Adaptive Leader That Are Related Term Paper

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" (nd) Adaptive leaders do not simply come up with something or make it up as they go but adaptive leaders "create from the base of intent, visions, goals, and personal preconditions that are fixed and unchanging." (Byrum, nd) Byrum goes further to state that adaptive leadership "requires courage, conviction, and faith in the capacity to work with others and make situations better. There are 'spiritual' dimensions of leadership that transcend logic and reason. Adaptive leadership certainly requires competency, but it also requires a genius of judgment and encounters unprecedented situations not as a passive victim but as an energetic and active creator. Adaptive leaders will capture people's attention, command their best energies..." (Byrum, nd) Byrum states that adaptive leaders give "old cliches a new meaning: "Success is a journey, not a destination"; "What matters most is where we are moving, not where we stand." (nd) Byrum states that adaptive leaders are "catalysts for the journey, always moving with courage, generating trust, and instilling hope and promise. The Adaptive Leader will be the problem-solver - the solution finder - who will show the way." (Byrum, nd) DeGenring states that "addressing technical challenges yields standard, technical change. However, when applied to adaptive challenges - those that demand solutions not yet conceived of - these approaches and the leaders often fail. They run the risk of being spit out of the system in favor of the next leader who may be able to solve the problem. And the next leader. And so on." (DeGenring, 2005)

What's the Work? Who Does the Work?

Technical Change Apply current know-how the authorities

Adaptive Change Learn New Ways the people with the problem

Source DeGenring (2005)

DeGenring (2005) notes the work of Heifetz and Linksy who state: "In fact, there's a proportionate relationship between risk and adaptive change: The deeper the change and the greater the amount of new learning required, the more resistance there will be and thus, the greater the danger to those who lead. For this reason, people often try to avoid the dangers, either consciously or subconsciously, by treating an adaptive challenge as if it were a technical one. This is why we see so much more routine management than leadership in our society." (2002) Adaptive leaders use the following approaches: (1) Shift focus and reframe the leader's job from that of problem-solver, to that of developer of problem solvers. (2) Give the work back to the people; (3) Ask the important and sometimes, tough questions, and not giving all the answers; (4) Know how to help people learn, not by telling, but by understanding the perceptions, beliefs and values that drive their action, and helping them to plug into alternative, more agile ways of thinking; (5) Accept that heartache is inevitable and courage is essential.

Self-assessment by the Adaptive Leader, according to Heifetz and Linksy may be accomplished through "getting on the balcony'. (2002) This is a process in which one imagines that they are on a dance floor, or the soccer field, at any rate, they are in the action mix "responding to the advances and retreats" of their fellow employees and those they are leading "...feeling good...feeling effective. Things are going well, moves are being well executed." (DeGenring, 2005) Then the adaptive leader should "...imagine there is a balcony in the club or arena" and that they "leave the dance floor and view the whole action from this higher vantage point." Then the adaptive leader must ask themselves what they might see differently than they were able to see from the floor or field? Observed would be "patterns, relationships between things. You might also see what's happening in places you weren't directly connected to. You might see the consequences of actions you took, the reverberated somewhere else on the dance floor. You also might notice what's missing, or the spot in the whole system where there is a faltering. You conceivably could also see where people on the edges are acting in brilliantly innovative ways, bopping away with some perhaps unorthodox, but successful moves. In other words, you'd see the forest and the trees." (Daggering, 2005) Competency of a leader is likened to strategic thinking but there is more because too much critical analysis without becoming actively involved in the organization's experiences is not effective and in fact the adaptive leader is one who can be simultaneously on the floor and on the balcony.

The work of Heifetz and Linksy (2002) states: "Few practical ideas are more obvious or more critical than the need to get perspective in the midst of action. Any military officer, for example, knows the importance of maintaining the capacity for reflection, even in the 'fog of war.' Great athletes can at once play the game and observe it as a whole -- as Walt Whitman described it, being both in and out of the game." (DeGenring, 2005) the Ladder of Inference is introduced in the work of DeGenring (2005) who states that this refers to a "metaphor or model used to describe a mental pathway that underlies much of the human behavior and the flow of human information processing. When individuals 'go up the ladder' they are selecting data from their environment and drawing conclusions from it, often based on beliefs or experiences they've had before, and then acting on them." DeGenring speaks of coaching from the balcony which understanding their own and other individual's 'Ladders' which enables these leaders to: (1) lead the examination, testing, and changing of assumptions; (2) foster appreciation of different points-of-view; and (3) allow awareness, visibility and reflection of each other's thinking and reasoning; and (4) encourage more innovation and learning. (DeGenring, 2005) the following figure illustrates the ladder adapted from "The Fifth Discipline Field book" (Kleiner, Roberts, Ron, Senge and Smith, nd)

Ladder of Inference

Source: DeGenring (2005)

DeGenring concludes that the adaptive leader must assimilate the following paradoxes: (1) Applying the technical knowledge for which the leader was hired will not achieve sustainable change; (2) in order to be effective, the leader must simultaneously be "in the action" and "removed from the action; (3) the humility and vulnerability of admitting one doesn't have all the answers can be the strength that galvanizes the people with the problem to find a breakthrough solution to that problem. In other words, not having the answer is the answer, after all. For a lifeline while navigating the perilous whitewater of leadership, the technical leader must learn to become an Adaptive Leader, a coach of coaches, a leader of leaders. After all, as Albert Einstein observed, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." (2005) the work of Dostal (2007) states that the characteristics of the Adaptive Leader are inclusive of being 'decisive' or able to make decisions in an effective and rapid manner if required. The adaptive leader is stated by Dostal (2007) to be capable of balancing human leadership dimensions with technology and is uncomfortable with uncertainty as the adaptive leader is both agile and flexible. (Dostal, 2007; paraphrased) the adaptive leader is a "focused" and "quick" learner and operates from the perspective of an "empowering and decentralized" position of leadership which allows for "initiative within intent." (Dostal, 2007) the adaptive leader is good at communication and is able to "build cohesive, trust teams with candor" as well as being able to "use force across the full spectrum of conflict." (Dostal, 2007)


The Adaptive Leader is one who is able to intuitively and with intent make decisions and solve problems while empowering those whom are being led. The adaptive leader is agile and flexible, decisive and reflective. The adaptive leader is one who has developed the ability to lead both from the floor and from the balcony, retaining both perspectives allowing for effective self-reflection and self-assessment. The adaptive leader is one who is a risk-taker and who has the courage and heart to lead in times of uncertainty and times of change. The adaptive leader is one who works with what is present in terms of the intellectual capacity of the team they are leading and adapts to the resources present and utilizes the intellectual resource available to do the job and to do it well.


Bloom, Benjamin (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York: Longmans, 1956).

Albano, Charles (1999) Adaptive Leadership. Leader Values. Online available at

Vandergriff, Donald E Major (2006) Adaptive Leaders Course (ALC) Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks - White Paper Coordinating Draft - a Proposed 'Addendum' to the Capstone Concept U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center (Forward) 10 May 2006. Online available at

Byrum, C. Stephen (nd) Adaptive Work: The Challenge of Modern Leadership. Signal Mountain, Tennessee.…

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