean.

Smart, Savvy + Associates is planning a radical year. Radically candid, that is. We’ve become huge fans of the book, Radical Candor, by Kim Scott. Why do we like it so much we can’t help but share it? Because it combines leadership with being a real person, and using that truth to guide, develop, and have solid relationships with your team members.

Being candid is about being authentic, but it’s more than that. It’s honesty – delivered with skill, purpose, and (hopefully) grace.

Nice guys finish last

Scott raises the problematic way most of us were raised to believe, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Nice is good if you’re choking down your great-aunt Sylvia’s burnt pie crust, but nice doesn’t cut it for leadership. Nice in the workplace, (which usually means avoiding what could be a challenging conversation), can make or break a business. In this sense, nice guys DO finish last, because not only are they not empowering and equipping employees to get their work done, but they’re undermining their own leadership.

Excellent leadership means caring for people enough that you are willing to invest in their development. If Sam is working slower than everyone else, he needs to know so he can do something about it (with collaborative guidance of course). Honesty doesn’t mean “dump and run,” but it does mean letting Sam know you care about him and that you’ll also address his productivity level.  Same goes for great work – it needs to be recognized and celebrated, with the specifics of why it rocked. That way, a person can build on the strengths you are praising.

Get the candour rolling

To move from “nice and polite” to a culture of Radically Candid, you need to start with yourself. Start by asking for specific criticism – and prepare yourself to truly hear it, and to react with openness and appreciation. Basically, to dish it out, you need to show that you can take it. Scott offers four reasons why you should go first.

4 reasons to ask for criticism

  1. Shows awareness of being wrong sometimes, and that you want to be told when you are wrong.
  2. You’ll learn from it – your direct reports are acutely aware of your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. The experience of receiving criticism will make you more aware of how others feel when you criticize them.
  4. Build trust and strengthen relationships with your team.

Candour in the workplace must be give and get, between you and your team, and among team members. Clear the path for people to challenge faulty processes, address gaps in knowledge, and give praise to those who earned it. The new candid conversations will support individual development and team growth, and you’ll be a better leader of a stronger team.


Need more Radical Candor in your workplace? Contact the Smart Savvy Academy for a customized workshop for your team: give the gift of candor to help others reach their potential and achieve target business outcomes!

Catherine.jpgCatherine Ducharme is Director of Client Services with Smart, Savvy + Associates’ Smart Savvy Academy. We find high-calibre marketing, communications, creative and sales professionals with proven track records and in-demand skills for companies who need them, across the Pacific Northwest and in Toronto. We also provide leadership and training development programs for workplace programs, corporate retreats and individual growth opportunities. Contact Catherine to discuss your organization's training needs.

Catherine Ducharme

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