The Right Stuff (#133)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the topic of praise and criticism and how it relates to Kim Scott’s perspectives around feedback. Another gem from her book, Radical Candor, is about being right versus getting something right.

Kim writes about a conversation she had with Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, about Steve Jobs. Grove made the remark, “F-ing Steve [Jobs] always gets it right,” to which Kim replied, “Nobody’s always right.”

Grove’s response was, “I didn’t say Steve IS always right. I said he always GETS it right. Like anyone, he is wrong all the time but he insists, and not gently either, that people tell him when he’s wrong, so he always gets it right in the end.”

The recollection of this conversation from Scott’s book was recently triggered while reading an article about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. When asked by CNBC contributor, Suzy Welch, what he looks for when he promotes someone into a leadership role, Bezos’ answer was “I want people who are right most of the time.” What can be inferred from this statement is that they are right most of the time because they’ve learned how to make the tough calls and focus on delivering the best results – even if it potentially goes against the opinion or perspective of Bezos.

These are examples of two of the greatest business leaders of our generation putting their ego aside to arrive at the best outcome; and it’s hard to argue with their results. What was most important to them is not that they be right, but that their teams get to the right answers, which ultimately means their company will get it right.

The best leaders want to be challenged and proven wrong by others, a concept that Ray Dalio, author of Principles, refers to as an “idea meritocracy.” The expectation behind this principle is that people be empowered to bring the best ideas to the table and challenge leadership. It honors the reality that the best ideas can originate from anywhere and anyone – regardless of role or position.

Most of us, as individuals and leaders, would find it difficult to honestly say that, deep down, we want to be wrong and for others to be right. Our ego does not readily embrace such perspectives. Deep down, we all want to be right because it’s validating and makes us feel smart.

However, such ego-driven thinking typically leads to suboptimal outcomes and even the repression of new ideas. If two of the smartest, most strategic leaders in the last 100 years were happy to be proven wrong, then the question we really need to ask ourselves consistently in both our personal and professional lives is, “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to get it right?


Quote of the Week

“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”

St. Augustine



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Praise and Criticism (#125)

In her first major leadership role at Google, Kim Scott and her then boss, Sheryl Sandberg met with the founders and CEO to present the results from a campaign Kim and her team developed. The numbers were so remarkable, CEO Eric Schmitt almost fell off his chair in disbelief and then peppered her with questions about how they could best support her team.

Understandably, she emerged from the meeting feeling really good about herself and how it had gone.

On her walk back to her office, Sandberg praised Kim and told her the things she had done well in the presentation. She also noted that Kim used the filler “ummm” a lot and asked her if she was aware of that. Kim brushed it off a few times as a verbal tick to which Sandberg responded by looking her right in the eye and saying, “Kim, when you say ‘ummm’ every third word, it makes you sound insecure and stupid.”

Now, Sandberg had Kim’s attention.

While some would say this feedback was harsh, Kim would disagree. Sandberg did not say that Kim was stupid, she said using “ummm” too often made her sound stupid and undermined her credibility and intelligence.

The way in which Sandberg gave Kim this feedback was both caring and direct, a term that Kim went on to coin “radical candor.” Kim knew that Sandberg genuinely cared about her and that her feedback was coming from a place of wanting to help her excel and improve; it was not a personal attack.

Kim took Sandberg’s advice, went on to work with a speech coach and is now a sought-after keynote speaker and author of the bestselling book Radical Candor—The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss.

She also started a company that helps leaders and companies implement Radical Candor in their organization through talks, workshops, and coaching.

And Sandberg, of course, went on to become COO of Facebook.

I was reminded of Kim’s story when I read a recent ESPN article about Boston Celtics coach, Brad Stevens. Despite losing their two best players, the Celtics are playing strong through the playoffs and Stevens is quickly making a name for himself as one of the best coaches in professional sports today. Here’s how the ESPN writer describes how he addresses player mistakes:

“In evaluating players, both during games and in film sessions, Stevens is careful with language, according to coaches, players and team higher-ups. He focuses on actions: We didn’t get this rebound. You should have made this rotation earlier. The criticism is never about the player’s character. No one is labeled lazy or stupid or selfish. Stevens simply describes what did or did not happen, and what should happen next time.”

The purpose of feedback should always be for the receiver to get better—not for the giver to feel better.  Too often, we fail to give our employees, friends and family the feedback that they need to hear because we are afraid to have the tough conversion.

If you aren’t meeting this standard, then you are likely falling into one of the other three feedback quadrants that Kim outlines in her book and her training: Obnoxious Aggression, Ruinous Empathy or Manipulative Insincerity. Each have major downfalls.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to sit down with Kim Scott on the Outperform Podcast to hear her story and learn more about how we should both give and receive candid feedback. You can listen to the episode here.


Quote of the Week

“The purpose of criticism is to help others improve. The purpose of praise is to help others know what keep doing more of.”

Kim Scott



The post Praise and Criticism (#125) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Playing it Safe (#96)

Last week, I wrote about how having the freedom to fail is an integral part of growth and how many parents are failing this test. In response to last week’s post, a friend sent me an article titled, “The Fragile Generation.” The author opens with an anecdote of a teen boy who was chopping some wood to make a fort with his friends. An onlooker notified the police who arrived at the scene and “took the tools for safekeeping to be returned to the boy’s parents.”

The author writes, “We told a generation of kids that they can never be too safe—and they believed us.”

This need to be “safe” has evolved part and parcel with the explosion of the internet and social media.  Many of the things that have a very low probability of bringing us harm are sensationalized online and in the news; because we see it happening on the internet and how horrible it is, we start to question our safety. For example, the leading cause of death in the US is an unhealthy diet, not any of the things we read about in the news. Yet … we aren’t blocking the doors to McDonalds.

Our inclination to seek “safety” removes a degree of risk-taking in our lives that is necessary for getting us out of our comfort zone, such as travelling to new places, trying new foods and interacting with people of different background and beliefs.

Our physical need for safety has also evolved into an emotional need. This comes at a very high price.

One emotional cost is that more and more people today are delaying – or altogether missing – adult milestones; landmarks that come with a certain degree of risk, such as buying a home/living on their own, getting married or having kids.

If we try to ensure that we, or those we love, will never get physically or emotionally hurt, it’s unlikely that we’ll lead fulfilling, prosperous lives.

This is a big problem; one that is not easily solved. That being said, I believe one area where we can all start to be more growth-minded and a little less safe is in our communication and feedback. Often, we don’t say what we really mean. It’s either safer not to or it helps us (or the recipient) maintain the status quo.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across around feedback is from Kim Scott’s new book, Radical CandorBe a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Radical Candor, she argues, should be the default form of both personal and professional feedback.

One of the quadrants in the Radical Candor graph that gets less attention, but is often our automatic form of commutation, is “Ruinous Empathy.” This is when you care about the other person and their perspective, but you don’t tell them what they really need to hear, which is likely to be a tough message and/or the truth as you will see in this sample video.

According to Scott, Ruinous Empathy comes from our desire to try and control other people’s feelings, something we should not and cannot do. While it may come from a good place, it is also a misplaced, misguided effort. It’s about being safe.

This week, let’s encourage open and vulnerable communication. We may get our knees skinned – we maybe even get rejected outright — but at least we’re living authentically, growing and working toward empowering ourselves and others.

Quote of the Week

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

John A. Shedd

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