Flex: A book review by Bob Morris

FlexFlex: The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences
Jane Hyun and Audrey S. Lee
HarperBusiness/An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (2014)

Invaluable information, insights, and counsel with regard to how to become and help others to become a “fluent leader”

According to Jane Hyun and Audrey S. Lee, “This book offers what courageous, thoughtful leaders need in order to operate successfully in today’s diverse, global marketplace.” What specifically do they need? The core competencies include being able to (a) understand, respect, and acknowledge differences between and among those for whom they are responsible; (b) adjust (“flex”) their management style to accommodate those differences; and (c) minimize (if not eliminate) any “power gap” defined in terms of gender, age, or cultural differences. I agree with Hyun and Lee about the importance of cultural fluency at all structural levels and in all operational areas of the given enterprise. This fluency does not invalidate authority. On the contrary, for both leaders and followers, it enriches it.

That is to say, cultural fluency is by no means limited to the C-level nor to managers elsewhere. Mutual respect and trust (worthy of the name) can and should be established and then nourished regardless of title or status. Emotional intelligence is best demonstrated by body language and tone of voice as well as by behavior over time, not by what is said, however eloquent that may be.

However, Hyun and Lee are spot on when observing that a fluent leader “is more than just someone who is emotionally mature, demonstrates empathy, and is able to make an accurate assessment of people and their emotions. The fluent leader must also demonstrate elements of innovative thinking, but there are other aspects of this style that go beyond creativity and thinking outside the box.” Such as what? Hyun and Lee offer a full-range of defining characteristics as well as leadership beliefs and behaviors that, in their shared opinion, a fluent leader possesses.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Hyun and Lee’s coverage.

o The High Stakes of Losing Our Best Talent (Pages 5-7)
o What Women Bring to the Leadership Table (14-15)
o Hardwired for Sameness (19-22)
o The Key Competency: Fluency (24-26)
o Identifying the Power Gap, and, How the Power Gap Manifests Itself on Your Team (34-46)
o The Art of Flex (68-70)
o The Fluent Leader Mind-Set (79-87)
o Look for Creative Ways to Bridge the Power Gap (101-111)
o Tap into Hidden Potential and Promote the Right People (121-124)
o The Importance of Navigating the Power Gap with Peers (130-136)
o Obstacles to Closing the Gap from the Bottom Up, and, Don’t Put Authority Figures on a Pedestal (152-156)
o Working with Bosses Who Maintain Their Power Gap (164-169)
o Meaningful Engagement Begins with Closing the Gap (210-212)
o Great Onboarding Models (221-226)
Note: Hiring great talent is essentially worthless if the onboarding process fails.
o Multiple Ways to Support, Guide, and Grow Your Employees (236-238)
Note: All great supervisors have a “green thumb” for doing this and help direct reports to develop one.
o Fluent Leadership is Needed to Facilitate Innovative Thinking, and, How Difference Drives Innovation (265-267)
o Encourage Management Styles That Spur Innovative Thinking (267-271)

I agree with Jane Hyun and Audrey S. Lee that divergent thinking can drive innovation. This is what Roger Martin has in mind, in The Opposable Mind, when suggesting that integrative thinking involves “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in one’s head and then “without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,” be able to “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” Throughout his presidency, Abraham Lincoln frequently demonstrated integrative thinking, a “discipline of consideration and synthesis [that] is the hallmark of exceptional businesses [as well as of democratic governments] and those who lead them.” Principled dissent is essential to the success of this process.

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mind can do full justice to the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that are provided in this book but presumably I have, at least, indicated why I think so highly of it. Given the challenges that await leaders in years to come as well as those with which they must cope now, fluency and flexibility are not only desirable and important, they are essential and imperative.

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More a quibble than a complaint, the book has no index. Hopefully one will be added if and when it there is a second edition.

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