According to Kim Scott in her book ‘Radical Candor - Become a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity’, you can generally put most people into two groups: Rockstars or Superstars. If you’re managing people it is important to understand where your direct reports sit in these camps so you can make the most supportive decisions and can be an awesome boss.

As someone who doesn’t necessarily ‘manage’ anybody in a professional capacity (excluding Matt and the kids) I didn’t know how relevant this book would be but it turns out that learning about how to be a better boss has all sorts of positive repercussions and is a great ‘being a good human’ skill to have in your tool box.

First let me define our ‘stars’...

Rockstars are the backbone of any strong organisation. They find comfort in the stability of their role and are more interested in going deep into their area of expertise rather than rising up through the ranks. They are on a gradual growth trajectory.

Superstars on the other hand are the up and comers. Climbing the corporate ladder and looking for advancement in both skill, position and paycheck. They are on a steep growth trajectory and tend to be in more roles for less time compared to the rockstars.

The author, Kim Scott draws on her experiences working in Silicon Valley for the big hitters, Google and Apple and has made a career out of advising leaders on how to guide stronger teams. Whilst working for Google she noticed a real superstar attitude (which is common among tech start ups). Managers were encouraged to basically get out of the way of their teams and let the ideas flow. Fail fast, and keep going. She’d assumed that Apple would have a similar ethos but the balance was closer to 50/50 with both rockstars and superstars being rewarded and celebrated equally.

What Apple got right and what most businesses get wrong is the idea that you have to be a superstar to be successful. Most people start off as juniors, apprentices or level 1’s and spend the rest of their careers moving up the pay scale. This is traditionally done with promotion, which normally leads to managing other people but not all superstars (or rockstars) want to be managers. Being really fricken good at your job can be rewarded without having to be promoted to management through things like bonuses.

If you do manage people then it's important that you know who on your team are rockstars and who are superstars. Bearing in mind that people can change between the two and will do so many, many times throughout their careers. A good manager has to care personally about their team in order to keep track of this information.

When I think back through the moments of change in my career my ‘stardom’ becomes super obvious. In most of the cases I was on a superstar track and hit the ceiling. When I worked in publishing in particular I went from being a export designer, to a primary designer and started in Higher Ed design to then have nowhere else to go. Reflecting back on that time I would’ve managed myself differently and perhaps redirected that energy into professional development to bring in some new skills to the team.

When I think of my current job(s) I’m not quite sure where I sit. I feel like a rockstar in regards to design and branding. I want to go deep and really focus on enhancing my skills and developing my expertise. However there are superstar elements in other areas of my life, like TinyOffice and AGDA where I want to progress quickly. Just being aware of where you’re at on the path can be enlightening.

The title of the book ‘Radical Candor’ comes from a style of managerial behaviour.

A kick-ass boss wants to be hanging out in the ‘radical candor’ quadrant where you both ‘care personally’ and ‘challenge directly’. The author goes through each quadrant in some detail in the book giving examples of what praise and criticism sounds like from the section. I was generally surprised at how much time I spent in ‘ruinous empathy’: avoiding conflict to keep the ship sailing smoothly.

I’ve started to take more notice of my responses and reactions to things that happen to me throughout the day. I’m trying to bring more ‘radical candor’ into my life. Considering I don’t manage anyone I’ve already started to test it with the kids, and see results.

Frank is a real jerk when it comes to doing his readers at night. The kid is five and finds reading difficult so automatically hates it. I’ve managed to adjust the dinner, bath, and bed routine a bit so that he gets to watch the iPad for 10 minutes once he has done his reading. I’m normally completely over the top with praise (ruinous empathy) especially if he just reads without me having to beg him to do it. However I’ve started to bring in a bit of ‘radical candor’ by offering praise and also noting an area of improvement for next time. I swear that he has gotten noticeably better just this week. Praise then challenge! Who would’ve thought!

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