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Management: The Complex-Adaptive Leadership Model


The management team in any organization has to factor organizational leadership in their business strategy to promote business growth, workers’ motivation, and operational efficiency. Corporate leaders typically focus on achieving strategic goals by enhancing teamwork spirit among workers, which fosters productivity and growth. The complex-adaptive leadership model refers to a feasible management framework that assists organizations and employees, particularly those in administrative positions, to thrive and adapt to challenging work surroundings. Five primary elements typify the above-mentioned management model: accountability, adaptation, articulation, and anticipation (Obolensky, 2014).

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The above-mentioned leadership approach has also been associated with significant benefits, including the appropriate exploitation of employees’ strengths and the substantial focus on diversity. This paper provides an in-depth analysis of the adaptive leadership style and presents a comprehensive evaluation of the similarities and differences between the adaptive leadership approach and other management forms.

The Attractiveness of the Complex Adaptive Leadership Style

The corporate world has experienced intense dynamism in the business environment and management of operations based on structural modifications occasioned by technological shifts, acquisition of new knowledge, and systemic factors of change. In this regard, organizational leaders who subscribe to the adaptive management style are more equipped to drive their companies to attain growth and profitability by enhancing their capacity to cope with dynamic changes. These leaders typically focus on building their teams’ capabilities by inculcating the spirit of collective prosperity and naturing their skills through effective professional programs.

The Adaptive Management Model Supports Strategy Development

Strategy development is a critical component that fosters organizational growth. In this case, the appropriate form of leadership must be applied in the exercise due to the strategy design’s dynamism and structural nature. The adaptive leadership style focuses on addressing the concern of change and volatility experienced in a business due to new developments in technology or market changes (Bagwel, 2020; Khan, 2017). This, therefore, highlights its appropriateness in strategy development, especially in the era where challenges and the need for change and resilience typify contemporary business environments.

Complex-Adaptive Leadership Integrates the Element of Diversity

The traditional leadership framework emphasizes the integration of a top-down leadership style and communication approach. Under this model, the management team oversees the decision-making process and communicates strategic plans to the junior members and middle-level team. In this case, the views, opinions, and value input from the junior employees fail to be factored into the overall organizational strategy (Bagwell, 2020).

The above-mentioned approach serves to create resistance and a lack of appreciation of workers’ goals, targets, and aspirations during the establishment of the strategic goals and plans. However, the adaptive leadership model considers the innovative power and thought-leadership skills that may be lying idle among followers in an institution. Adopting the complex-adaptive leadership approach in an organization’s day-to-day practices reinforces its management approach by encouraging the innovative contributions and suggestions put forward by the middle and low-tier team members.

The Adaptive Framework Fosters the Development of Dynamic Teams and Enhances Teamwork

Adaptive leadership underscores the importance of developing talent-management programs that enable skilled employees to serve in positions that provide a favorable environment for optimal productivity. This management style also promotes cooperation among employees with different skill sets, which, in turn, drives organizational growth. According to Bagwell (2020), teamwork spirit contributes significantly to the development of a company by fostering the attainment of collective prosperity, whereby members are concerned with the overall organizational goals as opposed to individual targets.

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It also allows workers to serve in teams where their skills and talent will be optimally deployed to realize collective prosperity and enhance their capacity to cope with any dramatic changes which may occur due to organizational dynamics (Khan, 2017). Therefore, the adaptive leadership model cultivates teamwork among the employees and builds their readiness and response to change, thus, driving growth and profitability at volatile times.

Complex Leadership Promotes the Development of Approaches Aimed to Counter Change or Future Risks

Many management approaches focus on how to effectively respond to changes that occur within the work surroundings. However, adaptive leadership assumes a different strategy. According to Bagwell (2020), managers who adopt the complex-adaptive administrative style are usually proactive about the possibility of change; they anticipate the likelihood of change in various business aspects, including executive plans. This consequently gives them the capacity to read any project’s terrain, be prepared for modifications in circumstances, and institute a plan to prevent or counter the problem or risks prior to their onset. These leaders often develop contingency plans to help the company react appropriately to a significant event in futurity or a situation that may or may not occur.

Complex Leadership Integrates Emotional Intelligence

The adaptive leadership model allows for the integration of emotional intelligence skills during the execution of various management roles. Khan (2017) identifies emotional intelligence as the capacity to comprehend, utilize, and manage one’s emotions or feelings positively to relieve distress, empathize with other individuals, defuse conflict, overcome challenges, and communicate effectively.

According to Khan (2017), emotional quotient is among the most significant qualities displayed by an adaptive leader; this skill allows them to analyze employees’ underlying emotions under a given situation. Khan (2017) further associates this characteristic with the managers’ ability to strengthen team spirit, enhance employee productivity, improve employee morale, and significant reductions in turnover rates as well as absenteeism. These leaders are capable of reading others’ non-verbal cues within the workplace and devise a plan for assisting every person accordingly.

Similarities and Differences between Adaptive Style and Other Models of Leadership

Adaptive and Servant Leadership

Significant similarities and differences exist between adaptive and servant leadership styles. One of the key similarities is that both management approaches allow for the integration of divergent views during the decision-making processes. While adaptive leadership enables the consideration of junior employees’ viewpoints, the servant management framework allows managers to accommodate the followers’ perspectives and contributions within the low organizational hierarchy (Gandolfi & Stone, 2018).

Furthermore, both management approaches incorporate the element of emotional intelligence, whereby a leader seeks to unravel the employee’s emotional disposition and implements approaches that aim to resolve the situation to enhance productivity and motivation. Both administrative frameworks are applicable to volatile workplace environments (Bagwell, 2020; Gandolfi & Stone, 2018). Contrarily, adaptive leadership emphasizes the need for leaders to develop contingency plans which address future threats. On the other hand, the servant management approach focuses on how to effectively respond to changes that occur within the work surroundings.

Comparison of Adaptive and Authentic Leadership

Similarities between authentic and adaptive leadership are expressed in teamwork spirit, support for strategic development, and a focus on productivity. In the authentic leadership model, a leader nurtures and supports subordinates’ strengths by building effective relationships (Gill et al., 2018).

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In adaptive leadership, managers usually establish a dynamic team through motivation. Further, both management models allow for the input and contribution of the subordinates or support staff towards the design of the strategic plan for the organization. Besides, the two leadership styles have a keen focus on promoting productivity and business growth through nurturing and utilization of talents (Gill et al., 2018; Heifetz et al., 2009). An essential contrast between the two models is that an authentic leadership model may be unsuitable for a volatile business environment, which is contrary to the adaptive framework.

Comparison of Adaptive and Transactional Leadership

Fundamental differences exist between adaptive and transactional leadership. Transactional leadership is structure-oriented, in that command or authority flows from the top ladder to bottom-line management (Khan, 2017). On the other hand, adaptive leadership seeks to eliminate the authority’s hierarchical structure by engaging all employees from different corporate hierarchies in organizational decision-making (Heifetz et al., 2009).

In transactional leadership, employees are self-motivated, whereas, in adaptive leadership, employees depend on motivational inputs from the leader (Khan, 2017). Transactional leadership lacks a response strategy to unforeseen events in the entity, whereas adaptive leadership establishes a contingency plan. Contrarily, one crucial similarity is that both models focus on productivity and business growth.


Leadership models refer to the approach used by managers to provide guidance, implement plans, and motivate workers. Organizational leaders who subscribe to the adaptive or complex adaptive management style are more equipped to drive their organizations to growth and profitability due to their efficiency in coping with dynamic changes. The above-mentioned management approach focuses on addressing change and volatility experienced in a business due to new advancements in technology or market changes. Furthermore, it considers the innovative power and thought-leadership skills that may be lying idle at the junior level of management. Significant similarities and differences exist between the complex-adaptive leadership approach and other administrative models, including servant, transformational, and authentic management styles.


Bagwel, J. (2020). Leading through a pandemic: Adaptive leadership and purposeful action. Journal of School Administration Research and Development, 5(S1), 30-34. Web.

Gandolfi, F., & Stone, S. (2018). Leadership, leadership styles, and servant leadership. Journal of Management Research, 18(4), 261-269. Web.

Gill, C., Gardner, W., Claeys, J., & Vangronsvelt, K. (2018). Using theory on authentic-leadership to build a strong human-resource management system. Human Resource Management Review, 28(3), 304-318. Web.

Heifetz, R. A., Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Press.

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Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. International-Review of Research in Open-and-Distributed Learning, 18(3), 178-183. Web.

Obolensky, M. N. (2014). Complex adaptive leadership: Embracing paradox and uncertainty. Gower Publishing.

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