Adaptive Leadership Series: How to Confront Complex Challenges and Catalyze Change

About the Series

This four-day advanced leadership series is designed to help human services managers exercise more effective leadership as they work to bring about needed change within their teams and agencies. During the series, we will introduce a set of tools and practices that get at the root causes of challenges rather than “Band-Aid” technical fixes that inevitably fail to work. You will gain a stronger understanding of the larger stakeholder system of which you are a part and learn to mobilize change in that system without getting permanently sidelined in the process.

What is Adaptive Leadership?

Adaptive leadership is a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments such as those in the human services field. This training series is primarily based on the framework first developed at the Harvard Kennedy School that is now being advanced by a growing community of practitioners and educators around the world.

Intended Audience and Commitments

This program is designed for human services managers who are interested in developing their leadership capacities and who want to be more effective in helping a team or agency make progress on difficult adaptive challenges. The process is highly experiential and is designed to help facilitate awareness of self and group. It requires a high degree of reflection, a willingness to sit with discomfort, an openness to new ideas and a commitment to provide and receive consultation on challenges from fellow group members over the course of the program. You will be asked to do readings in between sessions and make interventions at work related to your adaptive challenge. Because the concepts introduced in the series build on each other and out of a desire to build a strong community of practice, participants must attend all four dates of the series as part of the commitment they are making to the group.

Series Format and Trajectory

The series consists of four, one-day sessions held bi-weekly. After considering fundamental ideas in the adaptive leadership framework, participants will define a professional challenge to address during and hopefully long after the program concludes. Each concept will build on the next so that participants gain greater insight into the challenge and generate new ideas on how to address it. Participants will analyze their stakeholder “system” to consider other perspectives on the challenge and how those perspectives might differ from their own. Taking the information gathered from this initial diagnostic, we will turn to action, helping participants consider “experiments” to run to make progress on the challenge over time. Participants will plan initial interventions and follow-up with small group partners over subsequent sessions to share results and receive consultation that informs next steps.

After completion of this series, participants will be able to:

  • Pursue a plan to address a personal leadership challenge identified during the session
  • Better understand their stakeholder system and take more informed action steps
  • Make smarter and more strategic interventions that can lead to progress on key professional and organizational challenges
  • Identify and confront forms of resistance to change
  • Increase resiliency and the ability to endure the important work of leadership for as long as possible

The series will focus on the ollowing themes:

Session 1: The Imperative of Adaptation and Leadership

The first session addresses the importance of adaptation in helping organizations and teams to thrive. The session will also highlight a key distinction between the role and functions of authority and the activity of leadership.

Session 2: Technical and Adaptive Work

This session distinguishes between technical challenges (which depend on authority and expertise to deliver known solutions) and adaptive challenges (which do not have easy answers and must be addressed by engaging the rest of the group in making progress over time). Building on this distinction, participants will define an adaptive challenge to address over the remainder of the series—and hopefully long after. Small groups will engage in exchanging consultation on specific challenges and plan out initial steps to gain a better systemic awareness of the problem.

Session 3: Understanding the System

The third session focuses on the importance of understanding perspectives of all relevant stakeholders on an adaptive challenge before jumping into action. As part of this diagnostic, we will consider value conflicts as well as the role that losses and loyalties play when people resist change. Small groups will share diagnostic insights, receive consultation and formulate an initial intervention to help address identified challenges.

Session 4: Taking Action and Surviving the Dangers of Leadership

The final session emphasizes experimentation and examines how the practice of leadership involves making interventions, learning and continued iteration to bring about progress on adaptive challenges over time. Against this backdrop, we will focus on how to orchestrate “productive disequilibrium” and make strategic interventions that keeps people engaged in adaptive work while heading off work avoidance and a return to the status quo.

We will conclude the series by focusing on how to survive the risks of leadership. Small groups will reconvene to design a next-step intervention intended to make concrete progress on identified challenges.

Course Code