Back To All Stories
jeffrey hull blog

Great Ideas: Flex by Jeffrey Hull {interview}

Business leadership advice from our interview with Harvard and NYU academic

Research data from Dr Jeffrey Hull’s executive clients shows feedback about leaders falls into 7 broad categories:
  • Bossing, and not enough listening
  • Too much data, not enough passion and inspiration
  • Being too reserved, and not expressing enough empathy, transparency, and openness
  • Independence and reliance on expertise, not enough teamwork and collaboration
  • Micromanagment and not enough empowerment
  • Too much or too little structure – lack of alignment between structure and purpose
  • Energy for results, but not enough support for creativity.

Jeffrey Hull, author of Flex, draws on his 20 years' research as:
  • executive coach to startups and Fortune 100 companies
  • adjunct professor of leadership at New York University
  • clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School 
  • part-timer at Harvard's Institute of Coaching, a research organisation dedicated to developing science-based, evidence-based underpinnings of effective leadership and effective coaching.

“I kind of operate in two worlds. One is actually coaching people and developing leaders, and the other is working in the academic space, developing the underlying principles that we can then put to work in coaching.”  Dr Jeffrey Hull, Leadershift CEO

There are 6 key areas that bosses should focus on if they want to be effective leaders, according to Dr Hull.

His 6 underlying principles (or domains) for effective leadership (using acronym F.I.E.R.C.E.) are: 
  • F= Flexible.  Your default style works only until it doesn’t.  Cultivate a more flexible leadership style.  Move between Alpha (direct) and Beta (emotional) styles as needed.
  • I=Intentional Communication: How do you communicate effectively to impact and influence people? There are, again, Alpha, Beta styles.
  • E=Emotional Intelligence.  Do you have an Alpha approach to emotions or a Beta approach?
  • R=Realness. Your authenticity – either as a stoic, traditional Alpha leader or more fluid, vulnerable, and humble, transparent Beta.
  • C=Collaborative style. Are you a coach, or are you more directive adviser?
  • E=Engagement. Do you create a space that's focused on creativity and innovation, or are you more of a directive, get-things-done, action-oriented leader?

Communication tips for Alphas (forceful, direct, less emotional) who need more Beta traits
  1. Make it personal. What is your why?
  2. Know your audience. What is their why?
  3. Paint a picture. Make it visual.
Communication tips for Betas (collaborative, emotional) who need more Alpha traits:  
  1. Pin the point. Start with the end in mind. What are the takeaways for your audience?
  2. Button up. Stick to the script. If you slip into brainstorm mode, write down key points.
  3. One story, multiple messages. Pick the best story. Less is more.
  4. Hack the humor: Focus your funny bone. It can be effective but can be a distraction.

All leadership styles can at times be effective. Develop the ability to move back and forth in each of those six domains as appropriate.

An introverted leader still has to be able to speak up, get their point across, and have an impact. Helpful tip: reflect on when you, the introvert, have been super successful. What was your underpinning strength?

Emerging research from the Institute of Coaching shows a form of post traumatic stress syndrome is occurring with women in leadership.  Carrie Arnold's study of women reported many felt silenced and traumatised by a patriarchal culture that often shuts down women who choose to lead. 

Try reverse-mentoring.  Millennials coaching senior executives in social media, and brainstorming creative, innovative ways of operating as a company.  

Learning, meaning, feedback, innovation. What do you have to do to create an environment where people want to come to work every day? That's really the job of today's leader.

Jeffrey’s GREAT EIGHT, 8 getting-to-know-you questions that we ask all of our authors

Recommended book: The Magic Shop by neurosurgeon James Doty.

If you could co-author a book with anybody in the world, who might that be, and what could a book title be? Amy Edmondson, who is one of my dear friends and a colleague at Harvard Business School, and she wrote a book called The Fearless Organisation and another book called Teaming, and I would put it all together: "Leading the Fearless Organisation with Amy Edmondson and Jeffrey Hull."

Best piece of advice to share: Pay attention to your blind spots. How we grow is by being willing to acknowledge our blind spots and opening our eyes.

What's been your lowest moment, and how did you recover from it? Early in my career as a director of human resources for a consulting firm. I thought that I was doing extremely well. Long story short, I was told by my boss that I was too zealous, that I had to slow down and pace myself, and I actually was very upset… I was hurt by this feedback. But in the long run....I learned a little bit of a knock on the head was not a bad thing.

How do you relax? Walks along a river, about 100 miles from New York City where I have a cabin in the woods, and a little kayaking, a little hiking, but basically, just being in nature.

What’s a fun fact that's not widely known about you?  I am obsessed with lions and tigers. I have been on one safari in South Africa, and I have two cats, and I just... I'm just literally obsessed with lions. I'm planning on going back to Africa to see the white lions. I think it's... The Lion King I have to watch it over and over again, and that always brings tears to my eyes.

What is your secret of success? Finding your passion and sticking with it. I think I'm not one of those people who was super successful early. It took me a while to get going. 

What is  your prediction for 2025? The world is getting smaller and smaller...we will come together on the planet to heal the climate, and Beta leaders like the ones that I describe in my book will be running for office. 

Members of The Growth Faculty can log in and watch the full interview, read the transcript or listen to the podcast with Jeffrey Hull, as he discusses his book Flex, and the research around the principles of great leadership. 

To become a member and get access to this and other exclusive interviews, plus event highlights featuring international speakers and authors, click here. Members receive the greatest discounts to live speaker events. First 14 days' trial are free.