Leadership Education

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive Leadership Theory •  LDR 200L Workshop

Adapt: (Verb) Make suitable for a new use or purpose, modify

When we received our topics for our Leadership Theory workshop, I was delighted. Since coming to college, all I (and everyone else around) do is adapt to every new situation thrown our way, especially freshman year. As stated above, when someone or something adapts they modify themselves for a new purpose. People adapt everyday and sometimes even multiple times a day, so for this theory we just had to think about everyday situations a leader may face.

History behind this theory: The Adaptive Leadership Theory made its first appearance in 1994.  Ronald Heifetz, the researcher behind this theory published his book Leadership Without Easy Answers, which was based on his findings regarding adaptive leadership. After publishing his first book, Heifetz continued his studies and brought multiple other researchers in to help with this process. A few of his associates were, Sinder, Grashow, Linsky, and Laurie. Prior to Heifetz and his associates, there were  not extensive studies on adaptive leadership so they are known as the founders this theory.

Information about the Theory: With this specific leadership theory there are four different perspective to look at and six behaviors. The perspectives include biology, service, psychotherapy, and systems. Each perspective has a different idea about adaptation in leadership and explains how each fits into the theory. The six behaviors, include; Get on the Balcony, Identify Adaptive Challenges, Regulate Distress, Maintain Disciplined Attention, Give Work Back to the People, and Protect Leadership Voices from Below. Each of the behaviors provide an outline of what a Leader should do when they are adapting. Also, each behavior flows into the next one, and a good adaptive leader will use all six behaviors when adapting to new situations. Finally, like all theories, Adaptive Leadership has its strengths and weaknesses. A strength of the theory is that it is very follower centered, so the leader is doing things specifically for the followers and both parties have responsibilities. On the other hand, a weakness is Adaptive Leadership is a very broad and abstract theory so it is sometimes hard to nail down what it precisely is.

This theory is about adapting to different leadership situations. So in light of that, a few examples of the Adaptive Leadership Theory in action are, LAS in the D, my Grilled Cheese Fundraiser, and in general getting a leadership position in any club. First, LAS in the D was the epitome of adaptive leadership. Throughout the trip logistics were constantly changing and we had to “willow” with it as Jesi would say. This trip encompassed the use of all six adaptive behaviors whether it was all at once or periodically throughout the 30 hours we were there. A specific instance of this, is regulating distress and how the leaders of LAS in the D always made sure everyone knew what was going on and what was expected of them. Also, I used the six behaviors the week I organized my sorority’s Grilled Cheese Fundraiser. I was constantly adapting to every new situation that arose, including the fact that we put on our first philanthropy week. For Grilled Cheese, one of the behaviors I was constantly using was “protect Leadership Voices from Below”. Throughout the week and even before, I always asked my sisters for their ideas and what they thought would be good for us. Finally, a more general display of adaptive leadership is when someone takes on a new leadership role.

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