The topic of candor got a boost this year from the popular book Radical Candor by Kim Scott (1), a retired Google/Apple veteran and management coach who believes the right kind of candor is a critical factor in personal and organizational success. Kim has YouTubed about the subject as well, and both her book and talks get high praise.
Her ideas came from hard won personal experience. She remembers firing a staff member whom she liked and who, after hearing the poor performance review, asked, “Why didn’t you tell me. Why didn’t anyone tell me? I thought you all liked me.” She realized the empathy that cloaked her fear of candor had failed both him and the organization. Conversely, she describes a time when a boss’s candor cut through her resistance in a way that led to career-changing insight.
Years of management and coaching experience led Kim to focus on promoting the practice of (caring) candor as a key element of transformative change. The candor she describes balances caring about people personally yet being willing to challenge them directly. This kind of candor avoids aggressive behavior, manipulative insincerity, or what she now calls “ruinous empathy.”
While her ideas are framed for managers, candor is critical in the board’s work as well – in self-evaluation, monitoring CEO performance, and group deliberations that inform board decisions. The “one voice” of the board is not intended to suppress or obstruct candor. Quite the opposite: John Carver, the founder of Policy Governance®, encourages boards to invite rather than avoid, divergence and dispute. “The board must value, even crave disagreement within its ranks if it expects to be comfortable with the lively dissent outside. A board that believes it must vote as a block in order for its pronouncements to carry weight fails to signal that its one voice always grows from and in spite of diversity.” (2) The board’s strategic leadership must be inclusive enough to embrace diversity in order to be enriched by it, and creating a culture of candor is a building block for getting there.
It is through compassionate candor that boards will do their best work.
1. Kim Scott, Radical Cando,. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.
2. John Carver, Boards That Make a Difference, Third Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006, 289.