How To Create Radical Candor

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Serious manager talking to his team during a meeting

What is Radical Candor?

Radical candor is a cultural perception and practice within a team (or group or organization) where the culture of the team allows for direct and honest communication without sugarcoating information while maintaining a high level of care and empathy for the individuals. It involves a level of authenticity and a commitment to truthful communication.

Why is Radical Candor so Valuable?

Radical candor is valuable because it opens dialogue, builds trust, and promotes effective communication, which translates into a greater ability to:

  • Collaborate
  • Trust
  • Address issues directly
  • Prevent misunderstandings
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Improve decision making
  • Encourage growth and improvement at an individual level, team level, and organization level
  • Constructively debate
  • Innovate
  • Gain the full value of diverse thought
  • Be agile
  • Foster a climate of accountability

What team doesn’t want these benefits?

So, how do we create radical candor?

How to Create Radical Candor

Let me share three conditions that I have found necessary for creating an environment where radical candor can exist.

1. Limited Variance in the Talent Level and Intelligence of the Team Members

I have found that radical candor struggles to exist when there is a broad variety of talent and intelligence in the team. Often when a variety of talent and intelligence exists in a team, I commonly find that:

  • The low talent and intelligence individuals take up a disproportionate amount of the airspace (Oftentimes, I find that these are very experienced people)
  • The high talent and intelligence individuals commonly feel like they have to hold back to not get too far ahead of the low talent and intelligent individuals (They are often feeling like they need to “dumb down” their ideas and don’t feel comfortable introducing complexity to individuals who may not be able to handle complexity very well)

Thus, in order to truly have radical candor, there needs to be some sort of a vetting process to ensure that the variance in talent level and intelligence is low.

2. A Leader who is Focused on Creating the Right Conditions for Radical Candor

In order for radical candor to exist, there needs to be a leader (doesn’t need to be a formal leader) that does two things:

  1. They need to concerned about the composition of the team

There needs to be a leader who spearheads the vetting process to ensure that the variance in the talent level and intelligence is low. But, the leader also needs to ensure that there are not any accidental diminishers.

  1. They are deeply concerned about removing fear and creating psychological safety

Radical candor and fear cannot coexist. Radical candor can only exist in a psychologically safe environment. Thus, a leader needs to be sensitive to any possible ways that fear could creep into a team and do their best to protect the team and root out any fears.

The best example I am aware of is Ed Catmull, the former founder of Pixar Animation and President of Disney Animation. He describes his approach and philosophy of rooting out really well in his fantastic book, Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

Creativity, Inc - Ed Catmull

One way to summarize this section is to say that a team needs a gardener-minded leader, someone who is focused on creating the right conditions for the team to grow and thrive.

3. Vertically Developed Team Members

When it comes to radical candor, the more vertically developed the team members, the better. The more vertically developed one is:

  • The more cognitively and emotionally sophisticated they are
  • The wider their window of tolerance
  • The greater their ability to see feedback and criticism as important for their growth and development
  • The greater their emotional intelligence
  • The greater their psychological flexibility
  • The greater their intellectual humility
  • The more infinite-minded they are
  • The more they are wired for value creation (as opposed to self-protection)

These are all characteristics that improve one’s ability to step into and effectively navigate diverse ideas, hard ideas, conflict, debates, different perspectives, constructive criticism, and competing priorities in a manner that allows for effective discussion, decision making, and implementation that sets the team up for ongoing and long-term success.

If you want to dive into the concept of vertical development, I encourage you to pick up my book, The Elevated Leader: Level Up Your Leadership Through Vertical Development.

Would You Like Help Creating Radical Candor?

If you would like help creating radical candor in your organization or within a group or team within your organization, I would love to help you with all three conditions necessary for radical candor. Feel free to connect with me here.

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