Book Review

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World

by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky, Harvard Business Press, Boston, Mass., 2009, 352 pp. with index, $24.95 hardcover

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky have been widely recognized for turning their leadership classes at the Harvard School of Government into learning laboratories. In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Heifetz, Linsky and Alexander Grashow share lessons from their experiences in helping leaders transform organizations.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership


The authors begin with a caution, warning that organizations resist quick fixes. Few problems, they say, lend themselves to technical solutions where the leader has the right answer, supplies it and the organization gets better. Organizations, as living, breathing, dynamic organisms, are far more likely to experience adaptive problems that respond only to patient and persistent engagement over time. Leaders can expect to have more success only as they learn the system, learn the people and learn to adapt their own leadership.

The authors outline four steps for organizational change: diagnose the system, mobilize the system, see yourself as a system and deploy yourself. Each chapter provides critical concepts, case studies and applications for things to investigate and things to do.

This is truly a handbook for organizational change. For the person serious about change, this could become the dog-eared manual you refer to again and again. But it is not for the faint-hearted or those seeking easy answers. This is for those who are willing to dig deep into their organization, look for the brutal truth and begin the slow process of adapting their own leadership, step by step, into a successful transformational style.

These authors have a proven track record. They have lived the challenges that we experience.

Reviewed by Larry L. Nyland, superintendent, Marysville Schools, Marysville, Wash.