Leadership Approaches – Adaptive Leadership, Ron Heifetz

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Part of the follow ministry resources: Christian Leadership, Empowerment, Transformational Leadership


Adaptive leadership is a kind of transformational and empowering leadership as expressed in the research of Ron Heifetz. Heifetz draws the distinction between “adaptive” work that requires deeply questioning existing frameworks vs. “technical” challenges that can be addressed by current understandings and resources. He calls effective leaders to concentrate on the adaptive challenges.

Terms that owe their origin to Heifetz such as “adaptive work” and “adaptive leadership” are found increasingly in materials on church leadership. His theories are useful especially when considering our current era has so radically shifted away from churched-culture foundations that we cannot simply do the “technical” fixes of redoubling efforts in established models. Completely new paradigms are needed, and adaptive leadership helps us engage these challenges more effectively.

Standard Works

Heifetz’ insights are found in three books:

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Ministry Based Resources

Several church-related resources apply Heifetz’ adaptive leadership model to the specifics of congregational renewal.

This echoes the importance of one of the four key competencies of transformational leadership, that leaders stimulate their followers’ efforts to be innovative and creative by questioning assumptions, reframing problems, and approaching old situations in new ways. (Bass, Transformational Leadership)

A similar idea is found in the research on Empowering Leadership as articulated by Max De Pree, Warren Bennis, Burt Nanus, James Kouzes, Barry Posner, and others. De Pree calls this “defining reality” toward “organizational renewal.” Bennis and Nanus list among their main emphases such things as “creating social architecture,” “strong determination,” and “enrolling people in a vision.” Kouzes and Posner call it “challenging the process by confronting and changing the status quo.” It is closely associated with Jim Collins’ Level Five Leadership.

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Related Areas

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