Much can happen in four short years. Flexible Leadership was published in 2004 but the principles and the leadership model are more applicable today than ever.
The book is based on over fifty years of research. Building on earlier theories, studies and ideas such as organization theory, strategic management theory, traditional management and theories of change management, this model provides a broader range of leadership behaviors.
Behaviors are central to The Flexible Leadership Model – leadership behaviors that leaders should and can use to influence people. Plus, indirect forms of leadership – improvement programs for quality and the human resources elements – are summarized with specific ways to use each.
The key to being a flexible leader is to realize that a person leads best when they are prepared to carry out the rules while remaining prepared to the lead through the unexpected.
According to the authors, “Flexible leadership involves knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Being a flexible leader requires more than the use of a particular set of behaviors, programs or strategies.”
They continue, “Strategic thinking skills, interpersonal skills, and knowledge of the culture and core competencies of the company are all relevant for flexible leaders.”
Framed as a circle with three rings and a core, the model uses the Situational Factors as the outer ring. At the center of the circle is Organizational Effectiveness surrounded by a layer of Efficiency and Reliability, Application and Innovation and Human Resources and Relations.
Directly above Efficiency, Adaptation and Human Resources, the layer is broken into six categories:
e Programs and Systems for Efficiency
e Efficiency-oriented Leadership Behaviors
e Programs and Systems for Human Relations
e People-oriented Leadership Behaviors
e Programs and Systems for Adaptation
e Change-oriented Leadership Behaviors
Dividing the model into thirds through all layers, the authors dedicate a section for each of the pieces starting with efficiency and reliability. Within each section, there are many case studies provided from major corporations such as General Electric, Southwest Airlines (who happens to be in a crisis management mode at this time with 41 of their airplanes failing safety checks) and IBM.
Section I provides an extremely helpful look at the many quality control systems such as Six Sigma, Total Quality Management and Business Process Improvement. After the summaries are given, specific ways or behaviors effective leaders can use to implement and support the programs and systems are detailed. Analysis of what made a particular program work or fail within each company was helpful and leaders can garner morals of the story from the historical perspectives.
Section II and III go into Innovation and Adaptation and Human Resources and Relations, respectively. As with Section I, these two sections give the reader summaries of programs and systems used in each area and the leadership behaviors for each.
The final section of the book looks at the multiple challenges and tradeoffs for leaders. At the very end – the last chapter – is the path to becoming a flexible leader.
There are scores of tables of competencies for effective leaders and guidelines for implementing the many programs and systems detailed.
Five competencies are given for effective, flexible leaders:
e Maintain situational awareness (understanding how external and internal events are relevant)
e Embrace systems thinking
e Focus on what is really important
e Maintain self-awareness
e Preserve personal integrity
The book is well-written, well researched, easy to read, not overly technical, contained relevant case studies (the book would have been just as strong with fewer case studies), and the model makes perfect sense.
Leadership behaviors can be taught if the person learning buys into the model being presented. Flexible leadership tells the reader – here are the various tools or processes you can use to influence, here’s when and how you use them.
New and experienced leaders can be successful if they use an appropriate pattern of direct and indirect leadership and find ways to balance competing demands while remaining open to and adjusting to changing situations.