Radical Candor aka “Pointy Elbows”

Radical Candor…a phrase I learned earlier this year when I saw a video of Kim Scott (a former Google and Apple executive) shared by a good friend of mine.  In this video, Kim was talking about this notion of Radical Candor as it relates to effective leadership communication; I immediately adopted this phrase for myself although in a much broader sense as it so completely describes my philosophy of open, direct and transparent communication – it is what the authentic conversation of Victoria is all about.

I find myself reflective these last months; mostly because I’ve made some pretty bold decisions this past year; I sold my large house in the ‘burbs to move back to the city after so many years and then I went on to quit my job without another to go to, while concurrently making a significant investment to acquire a company.  I also spend countless hours in the gym – my vice, my zen place, listening to music while pumping iron; however, it’s in these moments, I am reflective and self-aware – not only do I challenge and compete with myself to be better physically than I was the day before, but I am constantly looking inward about how to be better holistically – wife, mother, friend, mentor, leader.

It’s during these moments of reflection that I’ve reviewed and strategized over how to grow as a leader, a communicator and, hopefully, an inspiration and example to others.  A big part of the way I do this is through my relationships and connections with others; I believe deeply in the power of authenticity, of vulnerability breeding trust; all of which comes from a very transparent and, often, direct style of communicating.

One early morning, while deliberating between shoulders press sets, I reflected on the only real constructive performance feedback I had been given over the last number of years – it was to be aware of my “pointy elbows”.  Not having ever heard of this before, or should I say, not in this context, I asked what this meant and for specific examples…long story short, my direct and transparent communication style has ruffled some feathers in our organizations’ very passive aggressive culture and environment.  The two examples my leader provided were about individual performance situations impacting clients and colleagues and while he acknowledged the poor performance, the impact and need for the conversations, even going so far as to state “Victoria, you are almost always right” (man, I need THAT in writing for future reference), he also stated that he simply wanted me to be “aware” of my pointy elbows and the perception of me as a result. Okay, great, thanks….but now what?

Funny thing is that I AM aware…I am not a bull in a china shop, I can sugar coat with the best of them, however I WILL have the tough conversation, I DO deliver the feedback that no one else will AND I’ll do so with a bit of candy sprinkles to make it less painful and more well received.  What I realized I was really being asked was to assimilate and be more like the rest of that organizations’ leadership.  At our annual kick-off meeting, the top executive in our business unit was asked what she would “keep, stop and start” doing for the business if she had the proverbial magic wand; she said she’d stop the passive-aggressive communications and culture – stop having the “meeting after the meeting”, but little did she know that this culture was exemplified daily from the top and she herself.

So as I look to improve and grow, I am more committed than ever to remain authentic and true to myself and to what I know works.  I’ll be the leader that has the tough conversations – because I am not afraid and because I care personally – about those I work with, about the clients I support and about the stakeholders who are all dependent upon strong performance and delivery.

I know there is magic that comes with this radical candor; problems are solved more quickly, I have built better, stronger cohesive and collaborative teams, I have grown my relationships with others authentically developing trust in me and promoting trust in leadership as a whole – all of which has ultimately lead to significantly higher levels of performance.

So the pointy elbows that the hockey referees may occasionally penalize me for will continue in business and my personal life – in all communication that I take part in.  Because radical candor demonstrates that I care enough to own the message and deliver it compassionately, even if my peers and leaders stand behind a veil of opaqueness to protect themselves.

I encourage you all to embrace the power and the magic that comes with the vulnerability of being truly authentic, of communicating with radical candor and proudly wear the “pointy elbows” badge once anointed.

You were born to be real, not perfect.

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