Adaptive Leadership; Rethinking and Renewing on business

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Adaptive Leadership

I wrote the article about Adaptive Leadership to make you enjoy reading while learning how helpful it can be to follow the idea or stay with the old authoritative managing style


Adaptive Leadership is an approach to the realization of leadership when facing complicated problems that formal authority or personal charisma are not enough for substantial changes. Having based on the assumption of Systemic Thinking” the Adaptive Leadership id described as the action of many people that promote change in the whole system. That is contrary to the universal concept of leadership that to manage the rethinking and to present the new challenging reality politically on one and only leader, mostly this one that is already in power. 

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The purpose or goal of the Adaptive Leadership is to help the system of an organization to adapt to the changes and keep being relevant in its area.

Watch; Five ways to lead in an era of constant change TED Talks

 Today changes can come with no notice or a short one; a market can be lost in a blink of an eye because of a new competitor with new technology that can make the organization’s product or technology obsolete. (See Nokia´s case)

Nokia´s Cellphones                               iPhone 1


Adaptive Leadership power is in the broad vision and tools of influence in the hands of managers and other leading and influencing factors that help managers to push renovating ideas.

Adaptive Leadership is required to face adaptation challenges that do not get a proper response from the traditional way of leading the organization. It is different from the routine that you take care of technical problems.

For example, the technical team can be working on the challenge of making a smaller product like the MP3 player while the Adaptive Leadership group can learn that MP3 player may be replaced by compliantly new technology that will insert the Music player into the smart-phone.

Ronald Heiftz: The nature of adaptive leadership

                        Fidel Castro; Authority brought Cubans a lot of suffering.

The position of Adaptive Leadership requires the combination of the ability to look with wide angle on a problem and the executing space at the same time, this combination is what permits the action with an understanding of the system reality and make adaptable changes possible.

Adaptive Leadership

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Adaptive Leadership relates to the action, not to the person and his rank. This concept lets any person form any position to take action to promote the system changing; Therefor anyone can realize leadership. Because of the power of authority and the interest of traditional leadership in keeping the status quo and the risk of doing it, we rarely see people taking the Adaptive Leadership in real life. Mentioning Nokia case again, there was no one in the company that dares to tell that the king is going to be naked or no one that was willing to listen and takes action.

Future Shock book, summery; How change affects us.

The term Adaptable Leadership was coined on the research done by Dr. Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

Ronald Reagan ended The Cold War: Soviets Authority system could not stand the changes

The term adaptable comes from biology, and it is related to the capability of organizations to change because of changing reality but keep relevancy for a long time. Professionals adapted the terms for personal sociology using it to describe the adaptability of a group.

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Based on its view of complex systems, Adaptive Leadership concept is assuming that any system, (Organization, group or company) have a permanent tension between two contradicting powers:

From one side the status-quo that conserve the system in its present status by Authority. On the other hand, the forces that create changes, the Leadership that wants to lead the organization to adapt to the new reality.

              Stalin authority could not win the war with no help from Democracy.

The antagonism between Authority and Leadership. Making a fundamental distinction between Authority or Charisma and Leadership or Adaptable Leadership.

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In the eyes of adaptable leadership, the leadership is forwarding the change rescuing it from the status quo and conservative approach to hierarchy and authority.

In other words, the more significant the change, the more adaptable leadership is needed.

When a conservative and authoritarian people are the head of a group they will block any change unless the leadership will be able to manage the rethinking and presenting the new challenging reality politically. Any attempt to lead change without understanding the complexity is doomed to fail. 

More information

  1. Heifetz, R. A., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Press.
  2. Obolensky, M. N. (2014). Complex adaptive leadership: Embracing paradox and uncertainty. Gower Publishing, Ltd.
  3. Randall, L. M., & Coakley, L. A. (2007). Applying adaptive leadership to successful change initiatives in academia. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 28(4), 325-335.
  4. Yukl, G., & Mahsud, R. (2010). Why flexible and adaptive leadership is essential