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Adaptive Leadership Article Critique


The article of two authors Lori A. Coakley and Linda M. Randall is called “Applying adaptive leadership to successful change initiatives in academia”. This article researches the possibility of practical implementation of adaptive leadership model in academic environment. The purpose of this research was to evaluate the purpose of the article, the correspondence of this research to the journal and with class reading. Also the research describes the practical value of the article, its scientific foundation and its reflection.

1. Bibliographic Reference

a. State the full author’s name
Lori A. Coakley

b. Title of article
Applying adaptive leadership to successful change initiatives in academia

c. Name of journal
Leadership & Organization Development Journal d. Volume, issue, year and page numbers

Vol. 28 No. 4, 2007 pp. 325-335

2. Introduction

The purpose of the article was, according its authors, “To propose Heifetz’s adaptive leadership model as the primary process for initiating change in today’s more business-oriented academic environment in which colleges and universities are required to compete to attract students and are facing greater scrutiny and accountability from outside constituencies (Randall, Cloakley)” The intended audience of the journal, stated on official web-site is researchers, educators involved in teaching or supervising research, and professionals with strategic decision-making responsibility in organizations.
This article is completely linked with the appropriate journal, as it could be seen from the journal’s mission statement:

“The Leadership & Organization Development Journal explores behavioral and managerial issues relating to all aspects of leadership, and of individual and organization development, from a global perspective.”

According the giving definition, this article is empirical. The authors provide an argument and the detailed evidence including experiments.
“Empirical articles offer substantial, detailed evidence which the author analyze using statistical methods. Empirical articles must include a hypotheses and detailed research results. Empirical research includes experiments, surveys, questionnaires, field studies, etc.”

3. Summary of article

1) The main problem, to which the article was addressed, is a lack of new technologies of leadership in academic environment nowadays. At the same time recent trends in the educational system made academic environment more business-oriented. “Higher education institutions are facing greater scrutiny and accountability from outside agencies that impact accreditation, funding, and financial aid resources (Boyett, 1996; Newman et al., 2004; Raelin, 1995)”. The lack of initiative in the custom models of leadership can lead to failures in different cases. Thus, educators need learning new models of leadership oriented to behavior, competencies, and situational contingencies of individual university leaders.

2) Author proposed to implement the adaptive leadership model by Heifetz in the contemporary academic environment.
Heifetz determined the leadership as the “activity of mobilizing people to tackle the toughest problems and do the adaptive work necessary to achieve progress (2004, p. 24)”. The advantage of this leadership model is creative problem solving, which could foster “successful and sustainable modifications in the relationship between the organization and its stakeholders (Glover et al., 2002).” Author thinks that in today’s environment new leadership model has a great potential for success and can change the performance of the institution in today’s environment.

3) To analyze the possibility of adaptive leadership model in current academic environment author implemented this leadership model on two study cases. The first case is related to collapse of a small private college. The president of college failed to regulate the crisis in the college. The author analyzed the possibility of changing situation with new initiatives implemented by the president. In the second case the adaptive leadership model was implemented by the chair of academic department for the successful transformation of major academic program.

4) Comparing the different models of leadership that have been used to analyze the context of higher education author proved the possibility to meet the demands of the more business-oriented, academic environment with adaptive leadership model. However, “the needs and demands of various stakeholders must be considered in order to accomplish the mission and goals of the academic organization.” The result of more top down approaches used for crisis management in the institution can be contradictory, as was showed in the first case, but the initiative implemented to resurrect the current graduate program seems to be productive. It is impossible to remember that adaptive leadership model is not intended to be the only strategy to solve significant organizational problems. Nevertheless the model could serve as a guideline for leaders in high education institutions to know when and how they can do and how to make their strategy in the relationship between the organization and its stakeholders.

5. The connection of the article and class reading

The connection between class reading and this article is indirect; no class reading appears explicitly in its bibliography or reference sections. Nevertheless the theme of the article is related to class reading. As it known, one of the recent educational laws – IDEA 2004 – determine the reforms in the sphere of education needed to implementation of new educational program for children with disadvantages. Among the proposed reforms is the increase of education worker’s qualification with trainings. This proposition appeared in the IDEA bill because of human resource crisis in the schools. Often general teachers and special teachers have to replace each other and the situation when the physical teacher gives the lesson of history is no unique. New trainings proposed by IDEA have to increase the qualification of teachers and the principals. The program of leadership is included in such trainings. As it is clear from the article, adaptive leadership model from Heifetz could be useful for educators and included in the trainings as the part of educational reform.

The adaptive leadership model could also be used separately from the reforms in the educational sphere. As it was stated by Charles Albano, one of the developers of adaptive leadership concept, “Adaptive leadership is given to impacting the environment. It addresses a very active form of leadership, not a passive effort taken merely to adjust to circumstances as found.” ( )Albano

The approach of Albano to adaptive leadership is rather new: he considers institutions and organizations like living systems, in which capital goods, technologies and people are equal components. That is why people in organizations are capable for collective actions to influence the environment in desired directions. Traditional systems of leadership suppose that a leader is just a part of machine as well as other workers. Generally the stuff of every organization and institution has to work like mechanism, which shapes the roles people play.

The concept of adaptive leadership is quiet different. It addresses to human aspect of organization or institution work.

According the Albano, the distinctive qualities of adaptive leader are the following:

“Think and act to exert strategic influence on their environments. They act to assure that their organizations are well positioned competitively. Are proactive, foresee opportunities and put the resources in place to go after them.
Employ a broad-based style of leadership that enables them to be personally more flexible and adaptive.
Entertain diverse and divergent views when possible before making major decisions.
Can admit when they are wrong and alter or abandon a non-productive course of action.
Are astute students of their environments.
Can generate creative options for action.
Build their organization’s capacities to learn, transform structure, change culture, and adapt technology.
Stay knowledgeable of what their stakeholders want.
Are willing to experiment, take risks.
Strive to improve their personal openness to new ideas and stay abreast by being lifelong learners.
Love and encourage innovation from the ranks of their organizations (Albano).”

Heifetz proposes more scholar and complicated description of adaptive leadership model, which will be discussed in the section “Foundations”. However, it is obvious that though the connection of class reading and the article on discuss is indirect, the problems of the article are related to the main idea of the course.

6. The contribution of this article to the research field is not very significant, but its impact into the question is obvious.

This article is adding knowledge in the field of practical implementation of new leadership model. The idea of changes on the very top level is not new, but the contemporary situation on business environment as well as in academic environment related to business demand new methods of the work. New leadership model could be one of the tools of academic environment adaptation to the new trends, like increase of business orientation under the terms of limited resources and growing demands of stakeholders. The new issue, which provides this article, is adaptive leadership model in academic environment and the author claims “To date, no other studies have employed adaptive leadership as a process to address the demands of the more business-oriented, academic environment.”(Randall, Coakley). There is no new insight in the article, but the implementation of adaptive leadership model in the sphere of high education is proposed as a new solution under terms that changed.

Generally, the contribution of article could be summarized in three arguments:

1) Novice concept of adaptive leadership and its popularization;
2) Practical implementation of this concept in case studies;
3) Evaluation of possibility to use the adaptive leadership model as a crisis management solution in academic environment.

7. Foundation

The main theoretical foundation of the article of Randall and Coakley is the theory of adaptive leadership by Ronald Heifetz. In his model Heifetz paid a lot of attention to the nuance and dynamics of the group. He divided leadership in two categories, adaptive and technical. As was stated by Charles Albano, classical leadership models are mostly technical; they are more direct and more comfortable for organization members, then adaptive leadership. Heifetz notices that member of organization often prefer technical solution of problem instead of adaptive, though adaptive is more appropriate.

“For example, in a student organization context, technical questions related to participation would include what could be done to achieve more visibility on campus and which marketing and promotion methods would get the organization name out more effectively (Heifetz, 2004)”

The popular metaphor in the work of Heifetz, which of frequently cited, is the concept of going to the balcony. From the balcony leader can observe the dancing floor below; this metaphor means the opportunity and objective to see the whole situation, and many leaders cannot see all the nuances and patterns of the situation and failed. Adaptive leader has an advantage in using different strategies depending on situation around him. The adaptive leadership response included (Heifetz & Laurie, 2001); direction (identifying the challenge and framing the issues); protection (letting the organization feel tolerable external pressures); orientation (challenging current or quickly emerging roles); managing conflict (exposing or letting conflict emerge); and shaping norms (challenging unproductive norms).

Thus in the article of Randall and Coakley the model of adaptive leadership was implemented in two study cases. “According to Heifetz, the first stage necessary when initiating institutional change is to determine if the problem facing the organization is technical or adaptive in nature (Randall, Cloakley).” In the first stage the implementation was not very successful, because under the new leadership model the president of college has to start direct communication with all the stakeholders, including students, staff, faculty, Board of Directors, and the financial community. Unfortunately he was not ready to continue his work in new model that is why the college community elected the interim president who had to turn over the crisis and enter the community to find the common paths of crisis management. In the second case new-hired dean had to evaluate the perspectives of master’s degree program, to understand the reasons of decline in enrollments over the past five years and to determine whether the program should continue.

To understand the nature of problem the new chair analyzed the behavior of three groups of students who had formerly been affiliated with the program, and discovered the challenges confronting the program. The new chair interviewed various stakeholders and understood that the challenge was to change the core behaviors and culture of the department. The problem was that different groups of stakeholders blamed each other in the problems with the program.

“The faculty blamed the staff and the falling admission standards. The students believed that the faculty and staff were not responsive to their needs and the staff believed that the faculty and students were overly demanding and did not understand the time and resource constraints the department faced (Randall, Cloakley).”

The new chair acted strictly according the leadership model of Heifetz. First, she determined the nature of problem – if it was “technical, every day issues, or more adaptive in nature, unusual and complex”. In the case two the problem was occurring not just because of exogenous events, such as a recession, but that there were internal problems that impeded improving enrollments and needed immediate attention. Then she focused her attention and framed the issue. She recognized the necessity of program redesign as well as company culture. The she secured the ownership of the problems and solution for stakeholders, which was inherent to the determined problem. “As ownership of the problem was secured, the committee developed a set of recommendations that stressed the need to completely redesign the program, which would mean eliminating nearly 60 percent of the existing courses and updating the remaining forty percent.” It is important that during the work on the problem solution the new chair obtained the authority among the stakeholders and changed did not meet with tremendous resistance by the faculty. To illustrate the potential of administrative leadership it worth to cite the final result of the new chair activity.

“In the end, the total curriculum content of the program was developed. The faculty took charge of deciding which courses would be eliminated. New courses were developed based on an agreed upon set of student learning outcomes. Faculty were organized into subgroups and were responsible for the development of new courses and the redesign of existing courses that they had decided would remain in the new program. Students were excited about the new program and a transfer mechanism was established allowing existing students to take some of the new offerings and not impede their progress through the program. The program continues to improve and enrollment trends have reversed (Randall, Cloakley).”

8. Reflections

The practical value of the article is stated at the beginning of it:
“The leadership model applied in this study can be used in any organization, academic or non-academic, which is confronting change initiatives that require both immediate action and commitment from myriad stakeholders (Randall, Cloakley)” Authors provided enough detailed background information both for the intended audience and for common reader: the description of adaptive leadership concept, comparison it with other leadership models, and practical implementation of the adaptive leadership. I think the adaptive leadership model can be implemented my professional repertoire as a whole strategy and as different parts of leader’s behavior.


The authors of the article proved the practical value of the adaptive leadership model and the possibility of its practical implementation. The concept of adaptive leadership indirectly related to the class reading, but it is in-demand concept that could be correlated with the new laws in the sphere of education. Besides, this leadership model could be easily implemented in my future professional repertoire.


Linda M. Randall, Lori A. Coakley.
Applying adaptive leadership to successful change initiatives in academia. Leadership & Organization Development Journal Vol. 28 No. 4, 2007 pp. 325-335
Heifetz, R.A. (1994), Leadership without Easy Answers, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
Heifetz, R.A., Kania, J.V. and Kramer, M.R. (2004), “Leading boldly”, Stanford Social Innovation
Review, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 20-32.
Heifetz, R.A. and Laurie, D. (1997), “The work of leadership”, Harvard Business Review,
January-February, pp. 124-34.
Heifetz, R.A. and Linsky, M. (2002), “A survival guide for leaders”, Harvard Business Review,
Vol. 80 No. 6, pp. 65-73.
Charles Albano. “Adaptive leadership” 25 January 2007. On the site of Adaptive Leadership. Retrieved 7 March 2010from through www.Booksurge.com.

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