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Employee Experience

Former Google and Apple Exec: ‘How to deal with jerks’

As part of our Breakthrough Builders podcast series, our Head of Brand Strategy, Jesse Purewal, chats with Kim Scott, bestselling author, former Silicon Valley executive, and CEO coach.

They discuss why she writes, the things that distract us from work, and how to deal with jerks.

Listen to the complete podcast episode of Breakthrough Builders with Kim Scott

Early reflections

A 2010 study published in academic journal Behavioral Sciences & the Law concluded that psychopathy may be significantly more prevalent among the corporate population than the general population.

The authors summarize their findings in part by pointing to the correlation between certain traits identified in “360 evaluations” and clinical psychopathy: “Psychopathy was associated with the perception that a participant had good communication and strategic thinking skills and was creative and innovative, and with the perception that a participant had a poor management style, and was not a team player.”

Many of us in the business world, while not necessarily bumping up against psychopathy in the form of a boss, have had to deal with our share of “not-a-team-player” co-workers or superiors. Maybe, like me, you have even wondered how certain people advanced through the organization with clear blind spots when it comes to their treatment of others.

Kim Scott is on a mission to help make things better for us by both encouraging possessors of said traits to develop empathy, and encouraging the rest of us to develop ‘Radical Candor’ – the balanced blend of caring personally and challenging them directly.

“My theory is that the vast majority of people struggle most of the time with ruinous empathy. And if we can just move some percentage of people from ruinous empathy over to radical candor, then we eliminate the advantage that the jerks have in the world. So unless people are willing to be radically candid, if a vast majority of people are hanging out over there in ‘ruinous empathy’, then the jerks have a real advantage. And I want to get rid of that advantage.”

Pushing that vast majority to challenge co-workers and even superiors requires some strong encouragement, but as a former executive at Google and YouTube, and as an experienced CEO coach Kim can confidently connect the outcomes that many strive for to developing these skills:

“The basic idea of radical candor is that in order to be a great boss and also a great colleague, in order to do the best work of your life and build the best relationships of your career, you need to be able to do two things. At the same time, you want to care personally about the people who you're working with and at the same time you want to challenge them directly.”

This is part of a career-long pattern of Kim’s of working to help others get to their “best”.

Behind the breakthroughs

Kim is a graduate of both Princeton and Harvard. She led AdSense, YouTube, and Doubleclick Online Sales and Operations at Google. She developed and taught a leadership seminar at Apple, and she has coached CEOs from many brands you’ve heard of.

However, she defines herself with a single word: writer.

“I'm a writer. My long term goal was to be a writer. In fact, my business career was sort of a crazy plot to subsidize my novel writing habit”

When pressed for the “why” behind her writing, she talks about the common thread across her novels and business books:

“If there's an underlying through line in the books that I've written, it is ‘How can we be happier and more productive in our lives and how do the systems around us impact our ability to be our best selves and to do our best work?’”

Kim’s newest release, Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair, continues this through line by taking on the systems that obstruct our ability to get to those “bests”. She relates the experience that served as the genesis for Just Work:

Just Work was born shortly after Radical Candor came out and I went to a tech company in Silicon Valley and presented Radical Candor. The CEO of the company, who's one of too few black female CEOs in tech or in general in this country, said, ‘I really like Radical Candor. I think it's going to help this team and this company be more effective. It's going to really help build a good culture. But,’ she said, ‘I’ve got to tell you, Kim, it's much harder for me to put radical candor into practice than it is for others, because as soon as I offer a little radical candor, I get assigned the angry black woman stereotype. I have to do a lot of navigating that other people don't have to do.’

I knew this was true. [...] I realized in the decade plus that I had known her, I had never seen her seem even a tiny bit annoyed. I realized that I never noticed and I should have noticed the toll that that must have taken on her.”

Kim perfectly describes the shift in her focus between Radical Candor and Just Work – from the personal and cultural to the systemic:

“So one of the things I really want to do with Just Work is identify the things that get in the way of our ability to create the kind of working environments where we can just work. These companies want people to just work. People want to just work. And yet there's all this stuff, these terrible workplace injustices in the way. So how can we get them out of the way so that we can do great work and enjoy doing it?”

Love and truth in work and life

Kim pulls examples of systems that remove barriers from her personal Silicon Valley experience:

“One of the things that I have found helpful is to have a formal Big Debate meeting and a formal Big Decision meeting and have these meetings be separate meetings. One of the things that we decided to do was to not make any decisions or have any debates in my staff meeting. What we would do in the staff meeting is we would look at the metrics and then we would decide what are the Big Debates the team needs to have this week and what are the Big Decisions? Keeping the meetings separate would push the debates and decisions into the facts”.

Kim explains that additional systems ensured the broader systems achieved their intended outcomes, and simultaneously suggests that each of us individually create injustice busting systems where we can:

“We taught the people who were leading these meetings to make sure you do things like go around the room. There's an awful lot of research that shows that teams where everyone speaks are more effective than teams where one person dominates the conversation. If you're going to have a meeting and one person is dominating, you may as well not have the meeting.

One of the things that I encourage people to do, especially in this new world where we're on Zoom and Google Hangouts, is use apps that will record what percentage of time in a meeting you spoke and let you know how often you contributed to the conversation.

I think it's really good to know to know whether you're speaking more than your expected share of the time or less. You don't want to be dictated to by these metrics, but you want to let these metrics inform you about whether you're talking too much or too little.”

Removing any advantage the poor team players may enjoy takes more than challenging directly, it requires personal, cultural, and systemic change – radical change to match the radical candor. And that’s how we make things much, much better.

Listen to Kim chat with our Head of Brand Strategy, Jesse Purewal in a recent episode of our Breakthrough Builders podcast.

Breakthrough Builders is about people whose passions, perspectives, instincts, and ideas fuel some of the world’s most amazing products, brands, and experiences. It’s a tribute to those who have the audacity to imagine – and the persistence to build – breakthroughs.

James Wadsworth // Head of Marketing and Promotion, Breakthrough Builders

James Wadsworth is an itinerant learner, having lived in 5 countries across 3 continents before age 21. He is usually trying to plan the next book to read and the next place to travel to, once that becomes a thing again! James handles marketing and promotion for the Breakthrough Builders Podcast from his home base in Utah.

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