The adaptive leadership framework within this chapter—key ideas, principles, competencies, and dimensions—has been used with permission from the author of the book, Your Leadership Edge, Ed O’Malley[1]

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.[2]

— The Real Work by Wendell Berry

The current perception of leadership is much different from that in past years. The idea of one heroic individual single-handedly generating results by enforcing their will is considered outdated. Leadership is now considered a team sport. To this end, we are focusing this chapter on adaptive leadership, which is about mobilizing with others to tackle tough problems where there are no easy solutions. Exercising leadership is not always about seeing the next step but being willing to put your foot out with others and step together into new frontiers. The adaptive leadership concepts presented in this guide are originally based on the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky—two of the foremost authorities on the practice and teaching of leadership. The Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) has enhanced Heifetz’s and Linsky’s practice of adaptive leadership by simplifying it and making it more accessible and actionable. The KLC framework is outlined below, including key leadership ideas, principles, competencies, and dimensions. Within this framework, KLC has woven other theories, such as transformational and servant leadership, further enriching the material.

Figure 1: Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive Leadership Competencies

The book Your Leadership Edge frames the adaptive leadership concepts into four competencies: Diagnose Situation, Manage Self, Energize Others, and Intervene Skillfully. To bring these competencies alive and make them more actionable, the book enhances and enriches them with six dimensions each. The following competency framework has its lineage in the adaptive leadership concepts and turns the definition of leadership into purposeful action.

Leadership Competencies.[3]

From the book-Your leadership Edge: Lead Anytime, Anywhere


Diagnose Situation 

  • Distinguish Technical and Adaptive Work
  • Understand Process Challenges
  • Explore Tough Interpretations
  • Take the Temperature
  • Identify Who Needs to Do the Work
  • Test Multiple Interpretations and Points of View 

Manage Self

  • Know Your Strengths, Vulnerabilities, and Triggers
  • Get Used to Uncertainty and Conflict
  • Choose Among Competing Values
  •  Know the Story Others Tell About You
  • Experiment Beyond Your Comfort Zone
  • Take Care of Yourself

Energize Others

  •  Engage Unusual Voices
  • Start Where They Are
  • Work Across Factions
  • Create a Trustworthy Process
  • Speak to Loss
  •  Inspire a Collective Purpose

Intervene Skillfully 

  • Make Conscious Choices
  • Raise the Heat
  • Speak from the Heart
  • Give the Work Back
  • Act Experimentally
  • Hold Purpose

To help you apply the concepts embedded in the competencies and dimensions, bring to mind a leadership challenge you are currently experiencing, one that requires you to work with others to make progress and that you care enough about that you are willing to change your behavior. Using a real-world scenario will help you take up the leadership concepts, bringing new behaviors to life and moving from learning to action.



[1] O’Malley, E., & Cebula, A. (2015). Your leadership edge: Lead anytime, anywhere. Kansas Leadership Center Press.

[2] O’Malley, E., & Cebula, A. (2015). Your leadership edge: Lead anytime, anywhere. Kansas Leadership Center Press.

[3] O’Malley, E., & Cebula, A. (2015). Your leadership edge: Lead anytime, anywhere. Kansas Leadership Center Press.