Radical Candor and Heart-Driven Libraries

Image by Mohamed Hassan on Pixabay.

Being a manager is not something that all future librarians are focused on. In fact, if one did an informal poll of the students in the Master of Library and Information Science program, many might say that they would eschew leadership roles. However, being a librarian of any sort is also being a leader. Librarians go out into the community, doing outreach and bringing the library to other locations. They take on interns and volunteers, work with young people to help give them skills needed for college and employment, and mentor new employees. They present programming ideas to staff and higher-ups, arguing why such things would be of benefit to their community. If librarians are also leaders, then they should know how to be strong ones.

Being in a leadership position and incorporating humanity is the focus of Scott’s (2019) Radical Candor: Be a Kick-ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. In it, she creates a compass of management types, “Compassionate candor, obnoxious aggression, manipulative insincerity, and ruinous empathy” (Scott, 2019, p. xii). Leading with honesty and heart, not manipulation, is the goal.

In many ways, Scott’s Radical Candor framework supports a Collaborative Leadership model. Calvert (2018) discussed good communication and leading collaboratively as a way to build staff engagement. “Clear communication is vital for gaining supporters, developing and selling your vision, and executing each task along the way” (Calvert, 2018, p. 82). Dewey (2020) emphasized empathy as the opposite of narcissism in Collaborative Leadership. Being sensitive to staff, listening, and supporting goals make for an empathetic leader (Dewey, 2020). Scott (2019) discussed her “Get Stuff Done (GSD) wheel” as her approach to collaborative leadership (p. 81). The wheel requires people to communicate as a team instead of diving right in. The wheel contains steps to “listen, clarify, debate, decide, persuade, execute, and learn”, creating a process of group cooperation (p. 81). Working collaboratively can involve all members of the library team, allowing creativity and a richer work environment to thrive.

Another aspect of corporate America that has found its way into how even libraries regard employees is ambition. While upward mobility may be important for some staff, others may be quite happy in their current positions, and they should not be judged for that. Scott (2019) refers to these different categories as rock stars and superstars. Rock stars bring a solid foundation to an organization while superstars need challenge and opportunity (Scott, 2019). Scott (2019) recommends rethinking ambition and looking at an employee as a whole human being. At different phases in each person’s life, either of those categories may make more sense to them. A person who loves their job may wish to be a rock star. A person who is starting to feel like they have done everything they can do in a role may need to become a superstar. Scott (2019) reminds managers that both are valid and part of a healthy work ecosystem.

Communication and leading with the heart make for good bosses. As Scott (2019) states, they can be kind and clear. Compassionate candor requires viewing each member of the team as a whole person with their own ideas and challenges. It requires a leader who welcomes and rewards feedback. It requires clear and honest communication and open listening. Being frank and open may seem radical in current interpretations of leadership, but it could be just the environment needed to create libraries that are flexible, welcoming, wonderful places to work, with staff ready to serve their communities in the ways the population needs.


Calvert, K. (2018). Collaborative Leadership: Cultivating an Environment for Success. Collaborative Librarianship, 10(2), 79-90.

Dewey, B. I. (2020). The power of empathetic and collaborative leadership. Library Leadership & Management, 34(2), 1-6. https://journals.tdl.org/llm/index.php/llm/article/view/7427

Scott, K. (2019). Radical candor: Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity. St. Martin’s Press. 

8 thoughts on “Radical Candor and Heart-Driven Libraries

  1. Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for your summary and analysis of this book in the context of librarianship. I am a part of the small pool of MLIS students that is interested in taking on management and leadership roles. The words and phrases Scott uses to describe various are new to me, but they are all so applicable to my lived experience. I had a former boss who I thought was too nice (ruinous empathy), so when I took over, I thought I’d be more tough (obnoxious aggression). Obviously, neither worked, so I ended up forging a path somewhere down the middle as I gained more experience and developed more emotional intelligence. And that is compassionate candor.

    I also love the idea of superstars and rock stars. This was once described to me as builders and maintainers. I identify as a builder (aka superstar) so the word has a positive connotation in my head. I personally would be so bored with my work if I were a maintainer, but I can see why people do it, so the word has a neutral connotation in my head. I love that rock star gives the role a positive connotation. I’ll have to incorporate this into my thinking.

    Thanks for introducing me to Scott’s book and some new, useful language!

    • Hi Angie,
      While being a supervisor is not my emphasis, I currently am one. The youth services librarian in our branch is like an assistant manager in a business, so I am in charge if the branch manager isn’t there. I also was the interim branch manager for a few months. I found myself nodding enthusiastically at many sections of this book. It speaks to the way I manage, and I was grateful for its focus on honesty and transparency. I too really appreciated the rock star/superstar aspect. There has been an expectation of climbing the ladder in my library system. I have held five positions in five years if you count the interim experience. That is a lot. It might be nice to be supported in my current role for a while.

  2. Hi Mellisa,
    Collaborative Leadership sounds like a good model for leadership. The wheel, “listen, clarify, debate, decide, persuade, execute, and learn,” is a great place to begin and end as a leader. The quality of frankness ties into Module 4’s topic on transparency.
    You wrote an interesting post.

  3. How I wish I could get some of these ideas across to managers that I’ve had over the years…

    This feels like it plays into the need for transparency that was discussed in Module 4. Just like any other organization, if staff and customers only see shadowy movements from management/leadership, changes can feel disruptive at the least. Being an empathetic manager ready to listen and really understand and make efforts to communicate about the whats, hows, and whys of leadership decisions can really work to build trust and strength libraries as well.

    • Hi Madison,
      I agree completely. The need for transparency is incredibly important. In past management iterations at my library, that has been the norm. Unfortunately, things have recently changed to a closed council of upper management. Dissatisfaction and low morale are beginning to show. While the managers are not willing to listen to my input, I did recommend this book, so maybe it will help.

  4. Hi @mhannum
    I appreciated this post! I’m currently a library assistant now, but I feel there is no real rush for me to apply to be a librarian until I feel ready. Sure, when spring rolls around, I’ll have my MLIS, but I still want to learn so much more as an assistant. I’m getting a particular view of what it will be like when I end up being a librarian! I know I’ll be judged for not applying right away, especially as people may state “but you would be making so much more money as a librarian”… Likewise when I eventually become a librarian, I also know that a management role is not going to be something I pursue! Thanks for bringing light to this sensitive topic, and I have a book to add to my TBR list!

    • Hi Fin!

      I have a friend who is quite happy to stay as a library assistant, and she is fantastic at her job. She finds great joy in her position, and she comes to work each day with a happy heart. I think feeling out the library as an assistant is great. You learn so much in that position, and you are truly the face of the library for the patrons. It is such an important job!

      As an example of how important it is to understand the floor—and customer service—I was an assistant manager at a pretty popular clothing store in the early aughts. All our regional managers had started as clerks, working their way up. They knew the stores and culture inside and out. Then corporate decided they needed to be bigger. They hired someone fresh out of college. This person had an MBA but had never actually worked in a store. He fired all the regional managers and put people with no working experience in their place. Stores began to fail across the country, and a business that was very successful almost disappeared. Education is very important, but experience is incredibly important, too.

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