During my interview process before I was hired at Redhead, I reviewed the organization's values and philosophy. I expected it to be pretty standard stuff, and was looking for phrases that I could use in my third and final interview. It was during this process that I was introduced to the notion of “kind ruthlessness.” Redhead’s philosophy mentions kind ruthlessness in relation to exceptional work being non-negotiable. This concept appealed to me, especially as the philosophy went on to describe kind ruthlessness as “occasionally telling you what you don’t want to hear or pushing boundaries respectfully. We do this in order to meet your goals and respect our own standards.”
Kind ruthlessness didn’t end up coming up in that final interview, but it’s a concept I've often returned to in my five months as Redhead’s newest digital media specialist. I’ve far from mastered it, but I’ve thought a lot about what it means:
Kind ruthlessness is firm boundaries and high standards.
There’s no reason for ruthlessness if you’re willing to accept mediocrity or cutting corners. A tenant of Redhead’s philosophy is “exceptional work in non-negotiable,” and this goes both ways. Kind ruthlessness means being unwilling to submit work that is below your standard of excellence. In the same turn, kind ruthlessness also means knowing the worth of your work, and not allowing a client to ask for, accept, or settle for work that does not meet your standard of excellence because they are looking for a solution that is simpler (or cheaper) than the quality of work you’re committed to producing.
Kind ruthlessness is knowing you’re right, but being able to say it respectfully.
I think kind ruthlessness requires a degree of comfort with conflict. When you’re proposing to a client a solution that’s better aligned with their goals than the route they’ve selected, it’s not enough to know you’re right. You have to be able to articulate it in a way that challenges the client to consider an alternative path than the one they’re attached to. Importantly, you can’t be precious about being right. There’s no room for inflated ego in kind ruthlessness. Respectfully pushing boundaries could lead to conflict, but when you make it clear your priority is whatever is in the client’s best interest, you’re more likely to diffuse any hard feelings. Pushing boundaries because you insist on being right puts your ego above the client’s needs, and it’ll show.
Kind ruthlessness requires poise, but it's not about respectability politics.
Kind ruthlessness, especially when it comes to pushing boundaries or challenging opinions, requires tact. It takes skill to articulate a point you know is right without coming across as stubborn or abrasive, but it’s just as important not to lose the “ruthlessness” part of kind ruthlessness. Sparing yourself or someone else the discomfort of being challenged compromises your own standards of work, as well as the goal you and the client are working towards. You aren’t trying to upset anyone, but focusing on how gently you articulate your point leaves no room for ruthlessness. Kind ruthlessness looks like advocating for your point with self-confidence and composure, while not being afraid to challenge others or be challenged in return.
Long after my final interview for this position, the notion of kind ruthlessness still excites me. Working for a boutique firm where exceptional work is the expectation has challenged me to grow, both in the quality of my work and the ways I explain how I've arrived at a particular position or solution. I’ve far from mastered kind ruthlessness, but as I settle into this role, I appreciate more and more how kind ruthlessness is a requirement for exceptional work, and the necessity of kind ruthlessness in Redhead's philosophy of work.