• Deb Kleinman

Adaptive Leadership is Hard

I work, as do many of you, in the realm of adaptive challenges. These are those challenges that are difficult to identify and easy to deny, that have no obvious or easy answers, require deep and expansive change, and new learning.

I work with innovative thinkers and doers who are trying to have an impact on these adaptive challenges, and who are overwhelmed by the complexity and scale of what they are trying to accomplish. They are looking to develop those adaptive leadership skills necessary to mobilize teams, communities, and countries in service of their vision for a better world. This is hard, exciting, important work.

When my clients ask those around them to work together to address adaptive challenges, they are asking for three really hard things (according to Linsky and Heifetz in Leadership on the Line):

  • Accept loss, in the absence of certainty about what their losses will be replaced with;

  • Be disloyal to those who shaped our values, ideas, beliefs, and ways of knowing about the world;

  • Feel incompetent, when their expertise and experience are no longer relevant to the challenges at hand.


There's a reason adaptive challenges are so hard: we are asking people to risk some very foundational things about who they are, what they believe, and how they want to be seen. Acknowledging that is one of the most important skills in adaptive leadership.

What do you think?

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