Adaptive Change: What's Essential and What's Expendable? | Free Essay Example

Adaptive Change: What’s Essential and What’s Expendable?

Words: 613
Topic: Business & Economics


Professor Heifetz in the article, “Adaptive Change: What’s Essential and What’s Expendable?” looks at the process of change, especially how people view the whole process of change. According to this article, people are usually optimistic about the process of change but they do not consider what they are going to lose in the process. Personally, the most striking part of the article is the insight that people considering the process of change need to ask themselves two fundamental questions; first, what is necessary for a successful process of change or what is essential. The second very important question is what is expendable in the process of change. According to Heifetz (1999), these two questions are very important when individuals or organizations are considering the process of change (p.1).

Adaptive change

Many leaders in different organizations are very optimistic about the process of change. They associate the process with many benefits that come with it such as expansion opportunities in the organization, better leadership, and other benefits without looking at what comes with adapting to the new changes. As Heifetz (1999) notes, the process of change is difficult especially when there is a possibility of loss, fear, apprehension, and anxiety. When people realize the other side of change, there is a high possibility that they are going to resist the process of change. Possibility of loss after the process of change will tend to generate resistance.

Therefore, good leaders need to look at the process of change from both perspectives. Northouse (2010) notes, leaders should approach issues from a realistic point of view (p.15). Though the process of change is good, there is a high possibility of losing the good things about the past. Many times people see change as good and they are always ready to adopt it and discard the past. It is important to note that, not everything in the past is bad; indeed there are some things about the past that are good, which are not worth losing in the process of embracing change. Nevertheless, in the process of adapting change, many good values and practices used in the past and present are likely to be lost.

As aforementioned, the process of adaptive change is not easy and has many challenges. Heifetz and Domain (2001) indicate that the main challenge that faces leaders in organizations is mobilizing people to carry out the adaptive work (p.6). Doing adaptive work becomes a challenge as the beliefs and values that made an organization to succeed in the past become irrelevant and challenged. The solution of adaptive challenges does not lie in the executive of the organization, but the intelligence of all employees at different levels. Johnson (2011) concurs that emotional intelligence for leaders is very important in this process (p.289).

For a successful adaptive change, the leaders need to shift their perspective on themselves, to see what they can do to the perspective of other employees and their competence to solve this problem. The collective responsibility of the employees is very important in addressing the adaptive challenge. Simphon and French (2006) argue that leaders should also remain open-minded in this process and accept to learn from others (p.2). However, the weakness of the article hinges on the fact that it presents the role of executive in the process as less important which might not be the case. I believe leaders also play crucial in the process of change.


Leaders ought not to be very optimistic about the process of change and they should consider the costs of the process. For a successful change process, both leaders and employees play a crucial role. They should, therefore, work together for a successful process.


Heifetz, R. A., & Donald, L. L. (2001). The work of leadership. Harvard business review, 1-16.

Heifetz, R. A. (1999). Adaptive Change: What’s Essential and what’s Expendable? 1-13.

Johnson, C. E. (2011). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Nor house, P. G. (2010). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Simpson P., & French, R. (2006). Negative Capability and the Capacity to Think in the Present Moment: Some Implications for Leadership Practice. Leadership journal, 2(2), 1-11.