Guide to the program

Adaptive Leadership - An Introduction

Four day program

Social Leadership Australia’s pioneering approach to leadership development integrates the Adaptive Leadership model developed at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government within the broader framework of ‘social leadership’. Recognising the complex interconnectedness of organisations, markets, communities and the environment, this powerful approach opens up new ways to make progress on thetoughest issues and contribute to our deepest purpose as leaders: to make the world a better place.

Traditional approaches tend to see leadership as an innate, individual quality, focusing on the importance of charisma, gaining power and influence. Adaptive leadership views leadership as shared responsibility, and sees it as an activity rather than a position. It focuses on getting people to face reality, mobilises people to tackle tough problems, emphasises purpose and requires people to deal with complexity and uncertainty.

The Adaptive Leadership Intensive offers a unique opportunity to explore what it means to exercise effective leadership in challenging environments—leadership in the ‘real world’. Highly interactive, it includes a mixture of theory, reflection, practice and community engagement. Participants are also encouraged to reflect on their own assumptions, purpose and values.

The content and structure of this introductory program is based on Social Leadership Australia's Sydney Leadership program and reflects our belief that a network of committed individuals working together can bring about profound change.

Program outcomes

The four day introduction to Adaptive Leadership will give you:

  • Knowledge of a pragmatic and transferable leadership model which can be used at work, in the community and in your personal life.
  • Greater understanding of group dynamics and how to be an active change agent
  • Improved communication, collaboration and partnership skills
  • More understanding of the complexities of a range of social issues and insight into community engagement approaches
  • Increased skills in leading complex change
  • Increased self awareness, clarity of personal purpose and values and
  • Valuable new contacts in a cross-sector network

    Program outline

The program offers a mix of theory, reflection, practice and community engagement and looks at broad concepts as well as specific aspects of leadership. Participants will be encouraged to challenge established perceptions on leadership, undertake reflection on their personal values and attitudes and explore group dynamics on making progress.

The four days will include:

1. Adaptive Leadership concepts
An introduction to the core theories about authority and leadership; technical and adaptive challenges; work avoidance and working across difference.

2. Case studies, thought leaders & community engagement
Spend a day in community working with ‘live’ adaptive leadership case studies involving complex social issues. Learn with a range of local leaders and experienced change agents who will discuss their work and reflect candidly on their own leadership challenges, strategies and what they’ve learnt.

3. Exercising leadership
Practise exercising leadership in ‘real time’ using case-in-point methodology. This approach uses the group as a microcosm of the broader system or organisation, as a space to practice making change, and offers a powerful learning space on the challenges and opportunities in the practice of leadership.

4. Reflection and integration
Identify, reflect on and take action on your personal leadership challenge by working in small groups in a structured leadership consultation process. Engage with others on how to integrate your learning into your own ‘system’ – at work or in your personal life.

Also included:


You will be given a diverse collection of preparatory readings drawn from disciplines including ethics, leadership case studies, politics, philosophy and literature which, together with the reading notes, provided the background to the theoretical learning and form the basis of group discussions over the four days.

Personal and group reflection

Structured opportunities to reflect on your own values, ethics and purpose are created as part of the program, including provocative sessions with experienced facilitators.

Leadership coaching session

One month after the program, you will have the opportunity to undertake a one-on-one leadership coaching session with one of the Program Directors to reflect on your ongoing personal leadership work.

Who should attend?

This program is designed for people from the business, community and government sectors who are interested in developing their leadership skills so they can be more effective change agents.

Applicants seeking new ways to lead and drive change will be exposed to a new model of Adaptive Leadership in an experiential environment, giving them an opportunity to explore what this approach means for their work and for their personal development.

The program adds practical value immediately, by introducing participants to a different way of thinking about leadership and equipping them with skills and tools they can apply in their professional and personal lives.

It also acts as an introduction to our yearlong program, Sydney Leadership.