ATLIS Reads: Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Our year-long book seminar for technology thought leaders concludes with this guest post from Ethan Delavan, who previews Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. We welcome your ideas for ATLIS Reads book selections for 2021-2022. Send your suggestions to [email protected] -- SD [10-minute read]

ATLIS Reads: A Book Seminar for Technology Thought Leaders
2020-2021 Theme: Leading Schools Amid Rapid Change
Registration includes 4 webinar conversations and 1 reflective micro-course; FREE to ATIS Members; $129 for non-members. Learn more and register for ATLIS Reads her

Kim Scott, Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
March 24, 1 pm 

 Guest Blogger and Conversation Leader: 
Ethan Delavan
Director of Technology, The Bush School, Seattle, WA

Silicon Valley veteran and management guru Kim Scott's guide to offering guidance, Radical Candor is more than its name implies. Full of personal examples from her career and simple frameworks that summarize complex wisdom, her book is a rare peek into the interpersonal workings of technology companies aiming to institutionalize creativity and innovation.

Specifically, I was surprised to find myself reading the word “care” so often in a book emerging from a hard-driving industry famous for disruption and exponential growth. Perhaps that’s why Scott’s conception of candor is so radical: It doesn’t mean anything unless you care about the person to whom you’re speaking. This prerequisite of care seemed to me to fit well into the mission-driven organizations to which we belong, and that kept me reading.

Perhaps more interesting to us than the parallels between big technology companies and small school technology departments are their contrasts. Central to Scott’s framework is her “magic quadrant” plot of management styles that places radical candor at the intersection of both personal care and direct challenge. What the other three quadrants represent have significant lessons for the kind of culture we’re trying to create (or willing to tolerate) at our schools. If Scott had to pick between “ruinous empathy” and “obnoxious aggression,” she’d choose the latter. Would we? Why?

Scott posits two types of employee growth trajectory. Rock stars are in the trenches making it happen for the long haul. And superstars (which she admits might be more aptly called shooting stars) are eager for the next big challenge. Sure, at a large growth-focused company, it might be easy to manage the paths of contrasting trajectories. But what about at a growth-restricted (and perhaps traditional) independent school? How might we truly care for the aspirations of types of stars, especially as one person might switch between trajectories during their employment?

In what may be a derivative of the popular Silicon Valley design thinking model (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test), Scott proposes her own mode of incorporating a team’s thinking into the rhythm of innovation: listen, clarify, debate, decide, persuade, execute, learn. How might we engender this rhythm among our school technology teams?

But perhaps most importantly, how do we ourselves need to develop as leaders to meet this challenge? What can practicing radical candor teach us? Do we need to challenge more directly? Or care more personally? Or both?

I'm looking forward to learning your answers to these questions and more at the ATLIS Reads webinar on Wednesday, March 24, 1:00 Eastern. 

Register here if you haven't yet joined the seminar for 2020-2021. Free to ATLIS members; $129 for non-members. (Once registered, you receive access to videos of this year's previous discussions on the companion micro-course.)


Ethan's slides.

Discussion Questions

  • What might we learn from the emphasis on candor?
  • How do we express personal care for our teams and faculty?
  • What facets of Scott’s thinking apply well, or poorly, to independent schools?
  • How is the movement to foster diverse learning environments impacted by practicing radical candor?
  • What do we learn about ourselves as leaders and colleagues by thinking through Scott’s ideas?
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