I recently listened to a speaker talk about the years when he was so engrossed in his work that he seldom made it home in time for dinner with his spouse and young family. This reminded me of the countless days I was at my desk downtown before 7:00 a.m. and worked until 6:00 p.m., only to then to go for a 12k run in preparation for my next marathon. I too would get home long after my family had eaten together without me.
Listening to this speaker provided an interesting parallel to a book I’ve been reading—Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. Scott presents some valuable situational leadership observations and suggestions, particularly the need to care for an employee as precursor to providing candid feedback. Here is my concern, however: Scott seems to present this pairing of care and candor in an almost transactional sense, bringing to mind a conversation that might go like the following, “Paul, tell me a little about yourself [pause for answer]… Oh, that’s interesting, now let me give you some candid feedback…” True caring and candor is not transactional—it is transformational for both direct report and manager.
Creating transformational experiences take time.
Offering candid feedback, if it is to actually be useful, requires earning the right to be candid. Earning that right can take several cycles of interaction. Imagine an upward evolving spiral, with each upward iteration marked with an ‘earning the right’ caring exchange. This caring effort is by its nature intensive, requiring a level of engrossment in the aspirations, concerns and values of a junior colleague that we may not realize. There is another critical element of earning the right to be candid: You need to prove that you actually know what you are talking about. I have witnessed new managers wading into their work with surprisingly little effort to actually understand the critical success metrics for their unit, let alone having a deep understanding of the fundamental mission of the enterprise.
Most of our employees actually seek to fulfill a deep sense of purpose in their work. Indeed, for some employees the workplace may be, potentially, the most stable element of their lives. As the speaker I mentioned above made clear, earnest, hard workers sacrifice much in order to build their career and contribute. To be sure, good leadership often requires disruptive conversations. However, blundering into a ‘candid’ feedback session in order to, as Scott’s book suggests, ‘get (sh)it done,’[sic] can be catastrophic—if a new manager is not careful, they could inadvertently cause an employee to look for the exit (taking them with them deep reserves of knowledge).
When I meet with young commerce students, I often explain that there are three rules of success: get to work early, learn everything, and leave when the work is done (not when you’re tired). Sound leadership means being alongside your team on this journey toward success.
Make the investment in mutually inspiring transformation, not short-term transactions. You will be admired for it, not only by your employee, who is investing far more of themselves than you realize, but by their families too.
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