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The art of flexing

Some managers can switch between leadership styles to better communicate with those who are different from them. Find out how.
Balls floating through a hoop

Today the workforce is changing fast, toward greater diversity in gender, culture, and age. Yet businesses are failing on a grand scale to engage these new and different employees, resulting, according to Gallup, in a $500 billion loss to industry in 2015.

Why? According to Jane, many managers need to work on their “flex” – their ability to work effectively with people who are significantly different from them in some way. Multicultural workers, women, and millennials are responsible for key demographic shifts in the workforce. Managers must learn to engage and motivate new kinds of talent.

Regardless of your work role, learning about flexing and effective leadership is powerful. Don’t be put off if you are not strictly working in a leadership role. We all use elements and skills of leadership in our lives.

Flexing The art of switching between leadership styles in order to relate to people who are different from you.

Power Gap

A power gap is the amount of social distance that exists between people in management and other employees.
  • Managers who are egalitarian and who see themselves as guides or coaches, have a small power gap with their employees.
  • Managers who are hierarchical, and who see themselves as authority figures, have a large power gap with their employees.
  • Get to know the dynamics of the power gap in your position to become a more fluent leader.

Fluent Leader

A fluent Leader is someone who can effectively manage people who are different from them toward the best business results.
Fluent leadership across gaps in age, gender, power, and culture is a great idea in theory, but how do you actually do it? How do you learn to “flex” in ways that genuinely improve your effectiveness and relationships with people who think and act differently from you?
The basic principles are very simple – intuitive, even: know yourself and work to understand others. Why start with self-knowledge? Because most miscommunication begins with the unconscious assumptions we make about other people and the way we expect things to go. If you’re a forceful, direct personality, you may assume that quiet or indirect people are being insincere or hiding something, when in fact they may just be a bit introverted or acculturated to a more diplomatic style. If you have a formal, traditional leadership style you may misread a younger person’s casual approach as insubordination, rather than a hallmark of her generation.
Critical traits of a fluent leader:
  1. self-and-other-awareness
  2. comfort with ambiguity and complexity
  3. adaptability
  4. positive regard for all employees
  5. ability to flex across the power gap
  6. innovative and can inspire others to innovate.

Be a Flex Individual

  • Practice self-awareness to stay in tune with your own leadership and communication styles.
  • Consider what are my preferences for communicating? Am I more direct or subtle? Do I like to have context before interacting, or am I more high-touch?
  • Practice other-awareness to stay in tune with the communication preferences of others.
  • Are there conflicting communication styles between people in a critical meeting or conversation? If so, how can I adjust my own delivery to create common ground?

Flex Institiutions

Flex Institutions are organisations that adapt their services to the various cultures, values, and perspectives of their users.

To be a flex institution consider the following.

  • What challenges are we facing?
  • What can we do differently to better serve our populations?
  • Attack your shortcomings with curiosity, humility, and genuine care for your clients or employees.
  • Conduct focus groups, interviews, and other research to get direct feedback from the populations you serve and to fully understand their needs. This will lay a foundation for lasting change.
  • Given the data, how can we be culturally relevant to our community? What can we do to fundamentally adapt our practices?*
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