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Adaptive Leadership Essay by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Executive Summary

This paper addresses Ronald Heifetz’s probable approach to solving an obesity problem that affects 20% of employees within an engineering firm as well as his advice to the CEO of that firm. First Ronald would decide what aspects of the problem are adaptive. Ronald would likely recommend that leaders educate their employees about the problem and the associated gains and losses; using a personalized archetype to aid in the learning process. Then personalized motivators could be identified for each employee. The CEO is not the expert on health issues, and therefore a health coaching service would be recommended.

                 To address the obesity problem, Ronald Heifetz would classify what parts of the problem are technical (routine) and what parts are adaptive. Heifetz defines an adaptive challenge as “typically grounded in the complexity of values, beliefs, and loyalties” (Heifetz, Linsky, &Grashow, 2009). Parts of the employee obesity problem qualify as an adaptive challenge because people’s values, beliefs, and loyalties are at the root of the problem. For example, does an employee value certain foods, quantities of food, or time management (not exercising) over good health?

                Heifetz would recommend that a leader educate employees about the problems that obesity causes them and the company, as well as what is to be possibly gained and lost by the employee. This could be done through a leader and an employee working together on a personalized archetype that describes what is contributing to the employee’s obesity (Argyris, 1991). For example, the “Success to the Successful” (Senge, 2006) archetype could be used to illustrate what is happening to an employee who works longer hours and is rewarded at work, but by working longer hours that employee reduces time spent exercising or cooking and eating healthy food. Heifetz wrote, “Solutions to adaptive problems lie in the new attitudes, competencies, and coordination of the people with the problem” (Heifetz, Linsky, &Grashow, 2009). Individuals are the solution and what motivates individuals is unique so Heifetz would suggest that a leader get to know what those motivators are. These could be things like recognition as part of a weight loss challenge or a reward for obtaining or maintaining a standard of health.

Heifetz points out that 80% of heart surgery patients don’t comply with the lifestyle guidelines the doctor gives, “it is a lot easier to fix the heart than it is to change people’s hearts and minds” (Heifetz R. ). Heifetz also says that leaders recognize when they are not the expert. The CEO is not a health expert, and even experts have difficulties with patients complying. Heifetz would recommend hiring a health coaching service for all employees. This service would also help the CEO in leading a lifestyle change in employees.  Another suggestion that Heifetz would give is to be aware of the pace of the change. It may take years for some employees to change their hearts and minds, and then lose the weight.

Executive Summary Report by Ron Heifetz


Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching Smart People How to Learn. Harvard Business Review, 99-109.

(2009). In R. A. Heifetz, M. Linsky, & A. Grashow, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (pp. 69-87). Harvard Business Press.

Heifetz, R. (n.d.). Professor Ronald Heifetz Adaptive Leadership Presentation. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from Vimeo:

(2006). In P. M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (pp. 73-79;378-390). Crown Business.

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