What does it mean to be someone’s boss?

Much of an employee’s experience is driven by the relationship they have with their supervisors. It’s often believed that people don’t quit their jobs. They quit their managers. Mostly because 65% of them report feeling invisible. Given this, what does it mean for employers to build good relationships?

One might think it involves being pally. We may even want to take our team members out for dinners, or play a sport with them. But, according to Kim Scott, CEO Coach and faculty at Apple University, the most important thing you need to do – care personally, and challenge directly. Cryptic? Let’s explore.

Organizations assign leaders not because we desire a pecking order, but because we need to learn and grow. And to make that happen, bosses need to focus on guidance – both giving and receiving it. What is guidance? Basically, a combination of praise and criticism. We also know it as ‘feedback,’ but the sound of it gives people the jitters. However, guidance is something most of us long for, and have pleasant associations with. Scott also calls it radical candor. Here’s how she defines its two aspects –

Care personally: This is all about demonstrating consistently that you are invested in your employees. Says Scott, “To have good relationships, you have to care about others as human beings. It’s not just business; it is personal. It’s about acknowledging that we have lives and aspirations that extend beyond work. It’s about finding time for real conversations and getting to know one another at a human level.”

Challenge directly: This involves letting people know when their work falls short. For many bosses, the fear of angry reaction causes them to avoid speaking the truth. But Scott says, “It’s true, challenging people generally pisses them off. But that is also the only way you can help them improve. And when you’re the boss, it’s one of the best ways to show you care.” If your feedback is in their best interest, they will know it. Even if hearing it pinches.

Kim Scott experienced radical candor when Sheryl Sandberg was her manager at Google. Once, after Scott led a meeting, Sandberg invited her for a walk, and appreciated everything that went well. She then asked, “You said ‘umm’ a lot. Is that because you were nervous?” For Scott, it wasn’t a big deal, so she brushed it aside. But Sandberg persisted – “You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. Let me be clearer. When you say umm every third word, it makes you sound stupid.”

How did Scott handle that? “I knew that she cared personally. She had done a thousand things that showed me that. From inviting me to join her book club, to encouraging me to take time off to care for a sick relative.” So, the feedback was in service of growth, and it was kind. It landed well!

Curious how you can practice radical candor? Come back for the next post!

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