Leadership in a Changing World with Jeffrey Hull

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Jeffrey Hull is the author of the best-selling book Flex: The Art and Science of Leadership in a Changing World. During the interview, we discuss new leadership models, 6 leadership elements for the “new” workplace and more.

After the Interview:

About Jeffrey Hull

Jeffrey is an instructor at Harvard Medical School and adjunct professor at New York University, where he has had a front row seat to the rise of a new kind of leader. Jeffrey has identified 6 key elements that leaders need to succeed in the “new” workplace. Through “100 Coaches”, Jeffrey teaches high performance leadership and organizational strategy to C-suite executives.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast I am your host Allison Dunn, where we’re dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode, we feature inspiring interviews to help you on your leadership journey. And today’s guest is no exception. Here in the studio today via zoom, we have Jeffrey Hull, he is the author of the bestselling book Flex the Art and Science of Leadership in a Changing World. Jeffrey has over 20 years of experience working with executives on issues of high performance leadership and organizational strategy. He is also an educator at Harvard Medical School and New York University, where he has had a front row seat to the rise of the new kind of leader, Jeffrey has identified six elements that leaders in this new workplace need to succeed. Jeffrey, thank you so much for joining us here today. I’m really looking forward to diving into this topic deeper with you.


Thank you for having me.


Absolutely. Before we get into the main topic, today about the six elements, I like to kick these off with a quick deliberate conversation. So my question for you is what would be your number one leadership tip that you would give to our listeners today.


Number one leadership tip would be to look for all the other leaders that you are surrounded by and find ways to level them up to the next level of their own leadership.


Awesome meaning from a from a collaborative standpoint, or bringing them up with you to rise them up?


All of the above


I think my tip is no longer think about leadership as a specialized subset of human beings that get to sit in a C suite. Instead, think about leadership as something that is inherently possible in every single person that you meet.


That’s a fantastic tip. Because I do everyone has it, right. So if you shine it on them, they’ll demonstrate it more and more and build strength in that area and competent. That’s awesome. Thank you. So my first question to kick this off is what are some of the new models that you’re seeing today in our changing workplace?


Well, and when you say models, or you mean leadership models, or organizational models or leadership models, leadership models? Well, I think the biggest shift is from a pyramid, hierarchical model to a whole bunch of varying configurations, collaborative partnership models, hollow kradic models, which are kind of it’s a fancy way of creating more of a project management structure that’s driven more by the tasks and by the hierarchy, and by the talent, then by the seniority. There’s also network configurations where people really work more in virtual ongoing networks. So there’s a whole range. The bottom line, though, is that I think that today’s organizations are moving away from the traditional archetype of the pyramid. And ultimately, I think that’s a good thing.


What are some of the biggest opportunities do you see in and helping leaders shift into what seems to be more of like a remote or hybrid workplace model that’s going on right now?


Well, I think that the the key to successful teaming and leadership in a virtual space or a hybrid space that many organizations will eventually get to, I think, is that some of the same things that weren’t in the real world when we were all in the same space are equally important in the virtual space, but they have to be done intentionally, you can’t just casually meet by the watercooler anymore. You can’t just step out of your office and walk down the hall and tap on someone’s shoulder. So the same kinds of activities and that creates social cohesion, that create a sense of psychological safety, that create a sense of teamwork, all of those things are the same, but they have to be done intentionally. So when you’re in A virtual space, you really have to as a leader, you have to think about what am I doing to create the connective tissue, that will the connective network that will make my people work in their most optimal way. And so you have to really take the levers of, you know, communication, and presence, visual opportunities to be together, and you have to make the most of them, you have to be really intentional. Whereas we used to be very casual about those things. Now, we have to be very intentional.


I recognize that it’s like, it is definitely like a daily challenge for a lot of clients that I work with to make sure that they are making that intentional connection, because it’s not easy anymore. It is more difficult. For sure.


Yeah. And I would say the other big tip that I always give my clients and you probably find this to be true is specificity is really important when you’re in a in a virtual space. And by specificity, I mean, that it’s no longer going to work to just say, so how are you doing? How are you today? What’s new, you know, those kinds of vagaries, we could get away with when we could read body language or when we had a few extra minutes to have a coffee. Because you would say, Well, how were you and then you would pick up on the signals, and maybe somebody wasn’t feeling well, or they were stressed. And then you could explore, you may not have that luxury in the virtual space, you may not have that time. So you need to have specific questions. I always suggest to my clients, when you’re checking in with your people, be very focused, ask people what’s working. Give me one thing that really helped you accomplish that project last week or tell me what is your number one challenge? What is an obstacle that’s in the way of your getting your, your know, the project out the door by next week? some very specific questioning? It’s kind of interesting, because it’s the opposite. In one sense, it is the opposite of good coaching. Because good coaching is when you go out ask open ended question you explore, right? So you know, and I encourage my clients, and I’m sure you do, too, as a coach to encourage the leaders that we work with to be open ended and exploring and curious. But in a virtual space, it’s also very important to be very specific. Otherwise, people will tend to sort of back away and say, Oh, I’m fine. Let me turn off my video. And it’s like, No, no, no, no, no, we need to know exactly. Really, how are you? Like, tell me the highs, tell me the lows, tell me what’s working, tell me what’s not working. So that’s, I think, an important piece of the puzzle.


That’s a great tip. Thank you. In, in your introduction, I kind of alluded to something called the six elements that you’ve determined to be crucial for leaders that they need to have in this new workplace. So can you could you share any number of them that you’re willing to, you know, to kind of outline those for us?


Sure, I can give you a quick summary. I mean, basically, what, just to give you a little background in terms of creating this framework that I wrote about in flex, it was based on two things. First, what I was noticing in my own executive coaching practice, over many years of seeing some the evolution of the practice the evolution of change, and the types of folks that I was working with more diversity, more women leaders, more multicultural people of different backgrounds. And so as I noticed changes in what I was working, who I was working with and what we were working on, then I did research at the Institute of coaching at Harvard, where I work part time to find out whether I was kind of the outlier, or whether this was actually a set of trends that were happening. And that led me to the result of recognizing that these six dimensions of leadership effectiveness were becoming more and more crucial to the success of leaders in today’s world. And just very quickly, you know, there’s a whole conversation we could have, but basically flexibility and decision making intentional communication, like learning how to really connect with others and new ways, emotional intelligence, which I think is a big topic for all of us these days. But, you know, working with the emotions in a way that’s effective as a leader, being authentic, which I call realness, which includes competence and strength, but also vulnerability and humility, and then collaboration, you know, different ways to collaborate. Are you an advisor, delegator director? Or are you a coach, mentor, more of a consensus builder in your collaborative style? And then finally, engagement? You know, how do you create an environment where you get the best out of everyone? Because ultimately, engagement is about energy, creating an environment that has creative energy where people are motivated people are inspired fired. But also people feel safe, to be willing to take risks and try out new things. So engagement also for a leader is becoming really crucial if we want to have highly innovative teams in today’s competitive environment.


Those are awesome elements. Does every leader have a weakness in at least one of those in some way?

Unknown Speaker  10:28 

I mean, I would avoid using the phrase, the term weakness, what I would say is that all of the leaders that I’ve worked with have a particular affinity, and maybe a natural strength in a particular part of one of those domains. And then it becomes so called a weakness, if it’s becomes a one trick pony, kind of approach to leadership. You know, the goal is really to expand your repertoire. So you start by getting a sense of what you’re good at what your natural strengths are, what you’ve developed over the period of your experience that has led to your success as a leader, but then begin to recognize that that also has its limitations. A lot of us coaches like to say your greatest strength becomes your greatest liability. Sure, if you become attached to it at any particular moment.


Can you give me some just highlight tips. So just I’m going to pick the first one, which I believe was decisiveness correct, or decision making.


If this is something, so what would be some tips for someone to hone that in a better way if they’re not being decisive enough, compounded by the fact that we’re not necessarily together to be able to kind of work through decisions, and so it’s on the leader to be more decisive or make a decision? What would be your customer your coaching tips on that?


Great question. Well, I think, you know, starts by recognizing that leadership decision making tends to come in two frames of reference that I think we’re all very familiar with. One is very directive, decisive, what I call the alpha style leadership decision maker, right? I’m the boss, I’m at the top of the pyramid, and I make the decisions and everybody else follows. The other, which is way at the other end of the spectrum is I’m a consensus builder, I don’t make a decision. It’s a group decision, we come to gather, we brainstorm, and then we democratically vote, or we don’t make a decision until we have a consensus. So you can see how there are really two ends of a spectrum. And the tip I would give to anyone who finds themselves on any either end of that spectrum is to recognize that if you are, for example, just the one making all the decisions, then you’re probably not getting the best talent out of your group out of your team. Because there may be some really good ideas that you’re not listening into life. Likewise, if in an emergency situation, or a really high pressure, urgent decision needs to be made, if you tend to be consensus oriented, and sort of way to get everyone’s input, you might miss the boat, you might miss your chance to get a huge deal or to make a decision that will change the organization for the better. So there are times when as the even the consensus builder needs to step up and be decisive and take the reins. So it’s not an either or, but what you do is you start with knowing what is your natural strength? And then what do I need to work on? What do I need to expand? How do I need to step into that other space?


Certainly, to recognize that there’s downfalls if you’re falling on either, but there’s definitely yes to both. Um, I, I talk a lot about impact in in the way that we impact as a leader. And I’m just curious if you could share some ideas. You know, like for anyone who really wants to be an inspiring, impactful leader, what do they need to be thinking about right now?


Well, I love that because now you’re into the second domain of the six that I talked about. So where that really shows up in is in what I call intentional communication. So, you know, you really want to hone in on how do you connect with your team, your customer, your audience, you know, whoever it is, you’re looking to influence. And again, there tends to be a spectrum. And on one end of the spectrum are those folks and we’re we know them when we see them. And we know one, we are one that tend to use the rational argument, logical, data driven, lot of science letter numbers, facts and figures, all of which is great, but it may not connect, it may not influence because at the end of the day, human beings make most decisions because of their feelings because of their emotions. And then there’s leaders on the other end of the spectrum, that are the storytellers that are you know, telling jokes and connecting with the audience, and Creating that really good feeling and their communication and influencing. And then they don’t get people to make decisions, because they’re not taken as credible at times. It’s like, it’s great that you can tell stories, Dr. Hall, but where’s your facts and figures, right. So anyone that really wants to be effective in impacting and influencing their, whoever their audience happens to be, needs to be aware of the balance between those two capabilities, no, again, know their strengths, and then look to expand, learn to be a storyteller, learn to use the emotional, aspirational elements of storytelling to connect with an audience, if you tend to be data driven. And vice versa, if you’re a storyteller, I had a scientist who I worked with at a big pharmaceutical company, he was like running clinical trials. And he was supposed to give an update to his colleagues about what’s going on with the medicines, and it’s very serious research. But he was a incredibly funny joke telling Britt. And he got up in front of the audience. And he told a bunch of stories about how it was going to change the world and blah, blah, blah. And at the end of it, you know, his colleagues were like, Where’s the data? I think you’re doing clinical trials. We love listening to you, but credibility, like, hello. So you know, there are there’s a way in which you maximize both of those key elements to influence and to connect with your audience. And that’s really key to what I call intentional communication.


Thank you. I think maybe I’m going right down into the third one, because this is, how do you how can an organization cultivates authentic leadership or authentic authenticity within their leaders?


Well, oh, yeah, great question. I mean, I think the core of authenticity is building trust. And it helps if people recognize that trust is something that is, you know, hardwired into our neuroscience, connectivity tissues. And in other words, you can pick up on whether someone’s trustworthy within something like a microsecond. And so leaders need to be aware of what it takes to come across with a level of depth and integrity and connection so that people feel grounded, that they’re getting the truth from folks from their leaders. And that comes from very simple things, but very powerful things, which is like eye contact, and sincere tone of voice, and backing up what you’re saying with really relevant, credible data, and being present with people and not being glib and not being dismissive. So there are certain techniques that are really ground us in that ability to feel like we’re with someone that we can trust. And I think that if you’re going to build trustworthy leaders, as you are asking about, it helps if the folks that are committed to being trustworthy and building trusting environments are aware of how trust is built, it’s really an emotional core that is based around you know, our million year old neurocircuitry. Because we have a very, very instantaneous ability as human beings to determine whether or not another human being is trustworthy.


We don’t talk about trust as a society very often, even though it’s so hard wired in and I would say like my I’m going to call it my trust radar is very strong. So maybe  everyone’s is.

Unknown Speaker  18:57 

Yea, the BS detector, as they say.


So you’ve given some really good indications on how you can build trust, like the things that just naturally come with someone feeling like you are trustworthy, right? How, how might someone recognize whether some of their retention challenges or their team commitment challenges are around trust or not? I feel like as a coach, I get to as an outsider see, like, there’s a trust issue here, but I don’t know how to get someone else to recognize it.


Well, that’s a really good question because I think it is difficult sometimes in a team dynamic to you pick up on subtle cues that people do feel either unsafe or that it’s not as trusting and environment as we might like, but it’s not obvious why. And you know, I am a huge fan of my friend and colleague, Amy Edmondson his work at Harvard around psychological safety. And I think one of the things that I’ve used as a tool and I write about this in my book, and of course, she’s done tons of research is to use an assessment that gives people an opportunity to anonymously kind of rate the level of trust and safety they feel with within the team. And whenever I’ve done that, with leaders and their teams, typically what happens is that there’s the good news and the bad news, you know, the anonymous feedback if it’s set up so that it’s anonymous, which can be easily done in even in a virtual space, a quick assessment, the anonymous feedback usually will say that there’s a good sense of trust in certain dimensions. Like we trust the individual, we trust our colleagues, we feel comfortable with our projects. But we’re not really willing to take risks, or we don’t feel safe speaking up, because we feel like we might be criticized, or we’re not really comfortable making a mistake, because mistakes are chastised instead of viewed as learning opportunities. So by doing a psychological assessment around safety, you can take a deeper dive into what is it that’s going to take the team to another level of comfort, trust and safety. And it’s very helpful for leaders because they may find that on four out of five or seven out of eight dimensions of psychological safety, everybody’s great. But on one, for example, I just recently had a team, a nonprofit executive team I was working with, and they were generally trusting of their leaders and of each other. But there was one dimension, which was they didn’t debrief when things didn’t go, Well, they tended to put it under the rug and move on. And that made everybody a little bit uncomfortable if they were going to make a mistake. And so it was great to raise that because then all they had to do is incorporate debriefs, when things don’t go well, what we do is we debrief together and we learn what we don’t judge, we don’t blame, we just figure out what we did that we could do better. And once they started doing that regularly, then everybody kind of relaxed, it’s like, we don’t have to be perfect. Everyone will make a mistake, this project may not go perfectly, but we’ll debrief it together. And we’ll use it as a learning opportunity, not as an opportunity to criticize each other. So you know that those kinds of tools can be really helpful to build trust.


Okay, so an assessment and then getting that anonymous feedback. Yeah.


You need to let people be able to share their what they really feel, and not feel like they’re going to be judged for it.


Okay, thank you for that. I’m so reflecting and feeling as though I feel like the feedbacks been given. It’s been done anonymously. Now, how do you actually transfer the change? and building trust? in it? Does that go back to some of like, the key things of good eye contact? You know, like, the emotional connection things.


Love. I’m so glad you said that. Because that is exactly what happened. So I was working, as I said, with an executive team, and the CEO or Executive Director, he was a little bit disrupted by the fact that his team didn’t always feel trusting or safe. And he was like, oh, what do I do? You know, I tried my best. And I said, You know what, you have to stop trying to be perfect. It’s about being emotionally connected. And so a little bit of humility. And a little bit of vulnerability goes a long way. And especially in today’s environment, where we’ve all been disrupted. We’re all trying to deal with this brave new world of virtual work and hybrid. And, you know, I suggest to my leaders that they just be a little more open and transparent that they don’t have all the answers. So we have a trust issue, we have a sense of safety issue. Here’s what the data shows, let’s work on this together. As a leader, I’m committed to making everyone feel like we can trust each other. So I want your feedback. Let’s work on it. And so letting down your hair a little bit and being vulnerable is it’s a wonderful opening, to create a sense of humanity with your team. It’s not always easy for some of the sort of traditional like Boomer leaders that have operated with that sense of Oh my God, I have to be competent. I have to be strong. Yeah, but it works. Yeah.




Can you kind of talk through I’m going to reference it so what is the importance of the four acts of emotional agility?


What were the F’s feeling? I can’t forget my four apps.


I love that I should have written down so that I could prompt you, I’m less prepared than that.


Flexibility, which is obviously core to the theme of my book, right, developing your agility as a leader to do shifts in behavior and attitude. And that’s required by the context. feelings, which we just talked about, you know, being more emotionally expressive and emotionally available as needed. The third F is focus. And this is really crucial in today’s world, which is being able to be present with your people and turning off the phones, turning off the distractions, creating a space where you’re really 100% with either your folks, your team, or the project that you’re working on. And then I think the last f that I like to maybe it’s not the one that’s on that chart that you have there, but I always like to include fun.


Okay, no, I like fun, too.


Yeah, people need to have a sense of meaning and connection and joy. In their work. It’s, it’s more important than ever.


Yeah. Okay. So flexibility, focus, feelings, and thoughts.


Yeah, I think there’s another those are good, those are good for. You wrote the book flex, and what? So what is what’s the next project that you’re working on? What’s the big thing that you’re focused on these days?


Um, great to us that I just started a book proposal for the next iteration. And it’s really can be summarized by it’s sort of to my, to my mind, the core theme that I really wanted to express in flex was about this level of agility that we need as leaders, but also, as I said, at the outset, to start thinking about everyone in your, in your team and in your organization as a potential leader. So if you take that to the next level, then it’s a question of what are all the leaders in us going to do in the world. And I think the next focus for me is to, in some ways, reinvent what it means to be a leader. Because we need to start to tackle the bigger problems, we live in a very small planet, that’s in a very difficult place. And if all we do is keep focusing on short term profits, and you know, the success of our one little company based in New York, or Idaho, or wherever you are, you’re going to miss the big picture, which is that the planet is dying, and that we are part of an ecosystem. You know, you may live in a small community, but your community is interconnected and interwoven with the entire planet. So as leaders, we have to create connectivity to the bigger issues, we have to solve the big problems. And that we have to recognize that those big problems are right in front of us. They’re not across the ocean, they’re in our space, we live in those problems. So I really want leaders to start to think of themselves from a systemic, sort of ecosystem perspective. And so I’m digging into the research. There’s a lot there’s a lot of folks like that are doing good research around systemic thinking, regenerative mindset, and I want to start to really push the edge around what it means to be a leader in today’s world, because we have to solve really complex problems, not just make money. Not that making money is a bad thing. So we have we have to do more than that.


I wish you much luck on getting that hurt, you know, passion project. With your book deal. That’s fantastic. Jeffrey, I, I just want to open it up. Is there anything that I didn’t think to ask you that would you know, that you’d like to kind of add in in the last minute we have here on the show?


Um, no, we covered a lot of territory. And I think it’s been great. I guess. The only thing that I would want to add, I think to the idea about thinking about your team, from the standpoint of having everyone step into their leadership is, you know, for those of us that are Caucasian, in today’s world, and in America, and in Western culture, it’s really important that we be on a learning journey to understand and to have empathy and to have a deeper understanding. respect and a deeper sensitivity to there’s so many different ways to see the world. And, you know, I work with a lot of multicultural teams, I work with leaders of color from all over the world. And I just think it’s really important that as we step into nurturing leadership in everyone, that we really pay attention to being curious and being learners, and not necessarily coming to our leadership roles with the mindset that, you know, just because we come from America, or just because we are brought up in the Western culture that we have all the answers, we can learn so much. If we put on our curiosity hats, and really lean into listening to people from other nationalities, people of other countries, people from other cultures, it’s also going to take us to another place of connectivity, and recognizing that we live in a very small planet.


Yeah, I think that that is an excellent point. And curiosity, I think, is the world’s solution to almost everything. If we just approach it with, you know, like, I’m sure he’s helped me understand that. And, you know, if Tell me more, and it’s a very, very powerful magic, I think it’s magical really agree the elixir that will help us get through all the things that we need to get through. Or humanity.


Yeah, that’s awesome. Jeffrey, thank you so much. I very much appreciate you sharing your time with us today.


That was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.


Fantastic. All of you listeners out there. I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. If you’ve had an aha moment, I hope that you will share that with us in the comments below. And just know that I am here to assist you. If I can help you in any way you. You can hop on to deliberate directions calm and select the time for a strategy session and I welcome that. So, Jeffrey, again, thank you so much. And you folks, have a good day.

Unknown Speaker  32:08 

Thank you.

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I'm Allison Dunn,

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