Become a Smarter Leader

Many managers and leaders remain locked into a single style of behaviour that they have adopted over the years. However, to get effective results for their team and organisation, leaders need to make a conscious decision to manage their own behaviour and adapt their style to the person or process they wish to influence. This Hot Topic explores a key leadership trait to make a bigger difference in the organisation: Adaptive Leadership.

July 2018 Special Issue 2

The Adaptive Leader

Do you accept conditions as they exist, or do you accept responsibility for changing them?

By definition, Adaptive Leadership is the ability for a person to promote adaptability and to change the direction of the organisation towards success during uncertain times when there are no obvious solutions.

The moment you realise that your organisation’s aspirations cannot be reached through current methods, the right leadership style could diagnose and create capabilities that match your team’s aspirations and bring real change to the status quo.

Adaptive Leadership was created by researchers Heifetz and Linsky from Harvard University, to begin to outline the key to leadership training and development. What they suggest is a structure of leadership that supports individuals and organisations to adapt and thrive in challenging environments. It is a framework that is designed to help leaders in dealing with consequential changes in difficult times and take on the gradual yet meaningful process of change both individually, and collectively.

What is most attractive about this leadership style is that it can be learned and therefore any member of a team, or indeed, several people within an organisation can become an effective adaptive leader.

According to the researchers, the framework of Adaptive Leadership is made up of several areas that an individual must take into consideration:

Four essentials to Adaptive Leadership
Organisational Justice Exceptional leaders are prepared to embrace the truth. They are aware of how to incorporate their facts with what individuals think, what these individuals would like to hear and how they would want to hear it. This makes individuals feel valued and respected which in turn will promote a culture of trust and openness.
Emotional Intelligence This is an understanding of one’s own emotions and those of others. This awareness is then used by adaptive leaders to effectively manage themselves and develop quality relationships.
Development An adaptive leader is aware that there is always something new to learn both for themselves, and for the team. Additionally, they know that they have a responsibility to assist in the development of the members of their team, helping them to recognise their true potential.
Character Adaptive leaders embody a deep sense of character and they are always forthcoming and transparent. Although these leaders are aware there is much room for personal improvement, they earn their respect by practicing what they preach.

Sources: Heifetz, R.A., Grashow, A. and Linsky, M., 2009. The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Press

Referenced techniques


Change Leadership

The concept explains why successful and sustainable organisational improvements depend on effective change leaders who know how to create and disseminate a vision, overcome resistance to change and manage conflict. The concept provides examples that illustrate how change leadership has been successfully used in the industry.



Good leaders are continually working on, and studying to improve, their leadership skills. This technique explores what makes a good leader and covers the characteristics of good organisational leadership.


Transformational Change

The concept presents empirical evidence on the evolving role of transformational change and case study evidence of such changes within organisations.

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