“Kim, in that presentation you said ‘um’ every third word. It makes you sound stupid.”

It hit Kim right between the eyes. And it was exactly what she needed to truly hear.

It would have been much easier for Kim’s boss, Sheryl, to take the path of least resistance. It would have been much easier to worry more about Kim’s feelings in the moment. It would have been much easier to let Kim continue on saying “um” every third word.

Deep down, Kim knew it was a problem, but so far it was one she had learned to avoid confronting in favour of other activities.

Kim Scott was a brilliant and busy up-and-coming HR talent in the organization. She went on to have a great career at Facebook and Apple (by now you’ve probably figured out that Sheryl Sandberg was her boss). Kim was also part of a failed start-up, and then succeeded in a start-up.

As she reflected on the failure at her start-up, her interaction with Sheryl took on a new meaning altogether. She had let too many conversations and too many critical pieces of feedback go unsaid. She had fallen into the trap of niceties and comfort. And at the expense of the results that the business needed.

She had led with what she calls ruinous empathy. Sheryl had led with radical candor. Both cared deeply, but only one approach succeeds.

Ask yourself: do you have a radically candid organization?

You can’t have a high-performing team that achieves results without that feedback loop.

People that truly care about your well being challenge you directly.

They are kind, but firm.

And there is a science to this kind of feedback: situation > behaviour > impact.

Notice the feedback above starts with “When you’re presenting.” It clearly articulates the situation. Then it outlines the behaviour, “you say ‘um’ every third word.” And finally, the impact “makes you sound stupid.” The approach is critical because it treats a situation and it is not a character assassination of the individual. Too often we characterize the individual – she is greedy; he is stubborn. Instead, It deals with the situation and allows room for change and growth.

This approach creates a safe place to reflect.

Are you creating a culture of feedback (praise and constructive critique)? Or do you care more about being comfortable in the moment?

As a leader, if you can’t offer candid feedback, can you truly help people develop?

If you aren’t helping people develop, then you’re allowing them to stagnate.

And most are allowing their teams to stagnate and individuals to continue on blissfully unaware of the flat sides that are getting them into the most trouble. It is truly unkind to allow yourself to descend into the quadrant of Ruinous Empathy – where you remain quiet because you’re concerned more for their feelings than their well-being.

If there is one common thread of high performers, it is that they have an effective reflective loop. They reflect personally and they have trusted mentors and advisors that offer constructive feedback so that they can contend with the most important attributes.

Remember it isn’t being mean, it’s being clear.

For senior leaders, Radical Candor is a must read.