Adaptive Leadership

Mobilizing for Change and Disrupting the Status Quo

Course Details

  • Price: FREE
  • Start Date: March 3, 2020
  • Time: 3 hours/week
  • Duration: 5 weeks
  • Partner: Adaptive Change Advisors (ACA)

What You’ll Learn:

  • Understand the root cause of a stubborn and recurring challenge in your organization, team or community
  • Partner with those who are in positions of authority or power
  • Leverage your own power for change
  • Design an experiment that strengthens your ability to create lasting change
  • Learn to lead adaptively in environments with trust issues, political sensitivities, resistance, conflict and distress


Have you have ever struggled with a problem that will not go away? The solutions may often seem obvious, such as the need for a new technology, an expert capability, a different process, or better communication. Yet you seem to face unexpected resistance to these seemingly “obvious” fixes or the problem stubbornly persists.  You may be facing an adaptive challenge.

This introductory course helps you identify and make progress on a leadership challenge in your own life, team, or community. You’ll apply the tools and techniques of Adaptive Leadership, a practical framework developed at Harvard Kennedy School of Government for leading change, particularly during times of uncertainty or when there are no easy answers.  

Adaptive Leadership is a critical skillset for anyone looking to drive systemic change in an increasingly complex world.

Format and Timing:

  • Team-Based Course: We strongly encourage (but do not require) that you take the course with a team of 2-8 people. We recommend working with friends or colleagues in person.
  • Platform: NovoEd (+Acumen developed the course. We host this course on the NovoEd platform.)
  • Timing: This course will be open for 5 weeks. You can work through the materials at your own pace while the course is open. There are suggested weekly deadlines to help you stay on track. The only firm deadline is the final day of the course.

Course Syllabus

PDF icon Download (2.73 MB)
Learning Tools
  • 4 reading guides highlighting case studies and examples
  • 4 discussion guides to help you identify, analyze and craft an experiment for your own adaptive challenge
  • Video tutorials from Eric Martin
Section 1: Identify your leadership challenge
  • Reading: Getting on the Balcony
  • Exercise: Getting on the Balcony
  • Exercise: The “Gap”
  • Reading: The “Gap” and the System Around It
  • Reading: The Illusion of the Broken System
  • Activity: Discussion
  • Activity: Frame Your Adaptive Challenge
Section 2: Think Politically to mobilize support
  • Video: Think Politically
  • Reading: Why “Thinking Politically”?
  • Exercise: Reflection
  • Reading: Practicing the VLL Framework
  • Exercise: Values, Loyalties, Losses
  • Reading: Stakeholder Categories (Factions)
  • Reading: Additional Resources
  • Activity: Faction Mapping
  • Activity: Engage with Your Map
Section 3: Distinguish Technical and Adaptive Problems
  • Video: Technical and Adaptive Challenges
  • Reading: What’s the “Work”?
  • Reading: Technical vs. Adaptive Problems
  • Exercise: Technical vs. Adaptive Problems
  • Reading: Bundled Challenges
  • Reading: Unbundling Your Challenges
  • Activity: Reframing Your Challenge
  • Activity: Seek External Perspectives
Section 4: Adaptive Experiments
  • Video: An example of a courageous conversation
  • Reading: Experimenting Adaptively
  • Reading: Readying Yourself and Others
  • Reading: Orchestrating Disequilibrium
  • Reading: Avoiding Work Avoidance
  • Exercise: Productive Zone of Disequilibrium
  • Reading: Experiment and Take Smart Risks
  • Activity: Design Your Adaptive Experiment
  • Activity: Summary Deck
The course already started. Can I still enroll?
You can enroll up to 2 weeks after the start date of the course.
When will the next course be offered?
We offer our courses a few times a year. Sign up for our emails to be notified of the next time the course will be offered.
Do I get a certificate for this course?
You will earn a Statement of Accomplishment if you complete 5 of 6 assignments, including the final assignment, by the last day of the course.
How do teams work?
We recommend you find friends or colleagues for your team that you can meet with in person each week. Each team member should register for the course individually. You’ll then be able to form your team on the NovoEd platform once the course begins.
Do I have to complete the course with a team?
While we believe taking the course with a team will give you the best experience and chance of completing the course, it is possible to complete the course individually if you wish.
What should I expect from the assignments?
You will create a Life Map, develop your own personal story, integrate it into a larger presentation, and record your presentation for feedback from your classmates. You should allocate at least one hour a week to complete each assignment.

Supported By

Adaptive Change Advisors (ACA) was founded by Eric Martin, who stewarded adaptive leadership from Harvard Kennedy School to real-world application. ACA seeks to “democratize leadership” – making it possible for anyone, anywhere to improve their livelihood by effectively mobilizing others.

What People Are Saying

"I am a Certified Executive Coach and consultant working with leaders and organizations to create change. I'm already starting to think and behave differently in having hard conversations. Great tools to support key concepts."

Lucille C. Michigan, U.S.