Sample Leadership Studies Paper on Adaptive Leadership

Organizations face significant challenges due to the increasingly complex and multifaceted nature of the modern-day workforce. Leading complex teams in a highly demanding work setting often present significant challenges to leadership, hence the need to pursue adaptive leadership to overcome the underlying concerns that permeated work settings (Smith & Poblano, 2018). An adaptive challenge archetype is an approach to leadership where managers inspire their followers to face, adapt, and amicably deal with the underlying challenges and changes that permeate the work environment. According to Northouse (2016), this form of leadership emphases on the adaptations that people need to espouse to respond adequately to the ever-changing work environment. As such, adaptive leadership lays emphasis on a leader’s activities regarding the work of his/her followers within the prevailing context. Workgroups must devise ways of working more collaboratively to approach the common challenges and address and resolve the existing concerns through an adaptive leadership approach.

An Adaptive Challenge Archetype: Commitments in Competition

From the case study, the CEO created a large board of governors that doubles its membership from 32 to 68 personnel. Such a move led to a board that comprised of two groups, including the executive and the non-executive personnel. While the idea of having such a large board was to facilitate the agency’s influence within the community, it led to significant drawbacks. For instance, the agency found it hard to convene meetings that every member could attend. Additionally, such a large board provided limited opportunity for the personnel to have meaningful conversation besides having less engaged members during meetings. Essentially, the concept of adaptive leadership thrives within the fringes of group understanding. Traditionally, working with large groups lead to communication challenges that deny teams an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution in their undertakings. This paper, therefore, identifies Commitments in Competition as the overriding adaptive challenge archetype for analyzing the organization presented in the case study (Heifetz & Linsky, 2014). According to Heifetz and Linsky (2014), this archetype presupposes that organizations are complex in nature and, therefore, tend to make conflicting commitments and investments. Traditionally, resolving these concerns involves making severe decisions, which not everyone, please.

Lack of groupthink: The unwillingness of the group to consider alternative perspectives or ideas might be one major undoing for the board. The agency’s board lacked critical thinking capabilities to deliberate on and debate issue-based concerns. On their part, the agency’s leadership might have failed in their responsibility of defining a compelling vision for the board, by not delegating duties proportionately to accommodate multiple constituencies (O’Brien & Selboe, 2015).

Poor communication: Due to its large membership, it is possible for the agency’s board to interrupt and talk over one another during meetings, hence greater misunderstanding. A larger membership might lead to consistent silence from some individuals, who might feel uncomfortable sharing their opinion during meetings. Failure to address the underlying perspectives of every board member might inspire significant opposition due to the assumptions made by the management (Heifetz & Linsky, 2014). Large groups are typical of false consensus due to an inability to sample the opinion or input of all the stakeholders. For instance, the inability of the board to tame its members made it possible for the media to infiltrate the agency and release unverified information, which escalated the problems. The case analysis explores that the agency’s board members made chains off missteps while responding to media queries and community concerns.

Lack of team identity: With such a large team, the board members might fail to master the concept of team identity, hence the lack of mutual accountability to team objectives. The board lacked commitment and drive, hence difficulty in resolving differences thereby generating endless conflicts within the work environment (O’Brien & Selboe, 2015). Besides, the absence of the board’s team identity made it hard for members to make a clear distinction between personal goals and group objectives, hence the ongoing dissatisfaction.

Decision-making challenges: Compared to a lean board, a large might one is likely to experience significant challenges regarding decision making. According to Heifetz and Linsky (2014), this is primarily due to the fact that members of a large group are likely to disengage from one another and form alliances from within. As such, the agency’s board members might rigidly adhere to their positions of affiliation when making decisions. A difference in opinion between affiliates within the agency’s board is likely to generate repeated arguments, sideshows, and publicity stunts rather than pursuing new information. Other significant challenges in line with decision making were realized when the agency made conflicting announcements about the nature of the compensation and how it was to be executed. For instance, while it developed by a section of the board, others only learned about it through the media. A board of governors should be an all-inclusive decision-making organ, which does not operate as a fragmented group

An Evaluation of the Problem

As a management concept, adaptive leadership assists followers in overcoming the underlying challenges, which from the outset appear too complex and seem to have no known or immediate solutions. As a subcategory of Complexity Leadership Theory, adaptive leadership focuses significant attention of seeking a solution to problems based by adapting to them instead of avoiding those concerns (O’Brien & Selboe, 2015). The Complexity Leadership Theory comprises administrative and adaptive processes while enabling leadership to focus on the plans, as well as actions, which inspire and discover creativity to adapt more in a multifaceted organizational system (O’Brien & Selboe, 2015). Therefore, it is within this purview that adaptive leadership produces the much pursued social dynamics, which transforms the culture to adjust to an organizational change. The changes that permeate work settings instigate chaos within a system. According to Ertel and Kay (2014), these conflicts range from the differing needs, ideas, as well as preferences of individuals within an organization. Adaptive Model of Leadership provides managers with tried, tested, and trusted rubrics for engagement within an organization to enable individuals to view a situation from the same perspective. Through a shared approach to problems, adaptive leadership significantly limits the chances of conflicts that occur due to an inability of a group to view a concern from the same wavelength.

Individuals within an organization are the stakeholders within that organization and, therefore, their decisions and input determine the organization’s outlook. Traditionally, individuals are motivated by personal desires and as such engage in making alliances while forging loyalties as per their personal values and ambition (Bushe & Marshak, 2015). As Arena (2018) opines that such values underlie and override the behaviors of individuals and groups. To engage in ongoing adaptive leadership, the organization must engage people at personal levels’ values. Besides, it is imperative to discover and conceptualize loyalties that exist between members and their organization (Bushe & Marshak, 2015). Essentially, this means that while dealing with each individual, managers must take into consideration the decisions or people that influence situations. Leaders need to decisively view their organizations as “vegetable strews” under which alliances and loyalties thrive. When a change takes place in an organization, it is vital to distribute inevitable losses to minimize disruption and damages. According to Eoyang and Holladay (2014), this denotes identifying the potential damages, both emotional and material, to individuals and the sub-groups within an organization. The essence of adaptive leadership is to assist each stakeholder and groups withstand the necessary initiatives, as well as the anticipated losses attached to an undertaking or the organization in general.

A Recommended Leadership Intervention

The decisions taken by the agency’s management such as the formation of a large board generated multiple complex challenges that made it hard to function amicably. For instance, the formation of executive and the non-executive board members led to deeply divided alliances that encourage opposition and hardliners to take strong positions on various emerging issues. While the idea of expanding the board not bad in essence as it sought to broaden representation, it led to significant drawbacks experienced through difficulties in decision-making. For instance, the agency experienced challenges convening meetings that every member could attend and be content. Besides having less engaged members, a large board membership provided limited prospects for the management to have a meaningful conversation during board meetings. Intuitively, the concept of adaptive leadership blossoms well when groups understand one another and approach issues as a single front (Nelson & Squires, 2017). Given these concerns, the board experienced communication challenges that denied them an opportunity to speak with one voice and make a meaningful contribution in all their activities.

Adaptive leadership necessitates a series of diagnoses and ongoing intervention to resolve the emerging challenges experienced within the organization. The first step that the agency must consider is to roll out an intervention framework to provide members with an opportunity to ask important questions. The board should task themselves with questions touching on the location of the organization’s primary adaptive challenge, as well as seeking to understand the group to which the current issue impact most (Eoyang & Holladay, 2014). Answering these concerns would assist in putting into context, the intervention strategy and timing that the agency must explore. The essence of the intervention framing is to allow the members of the board to acquire a firm understanding of the need to stage an intervention and when to execute it. While seeking all possible pathways to reach out to all the stakeholders, managers should use an all-inclusive language that inspires members to readily connect with the organization’s shared values and sense of purpose (Nelson & Squires, 2017). Upon putting interventions into perspective, the management can hold a firm grasp of emerging anxiety by envisioning the interventions and prevailing over groups to adopt them.

The next phase of intervention is to conduct a rigorous education on group members to enable to acquire a deeper understanding of the underlying differences between adaptive and technical challenges (Eoyang & Holladay, 2014). The objective of this decision is to assist the management to identify and put into perspective the organization’s challenges and then translate such concern to the level of an individual. The essence of intervention is to shift interpretations or the concerns from organizational thinking to personal level thinking. Arguably, the idea is to put members in the frontier for them to own a challenge and view its solution from their own perspective (Nelson & Squires, 2017). The agency’s management should when the people and their perceptions are moving in the wrong or right direction to provide timely guidance on how to overcome the anticipated challenges. Such an undertaking is vital because, in nearly all situations, organizations and their workforces perceive adaptive challenges as technical concerns.

For the agency to fully integrate and demarcate the distinction between technical and adaptive challenges, the management must reframe and reset the default assumptions held by individuals and groups. In line with this initiative, the management must consider identifying and naming the default assumptions held by individuals and probe the ways in which such assumptions inhibit organizational growth (Arena, 2018). Closely associated with this process are the practice and process of embracing multiple complex interpretations about values and issues that affect individuals and groups. Leaders must explore all the necessary avenues and apply multiple perspectives to bring about harmony in groupthink processes. Adaptive leadership demands that personal beliefs, as well as ideas, must concurrently be vehemently and objectively subjected to wide-ranging feedback.

In the agency’s case, the leadership needs to pay close attention to understand which groups or individuals form an instant understanding and commitment to the intervention. The leadership should also listen and respond to the consenting voices or those who resist adaptive change (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009). In particular, the agency’s leadership must keep groups and individuals within the organization involved at all times in all initiatives and understand that change avoidance is a normal human response. There should be greater effort to get allies and reach out to consenting voices and encourage them to be more involved in the change process to be part of an investment in the process of intervention. In the case under study, the agency’s executive board made significant institutional assumptions that rendered the opinion of non-executive board meaningless. As such, it could be hard for the management to tame the conflicting interests that ensured. With either group forming alliances while positioning themselves strategically to oppose the decisions at board level, the agency and its leadership could achieve very little.

It is important to realize that there is excessive politics that permeate organizations and groups. As such, the agency should consider the underlying political perspectives that define the alignments that shape the thinking and thinking prospects of individuals and groups. Thinking politically in adaptive leadership explores the need to understand the alliances, relationships, and personal and shared concerns among a wide variety of individuals or groups within the organization (Eoyang & Holladay, 2014). The agency’s leadership needs to put the underlying politics into perspectives to build alliances and invade opposition to advance and mobilize support for a decision. The agency needs to follow the guideless beneath to guide it in its adaptive leadership process.

  1. Expand informal authority: The agency can accomplish this undertaking by forging alliances and repairing bridges to strengthen relationships. The board should, within its power, strive to cultivate loyalty across its membership while intimately engaging groups and individuals who are deeply partaking in a decision. Additionally, the board should nurture team building to integrate the underlying opinion differences to enable members to read from the same script. Prior to the main intervention, the management should hold an inclusive convention that considers the input of both the executive and non-executive board members (Northouse, 2016). From the foregoing case, it is worth noting that the agency’s problems emanated from an inability to integrate the differing positions held by board members, thereby leading to a biased decision that only favored a section of the board, hence the current impasse.
  2. Manage authority: From the challenges experienced by the firm such as the opposing alliances within the board, it is worth noting that a central authority was wanting. With limited capacity to bring everyone into line, the authority failed significantly in its unifying factor role (Northouse, 2016). Authority structures including CEOs, presidents, supervisors, and unit managers must always anticipate the disruptive and indefinite impact of adaptive change. In particular, those at the helm of the agency’s leadership should provide valuable feedback on how an intervention operates owing to their top-to-bottom outlook.
  3. Forge alliances and repair bridges: There are deeply rooted challenges that permeate groups, hence the recurrence of conflicts. The agency’s leadership should assemble allies before going public with their intentions and interventions. In particular, the board can refer too and borrow from the successful previous political diagnoses to help in correctly identifying the stakeholders with shared values and history of the organization. The building alliances initiative would greatly elevate the agency’s power and capacity to bring virtually everyone into line when seeking to make changes.
  4. Accommodate and protect the dissenting voices: The agency’s board faces significant challenges regarding the deeply rooted opposing alliances that define its members. The leadership should, therefore, find the midpoint of connecting more intimately to the opposition to diminish the underlying and opposing perspectives that withhold the board from making a unified decision. It is necessary to identify the individuals or groups with the greater likelihood of opposing an initiative to bring them into line. The organization’s managers should closely monitor such individuals and groups while seeking their opinions and listening to their responses. The management should take particular initiatives of eradicating the feelings of threat to which the dissenting voices associate.
  1. Manage communication: One of the notable concerns highlighted in the case study is the agency’s inability to roll out a unified communication (Northouse, 2016). As such, the media easily infiltrated the organization and relayed conflicting information that only put the agency on the spotlight. With conflicting information spilling out to the media, the board was greatly under the threat of public scrutiny. To reclaim its waning public image, the agency needs to allocate a communication organ with a robust public relations team that ensures protocol in releasing pressers on the organization’s position on various outstanding issues.


Leading multifaceted teams in a highly demanding work setting might present significant challenges to those entrusted with leadership. In the agency’s case, for instance, challenges experienced through large board members greatly regressed the organization’s capacity to carry out its mandate amicably. With individuals and groups forging alliances and taking more oppositional perspectives on various situations that frequently arise, the agency can achieve very little in its pursuits. To create and master lasting progress on adaptive concerns, the agency’s leadership must not only embrace the underlying conflicts but also control them through an ongoing process of building bridges and reaching out to the dissenting voices to assemble a more unified decision making an organ. Essentially, this undertaking requires the agency’s board to nurture and manage organizational conflicts while incrementally seeking to move forward towards the desired resolution.




Arena, M. (2018). Adaptive space: How GM and other companies are positively disrupting themselves and transforming into agile organizations. McGraw-Hill Education.

Bushe, G., & Marshak, R. (2015). Dialogic organization development: The theory and practice of transformational change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Eichholz, J. (2014). Adaptive capacity. LID Editorial.

Eoyang, G. & Holladay, R. (2014). Adaptive action: Leveraging uncertainty in your organization. Stanford University Press.

Ertel, C. & Kay, L. (2014). Solomon moments of impact: How to design strategic conversations that accelerate change. Simon and Schuster.

Heifetz, R. & Linsky, M. (2014). Adaptive leadership: The Heifetz collection. Harvard Business Review Press.

Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Retrieved from

Nelson, T. & Squires, V. (2017). Addressing complex challenges through adaptive leadership: a promising approach to collaborative problem-solving. Journal of Leadership Education, 16(14), 111-123.

Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th Ed). California: SAGE Publications.

O’Brien, K. & Selboe, E. (2015). The adaptive challenge of climate change. Cambridge University Press.

Smith, K. & Poblano, L. (2018). Change, transition, and the practice of naming adaptive challenges. Retrieved from