Adaptive Leadership Definition

Adaptive leadership is essentially a structure of leadership that was expanded by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky. The adaptive leadership model is designed to assist organizations and individuals in dealing with consequential changes in uncertain times, when no clear answers are forthcoming. Adaptive leaders identify and deal with systemic change, using techniques that confront the status quo and identify adaptive and technical challenges.

Chameleon on flowerAdaptive leadership Heifetz provides the support, skills and understanding needed to expertly distinguish between what is expendable and what is essential. After which certain methods will be used to innovate, ensuring that they will fit together with what is essential. As suggested by the name, the essence of adaptive leadership is to promote adaptability that allows the organization to flourish and take along its best history to help with future successes.

Adaptive leaders make use of a set of practices and strategies that are designed to assist individuals and organizations in breaking through gridlocks, accomplishing profound change and developing the adaptability required to blossom in challenging, competitive and complex environments. The adaptive leadership model can be learned. In addition, any team member within the organization can become an effective adaptive leader.

It is recognized by adaptive leadership that there are, in essence, two types of problems that are confused by individual who are on a quest to find solutions. First of all, technical problems exist and a satisfactory response has been established to address them; one or more experts with established procedure and general credibility would suffice. For example, acting in response to a poaching call in which the enforcement officer has expertise. There are established procedures to follow. Technical problems are mechanical and can be fixed by the experts.

Secondly, there are adaptive problems and these have no recognized experts, no set procedures and there has been no development of adequate responses. The definition of the problem is not quite clear and there are no available technical fixes. This is where the expertise of the adaptive leader would come in handy, especially since he or she would not have the answers and would have to orient individuals to their roles and places. They would also have to institute and maintain norms and control conflict to facilitate individuals uniting their efforts to find effective solutions.

These skills that are possessed by the adaptive leader provide the connective tissue that is needed to focus on the problems at hand, with a view of finding solutions to correct the issues in the shortest possible time and in the most effective way. Adaptive leadership skills set exceptional leaders apart from the average. These skills are representative of the otherwise indefinable qualities that exceptional leaders have in common. Where adaptive leadership is concerned, it is a one of a kind combination of guided effort, perspective and skills that foster true excellence. These adaptive leadership skills have the capability of taking a leader to places that other leaders are not equipped to go.

Adaptive Leadership is:

Organizational Justice

Exceptional leaders are willing 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 these individuals want to hear it. This makes individuals feel valued and respected.

Emotional Intelligence

This is set of skills used to capture the emotions of others and the knowledge of our own emotions. This awareness is then used by adaptive leaders to effectively manage themselves and develop quality relationships.


An adaptive leader is aware that there is always something new to learn. Additionally, they know that they have an obligation to assist in the development of the members of their team, helping them to recognize their true potential.


Adaptive leaders embody a deep sense of character and they are always forthcoming and transparent. These leaders are not perfect; however, they earn their respect by practicing what they preach.

Qualities of Adaptive Leaders

The actions of effective adaptive leaders are highlighted below:

• They think and take action to exert tactical influence on members of their team and the organization itself. They take action to make sure that their organizations are positioned well competitively.
• They constantly work at building the capacities of the organization to learn, change culture, transform structure and adapt to the use of new technology.
• These leaders are proactive and they foresee opportunities and immediately get to work, putting the resources in place to explore those opportunities.
• They are always knowledgeable about what is wanted by their stakeholders.
• They make use of a broad-based leadership style that makes it possible for them to be more adaptive and flexible.
• They can readily produce creative alternatives for action.
• Whenever possible, adaptive leaders entertain divergent and diverse views before major decisions are made.
• Adaptive leaders have a willingness to take risks and experiment.
• They are wise students who thrive in any environment in which they are placed.
• They willingly admit and accept fault when they err and abandon or make changes to a course of action that has become non-productive.
• They are quite innovative and encourage the innovation of their team members as well.
• Adaptive leaders stay abreast of current trends by their dedication to being lifelong learners and they make every effort to enhance their openness to new ideas.

It can be difficult to pin down and comprehend exceptional leadership. The qualities of a good leader shine through and are even more evident when you are a member of his or her team. However, even exceptional leaders could find it difficult to explain the details of what course of action they take to become the effective leaders they are. Adaptive leaders are dynamic and the meld their distinctive abilities into an integrated whole.

The qualities associated with adaptive leadership are definitely not new to leadership in general. However, the extraordinary pressures faced by leaders to help organizations successfully adapt, particularly during a period when the all too comfortable and conventional leadership models have proven to be ineffective, is something that is quite new. The adaptive leadership model works quite well in these current times.