We often underestimate the importance of “emotional labor” in the process of becoming a leader. This term is commonly used in the service industry or healthcare sector, including psychiatrists, nurses, doctors, waiters, flight attendants, and more. However, emotional labor is not only a part of managerial work but also a key to becoming a good leader.
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While fundamentally, bosses are individuals responsible for outcomes, they achieve those results through guiding their teams rather than doing everything themselves. Therefore, the term “boss” refers to someone who guides the team to achieve results.
The questions I’ve been asked mainly revolve around three elements of managerial responsibilities: guidance, team building, and outcomes.
01 – Guidance
Guidance is often referred to as “feedback.” People tend to be apprehensive about feedback, whether it’s praise or criticism. Praise can make someone feel arrogant, and as for criticism, it’s even more complicated.
Whenever a boss wants to provide feedback to an employee, they might wonder:
● What if the employee becomes defensive?
● Will there be yelling, threats of legal action, or tears?
● What should the boss say when the employee doesn’t understand the criticism or doesn’t know how to correct the mistake, especially when the error isn’t easily fixable?
● When the problem seems crystal clear, why doesn’t this person see it?
● Is it really necessary for me to say something?
● Am I being too gentle or too harsh?
Because all these questions seem so daunting, bosses often forget that they too need guidance and encouragement, and that employees can guide each other as well.
02 – Team Building
Building a cohesive team means putting the right people in the right positions through hiring, firing, promotions, and other means.
However, once you’ve placed the right people in the right positions, how do you motivate them?
Especially in Silicon Valley, it seems like the questions are:
Why do some individuals contemplate their next job before fully mastering their current skills?
Why does the millennial generation always expect their careers to come with instructions like a Lego set?
Why do some employees leave the team just as they’re starting to catch up?
Why do wheels always seem to come off the car? Why do wheels always seem to come off the car?
03 – Results
Many managers are often frustrated to find that things are always more challenging than expected. The team may have doubled in size, but the output may not have met the expected results; in fact, it might even be worse.
Why does this happen? Because sometimes the efficiency is too low: if I don’t intervene, employees will endlessly debate a plan, but why can’t they make a decision decisively? Sometimes, efficiency is too fast: because the team is completely unwilling to make a plan, they end up missing deadlines.
They talk about resisting procrastination, but they have no plans and goals. Why don’t they think carefully before taking action? Maybe it’s just inertia for them: doing the same work as last quarter this quarter, repeating the mistakes they’ve made before. So, what reason do they have to expect different results?
Guidance, team building, and results are not only responsibilities that every boss should fulfill but also for CEOs, middle managers, and other novice leaders. These are the duties they must assume.
CEOs may deal with broader issues, but they still need to work with others, including oddballs, high performers, and regular employees. Therefore, these three elements directly and clearly reflect whether they can successfully hold top leadership positions. These are the same issues to consider whether entering leadership for the first time or at a higher level.
04 – Relationships Drive Progress, Not Power
One of the most crucial questions, and a key to being a good boss, is how to establish mutual trust with your direct subordinates—an issue that is often overlooked.
If you lead a large organization, you may not be able to establish relationships with everyone, but you can get to know your direct reports. Despite obstacles such as the distribution of power, fear of potential conflicts, concerns about crossing appropriateness and professional boundaries, worries about losing credibility, and time pressures, among others.
However, these relationships are at the core of your work, and they determine whether you can fulfill the three responsibilities as a manager.
The first is fostering a culture of guidance (providing praise and criticism) so that everyone strives in the right direction; the second is understanding the motivations of each individual in the team to prevent burnout and boredom, maintaining team cohesion; and the third is working together to achieve results.
If you think you can achieve these three points without strong relationships, you must be joking.
I’m not saying that unbridled power, control, or authority is useless; they may be highly effective in the world of baboons or in authoritarian regimes. But you should understand that this is not what you should aspire to.
Responsibility and relationships form a virtuous cycle. By mastering effective methods of giving and receiving guidance, by putting the right people in the right positions, by working together to achieve results that individuals cannot achieve alone, you strengthen your relationships with subordinates.
Of course, the opposite can also happen. If you fail to guide your employees to success, or if people dislike or are not suited to their current roles, or if you force employees to complete unrealistic tasks, all of this will damage the trust your subordinates have in you.
Interpersonal relationships and the dynamic interplay of responsibility determine the success or failure of a manager. Your relationship with your direct subordinates affects their relationships with their direct subordinates, which in turn impacts the overall team culture. Therefore, the ability to build trust and emotional bonds with your direct subordinates is key to determining the success of everything that follows.
Precisely defining these relationships is crucial. They are highly personal and distinct from other relationships in life. Most people feel perplexed when they begin to establish these relationships. To be absolutely candid, it can be challenging, but it will provide you with guidance and assistance.
05 – What is Radical Candor?
Fostering trust relationships is not as straightforward as solving an equation, like setting x, y, and z to have good relationships. Like all human relationships, the boss-subordinate relationship is unpredictable and lacks absolute rules. However, I’ve distilled two dimensions that, when combined, will guide you in the right direction.
The first dimension is personal care that goes beyond “professionalism.” This dimension requires you to care about your subordinates, not just as part of your job, but also to encourage all your direct reports to do the same. Moreover, caring only about your subordinates’ work capabilities is insufficient. To build strong relationships, you must invest yourself fully and care about each person who works for you. This involves not only work-related matters but also personal relationships and can often be quite intimate.
The second dimension is direct challenge. When your subordinates are doing well or not well enough, when they can’t advance to satisfactory positions, when you’re about to hire a new employee at a higher level than them, or when the results can’t prove the investment value of their projects, you must tell them promptly.
Isn’t it a manager’s job to give tough feedback, set high standards, and rigorously assess results? Many people find this quite challenging. Challenging others can make them uncomfortable, and on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a good way to build a good relationship with subordinates or demonstrate individual care. However, as a boss, direct challenge often proves to be the best way to show your care for your subordinates.
When you combine individual care with direct challenge, radical candor emerges. Radical candor can build trust relationships and create opportunities for effective communication, which will help you achieve results and eliminate the fear people often exhibit when faced with management challenges.
When people start trusting you and believe that you genuinely care about them, the likely outcomes include:
- Accepting your praise or criticism and using it as guidance.
- Expressing their genuine thoughts about your work, especially areas where you fall short.
- Participating in “radical candor” with other employees, making things much more efficient.
- Accepting their position within the team.
- Focusing on achieving results.
Why do I use the word “radical”? Because most people are accustomed to hiding their true thoughts. This is to some extent a social adaptation that helps avoid conflict and awkwardness. However, as a boss, the consequences of such behavior can be disastrous.
Why do I use the word “candor”? To make everyone (including you) accustomed to challenging each other, we need to emphasize the necessity of clear communication, which is crucial.
As long as the communication is clear enough and the tone is humble enough, it won’t lead to misunderstandings. I chose “candor” instead of “honesty” because I have enough confidence that you know the truth.
The implied meaning of “candor” is that you should voice your perspective on issues and expect others to do the same. If it’s truly your mistake, you want to know about it. At least I hope you do.
The remarkable aspect of radical candor is that the outcomes often turn out to be the opposite of what you might fear. You may worry that people will get angry or seek retaliation, but in reality, they appreciate the opportunity for clear communication. Even if they do get momentarily upset, frustrated, or experience negative emotions, it will be short-lived because they will recognize that you genuinely care about them.
When subordinates become increasingly candid with each other, you’ll spend less time mediating conflicts.
When bosses encourage and support radical candor, communication between individuals increases, and any nascent dissatisfaction is nipped in the bud. People not only love their work but also care about each other and enjoy the work environment. The entire team becomes more effective, and this sense of achievement cannot be simply described as “success.”
06 – What Radical Candor Isn’t
Radical candor is not about being needlessly harsh or “stabbing people in the front,” nor is it about saying, “Let’s be radically candid with each other,” and then proceeding to say, “You’re a liar, and I won’t trust you,” or “You’re a fool.” Such approaches are highly unwise and are not radical candor if you haven’t demonstrated individual care.
Radical candor is not about nitpicking. Challenging others directly is energy-consuming, both for you and the person being challenged. Therefore, it should only be done when necessary.
A good rule of thumb for handling any relationship effectively is to let three unimportant things go unsaid every day, to hold your tongue.
Radical candor is not a byproduct of bureaucratic hierarchy. To be radically candid, you need to strive for good relationships with everyone around you—upwards, downwards, and laterally. Even if your superiors and colleagues don’t adopt this approach, you can still create a culture of radical candor within your team. You can continue to handle your interactions with your superiors and colleagues with care. However, if they still can’t be radically candid with you, I suggest considering a job change.
Radical candor is not about building relationships through idle chatter, nor is it about endlessly showcasing an extroverted persona. This can lead to exhaustion for you and for introverted team members (if you happen to be an introvert as well).
Radical candor also doesn’t require you to always socialize with colleagues by going out for drinks, kart racing, playing live-action CS (a form of outdoor competitive sport), or attending endless parties. While these activities can be good stress relievers, they can also consume too much time. It’s important to note that these activities are not the best way to understand others and do not necessarily demonstrate your care.
Finally, radical candor is not unique to Silicon Valley culture, nor is it unique to American culture; it applies to human society as a whole.
In fact, the concept of radical candor is something I began to systematically think about while working for an Israeli company.
07 – Radical Candor Has Interpersonal and Cultural Attributes
The two dimensions of radical candor are highly sensitive to the external environment, and their effectiveness depends on the listener, not the speaker.
Radical candor is not a personality type, an innate ability, or a cultural standard. It only works when others understand that your care and challenges come from the heart.
We need to continually recognize that radical candor may be effective for some people but may make others or teams feel uncomfortable (or overly sentimental).
As we move from one company to another, from one country to another, the approach to radical candor may need to be adjusted accordingly.
What works as radical candor in one culture may not be directly applicable in another culture.