By the Book: Radical Candor

Marcia Ellett, MPW
September 2018

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Kim Scott

About the Author

Kim Scott led AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick online sales and operations at Google before joining Apple to develop and teach a leadership seminar. Kim has been a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and several other technology companies, and she cofounded the management consulting firm Candor, Inc., putting into practice the principles laid out in her book (Scott, 2018).

In a Nutshell

Scott writes: “From the time we learn to speak, we’re told that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. When you become a manager [or camp leader], it’s your job to say it — and your obligation.”

No surprise. Communication is key. “You can draw a straight line from lack of guidance to a dysfunctional team that gets poor results,” says Scott.

Radical Candor describes a relationship between boss and team member, one in which “your humanity is an asset to your effectiveness, not a liability.” This relationship is built on a framework of caring personally and challenging directly that demands unflinching honesty (and often a strong dose of courage). To succeed in being radically candid in a way that fosters individual and team growth will likely require significant self-reflection and owning up to one’s own insecurities that can throw the balance of caring personally and challenging directly out of whack. A leader who challenges without caring demonstrates “obnoxious aggression;” one who shows caring without challenging engages in “ruinous empathy;” and the leader who does neither slides right into “manipulative insincerity.” Says Scott: “Part of your job as a boss (and as a human being) is to acknowledge and deal with emotional responses, not to dismiss or avoid them.”

She explains that a boss must “be humble, helpful, offer guidance in person and immediately, praise in public, criticize in private, and don’t personalize,” meaning when an issue arises, “make it clear that the problem is not due to some unfixable personality flaw.”

Radical Candor is the answer to fulfilling the three key responsibilities of a leader:

Creating a culture of feedback in which team members receive praise and criticism to keep them on a positive trajectory

Building cohesion within the team

Achieving results everyone can be proud of

Keys for Camp

Camp is all about providing intentional, nurturing opportunities for children, teens, and adults to flourish in and out of their comfort zones — and camp seems like a prime ecosystem in which to practice Radical Candor. Scott says, “Relationships don’t scale but culture does. While a boss may have real relationships with a handful of direct reports, it will impact the relationship the direct reports have with their teams.” Or in camp’s case, the relationships directors build with counselors will influence the relationships counselors, in turn, have with their campers.

Leading by example is a strong tenet of Radical Candor, particularly when it comes to criticizing. Scott explains that it makes sense to begin building a culture of Radical Candor by actively asking your team to criticize you before you criticize them. This clearly demonstrates you are aware you make mistakes, you are open to hearing about it when you do, and that you wish to be challenged. Reacting calmly with gratitude when you receive criticism — rather than anger, sadness, or defensiveness — will further encourage counselors to be bold enough to challenge when they see a need and open to constructive criticism themselves.

Scott further points out two important team member types: “superstars” (growth) and “rock stars” (stability). In camp terms, superstars are those counselors who have “future camp director” written across their foreheads. They’re ambitious, driven, and looking for opportunities to move up in the camp hierarchy. The rock stars are perhaps the bedrock of your counseling team. They’re caring, effective role models for the campers, love their summer jobs, and have no desire to take on another position at camp. Scott says a good balance of both makes for a strong team.

She also offers this sage advice: “Make sure you are seeing each person on your team with fresh eyes every day. People evolve, and so your relationships must evolve with them. Care personally; don’t put people in boxes and leave them there.”

Read More

For more on effective leadership techniques, consider reading:

  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny
  • Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, by Judith Glaser
  • Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, by Dave Logan and John King

Note: This is the first of a new book review column that will run three times a year. Please send your suggestions for books to be reviewed to


Scott, K. (2018). Biography. Retrieved from

Scott, K. (2017). Radical candor: Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Marcia Ellett is currently the assistant editor of ACA’s Camping Magazine. She is a professional writer and editor.