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Adaptive Leadership in Health Care

Adaptive leadership centers on the adaptations that enable nurses to use their experience in a way that improves progress during change management. Adaptive leaders are able to close the organizational gap and meet both the short-term and long-standing objectives of an organization.

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Adaptive leadership is part of the complexity leadership theory, which has been proven to increase the management maturity of health care institutions (Horvat & Filipovic, 2018).

Leadership as a concept has two relevant meanings that differ significantly from each other. Formal leadership usually originates from one’s rank or official position. This type of leadership is associated with power and may not translate to actual authority. Informal leadership tends to come from other people trusting that someone is competent. This form, of leadership, relates to the influence one has on the people around them, and guarantees authority, as long as the trust is maintained. Adaptive leadership is generally closer to this variant, as it is flexible and capable of changing to fit the specific situation.

Many modern health care organizations are operated mainly through formal leadership. This can be seen in their “stifling regulation, rigid prescriptions, coercive punishments, and/or extrinsic rewards” (de Zulueta, 2016, p. 1). The way such systems function creates fear and hinders innovation. The lack of progress and inflexibility make health care efficiency decline over time.

Deviating from known practices to account for unusual context had had its place in medicine before it became a scientific theory. The complexity theory systematizes the idea of adapting to external factors and expands on it. According to the theory, one must consider the known factors in a broader system that incorporates potential social and ecological consequences (Khan et al., 2018). Using the complexity theory increases the probability that diverging from traditional rules would be done correctly and bring the desired result.

Despite being closely connected to health care, complex systems are not yet widely adopted in medical institutions. The problem appears to be that most of the research on complex adaptive systems does not include ways they can be used to implement adaptive leadership in the social setting of health care organizations (Belrhiti et al., 2018). When adaptive leadership is applied successfully, it dramatically improves the trust and transparency in the relationships between medical personnel and the patients (Belrhiti et al., 2018).

There is still not enough empirical evidence to conclude which components of the complex systems used are responsible for the observed improvements.

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There has, however, been research regarding the influence of adaptive leadership specifically. Adaptive leadership implies the ability to discover unexpected solutions to problems that cannot be solved through established methods. Leaders that can react dynamically to the presented tasks have several positive effects on their team.

This fluid leadership style and its combination of effectiveness and compassion help improve the motivation of employees (Al Rahbi et al., 2017). The way adaptive leaders make each team member feel essential to everyone’s success is especially beneficial in encouraging workers (Al Rahbi et al., 2017).

Medical work usually requires several people to cooperate closely to achieve peak efficiency. Team dynamics are a crucial part of the operations of any health care organization. Although teams are often viewed as a single unit, most of the time, their participants make independent decisions guided by rules. When team members interact, there are likely to be unexpected results. In some cases, a close interaction can lead to a conflict, which may harm the overall quality of the care. Frequently, people working together may adopt each other’s techniques to their own needs, increasing productivity. Teams can also be affected by external factors, such as the educational system and the financial system (Pype et al., 2018).

The social system contained within a team is too complex to be regulated by rules alone. A leader must be capable of managing the internal relationships of a team as well as its interactions with external systems and individuals. To maximize the team’s performance, the leader needs to be ready to face non-standard social challenges created by its members. To ensure that the result of the team’s work is adequate to the situation, the leader must have the competence to choose the correct course of action to solve the problem at hand.

The issues that a team encounter can be either technical or adaptive. Technical problems are standardized and can be solved by following a predetermined set of instructions that professionals are familiar with. Adaptive problems are unique to every case and every patient and require creative thinking to solve. The role of an adaptive leader is to judge the situation relying on their logic combined with the surrounding context and present a fitting decision.


Al Rahbi, D., Khalid, K., & Khan, M. (2017). The effects of leadership styles on team motivation. Academy of Strategic Management Journal. 16(3). Web.

Belrhiti, Z., Giralt, A. N., & Marchal, B. (2018). Complex leadership in healthcare: A scoping review. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 7(12), 1073-1084. Web.

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de Zulueta, P. C. (2016). Developing compassionate leadership in health care: An integrative review. Journal of Healthcare Leadership, 8, 1-10.

Horvat, A., & Filipovic, J. (2018). Service quality and maturity of health care organizations through the lens of Complexity Leadership Theory. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 24(1), 301-307.

Khan, S., Vandermorris, A., Shepherd, J., Begun, J. W., Lanham, H. J., Uhl-Bien, M., & Berta, W. (2018). Embracing uncertainty, managing complexity: applying complexity thinking principles to transformation efforts in healthcare systems. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 1-8

Pype, P., Mertens, F., Helewaut, F., & Krystallidou, D. (2018). Healthcare teams as complex adaptive systems: understanding team behavior through team members’ perception of interpersonal interaction. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 1-13.

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