Be a Better Boss: Radical Candor from Sheryl Sandberg

We're all familiar with the stereotype of the abusive law firm partner who berates associates and terrorizes the entire legal department. But "harsh" criticism can be delivered softly and can come from good intentions. For example, when Sheryl Sandberg (then at Google) told Kim Scott she sounded stupid.

Scott's "Radical Candor — The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss" discuss when blunt feedback from a supervisor is the kindest guidance she can offer. In this case, Sandberg had tried softer approaches to communicate to Scott that she needs to improve her presentation skills--especially eliminate her verbal tick of saying "um" every three words--but Scott wasn't hearing her. It was until Sandberg told her she sounded stupid that Scott listened.

Why did this radical candor work, rather than create tension and resentment between Scott and her boss?

  • Scott knew Sandberg cared about her personally. They had a long track record of supportive, personal interaction.
  • Sandberg was willing to challenge Scott directly, even though it might make Scott angry.
  • The comment was made in private and in-person.
  • The criticism was impersonal ("You sound stupid" rather than "You are stupid").

For Scott, it was Sandberg's moral obligation--as a good boss--to tell her when she needed improvement. Many of us attorneys--whether in a law firm, in a corporate legal department, academia, nonprofit, government, and any other setting--will eventually be supervisors. Indeed many legal roles require the ability to supervise, train, and mentor lawyers, legal staff, and others within the organization. It's never too early, or too late, to learn to be a good boss. Lawyers should consider it part of their professional development!

Check out Scott's video and accompanying article to learn more about developing into a solutions-oriented boss builds and runs cohesive teams.

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