Kim Scott Interview for Nordic Business Forum 2024
Blog Interview Nordic Business Forum 2024

Embracing Respect and Candor with Kim Scott

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Scott, CEO coach and renowned author of Radical Candor and Radical Respect, to gain insights into creating a culture that fosters continuous learning and development. Kim shared her profound knowledge of respect, candor, and courageous leadership, which are vital for healthy and successful workplaces. Here’s what she had to say:

Create a Culture of Radical Respect

In her book Radical Respect, Kim emphasizes the importance of respect as a foundation for effective collaboration and communication. However, she pointed out that first, we need to take a closer look at the definition of the word respect.

“The word respect has two very different meanings. The first has to do with admiration for someone’s abilities, qualities, or achievements. That kind of admiration has to be earned. But that’s not what Radical Respect is about. The definition of respect I’m using is a regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions of others. This kind of respect is something we owe to everyone; it is not something that needs to be ‘earned’.”

She continues, that this kind of unconditional respect is essential to a healthy organizational culture, but it doesn’t mean that people need to agree or accept all opinions and behaviors.

“We don’t have to respect a person’s opinion on a particular topic—we can disagree, vehemently. We don’t have to respect a particular action a person took—we can still insist there be consequences for harmful action. But we do have to respect that person as a human being if we want to be able to work together productively while also leaving space to disagree and hold each other accountable for causing harm.”

She concluded by stating that Radical Respect can happen in workplaces if they do two things simultaneously: 1) Optimize for collaboration, not coercion, and 2) Honor individuality, and don’t demand conformity.

Overcome “Ruinous Empathy”

When discussing common feedback challenges among business leaders, Kim immediately raised what she calls “ruinous empathy”. This occurs when leaders avoid giving honest feedback to spare someone’s feelings, which can be detrimental in the long run. She then offered practical advice to overcome this challenge.

“Think of a time when you were ruinously empathetic—when you failed to say the thing you know you should have said, and it had very bad consequences for the other person, for your relationship, and for your results. Next time you are tempted not to say the thing, this will help you realize that what you’re saying is not mean, it’s clear and helpful.”

By recognizing the long-term benefits of honest feedback, leaders can shift their approach from avoidance to constructive candor. This will ultimately contribute to better performance and relationships.

Practical Strategies for Encouraging Candid Feedback

Creating a culture of candid feedback is essential for organizational growth. To help leaders get started, Kim provided two different practical strategies they can implement. First, she addressed the problem of backstabbing among team members and offered her advice on how to prevent it. She emphasized that while listening is usually a good practice for a leader, these situations require taking action and discussing the issue.

“If one employee comes to complain to you about another employee, ask them if they’ve spoken directly to the other employee. If not, ask why not. If they can’t work it out, have the two people come to you together and talk. Remember, you are more like a relationship therapist than a shuttle diplomat. Of course, there are exceptions. If one employee has sexually harassed another, you need to handle it differently. I’m talking about normal business disagreements here.”

Kim also advised that leaders should hold speak-truth-to-power meetings—often called skip-level meetings. These are meetings with the employees who work for your direct reports, without your direct reports in the room, where you ask what they could do or stop doing to be better leaders. As most people are reluctant to criticize their supervisors, these settings allow employees to voice concerns directly to higher management without fear of retribution.

“The intent of these sessions is to be supportive of the managers who report to you, not to undermine them. And part of being supportive is knowing when they are screwing up, and helping them address the situation.”

(You can read more about these meetings and how to execute them from this LinkedIn article by Kim.)

Courageous Leadership: Embracing Institutional Courage

The theme of Nordic Business Forum 2024 is “Courageous Leadership,” and Kim Scott shared her perspective on what it means to be a courageous leader:

“Courageous Leadership is about the willingness of leaders to demonstrate what psychologist Jennifer Freyd calls Institutional Courage. This goes beyond personal courage. It is about having the courage and the discipline to create management systems that encourage respectful behavior and create consequences for disrespectful behavior. If we design such systems consciously, we can have a positive impact on our workplace culture; if we don’t, systemic injustice is the inevitable result.”


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