Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive Leadership is a practical framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and succeed in challenging environments. It increases the ability — both individually and collectively — to take on the gradual but meaningful process of change. Developed by Drs. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky at the Harvard Kennedy School, Adaptive Leadership was designed to identify and deal with consequential change in uncertain times. Its concepts and principles have broad applications in the fields of public health and healthcare, and the framework can be beneficial in managing organizational change; implementing community health improvement planning; developing leadership and workforce; strengthening community partnerships; and navigating changing political, social, and economic climates.

NACCHO's Adaptive Leadership program offerings are designed to cultivate the skills of public health and healthcare practitioners to enhance organizational, programmatic, and community-wide population health and healthcare safety net services. NACCHO has developed and facilitated multiple Adaptive Leadership offerings since 2014, both in person and virtually, engaging over 2,550 participants.

Check out this short 5-minute video for a sense of what Adaptive Leadership means in the context of public health and healthcare, and see below for NACCHO’s portfolio of Adaptive Leadership learning opportunities.

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  • Adaptive Leadership Academy: NACCHO offers a (7 month) in-depth, virtual leadership academy which was designed in response to the unique needs of public health and healthcare leaders by combining Adaptive Leadership with several other leadership theories in an action-oriented, cohort-based curriculum.
  • E-Adaptive Leadership Course: NACCHO offers this online synchronous, curated 3- or 9- week course designed to help health department and healthcare staff, along with their community partners, tackle the complex challenges supporting the health of the populations they serve. Participants complete a series of worksheets that guide them in applying course concepts to their own leadership challenge, with coaching provided by NACCHO staff and opportunities for peer learning incorporated through group facilitated conversations and conference calls.
  • In-person Trainings: NACCHO offers overview (4 hours) and in-depth (1 ½ days) in-person Adaptive Leadership trainings for groups interested in learning techniques for addressing adaptive challenges for public health, healthcare, and other practitioners.
  • Virtual Trainings: NACCHO offers overview (3 hours) Adaptive Leadership Trainings for groups interested in an introduction to the theory and practice of Adaptive Leadership.
  • Coaching: NACCHO offers one-on-one or group coaching to work with individuals or groups to apply the principles of Adaptive Leadership to improve their leadership skills while making progress on an adaptive challenge.
  • Conference Presentations and Workshops: NACCHO offers (1 – 1 ½ hour) Adaptive Leadership sessions using both didactic presentations and hands-on exercises to apply the concepts.

2023 Adaptive Leadership Academy Announced

Have COVID-19 and other public health emergencies brought to light the challenges you face as a leader in public health or healthcare? Are you feeling like you need to invest in developing your capacity to lead through deeply rooted systemic challenges and complex, multi-stakeholder issues? NACCHO, with the support of CDC and HRSA, is pleased to announce the 2023 Cohort of the Adaptive Leadership Academy, a 7-month long virtual program running January through July 2023 geared towards helping leaders identify and deal with consequential change in uncertain times. The Adaptive Leadership Academy was designed in response to the unique needs of local governmental public health and healthcare leaders by combining several leadership theories in an action-oriented, cohort-based curriculum. Eligible participants hold LHO/ED/CEO or other executive level leaders such as division director, departmental lead, or deputy director. This an open competitive opportunity offered at no cost to participants and will accept 20 participants total.

“The Adaptive Leadership Academy led participants to rethink how to look at challenges and develop solutions to the most pressing and long-term issues that forces leaders to question what they think they know, look in the mirror, and practice accountability.” -- 2021-2022 Adaptive Leadership Academy Participant

For more information about the participating in this action-oriented, cohort-based leadership training program:

  • See the 2023 Adaptive Leadership Academy Factsheet here
  • To view our November 22 webinar, click here
  • To apply for this opportunity, please submit an application here by Friday, December 9, 2022 at 11:59pm EST.
  • If you have any additional questions regarding the Adaptive Leadership Academy, please email Deya Greer at [email protected].



National resources outlining the critical capabilities of public health professionals today, including the Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals and Community Health Strategist role within Public Health 3.0, demonstrate a need for local public health leaders to work outside the traditional boundaries of public health practice to drive collaborative change to improve population health. According to the 2017 report, Public Health 3.0 relies on “leaders who can work in new ways to build structured coalitions, leverage actionable data and evidence, and communicate new approaches within and outside the traditional health sector.”

Combined, these skills and the adaptive challenges that local public health professionals face today demonstrate eight categories of knowledge, skills, and abilities where greater practice is needed among local public health leaders to drive change. They form the foundation of the Adaptive Leadership Academy curriculum.

  • Reading Materials: concise, meaningful, thought-provoking book excerpts or articles
  • Guided Mindfulness: guided mindfulness activities to be completed by participants to set the stage for more intentional leadership practice
  • Live Learning: 90-minute live sessions with NACCHO coaches; includes didactic presentations, guided discussion, and breakout group exercises
  • Journal Practice: guided, individual reflection journal to process and internalize concepts
  • Peer-to-Peer Learning: 30-minute live unmoderated peer-to-peer discussions, ranging from partner exercises/discussions to small group exercises/discussions
  • Case Study: a realistic public health-focused story and associated activities that highlight key course concepts and provides opportunities for practice, includes worksheets
  • Peer Advising: 60-minute live peer advising with NACCHO coaches and peers to get feedback on a specific adaptive challenge
  • Office Hours: Optional 60-minute live sessions with NACCHO coaches and peers to have questions answered, discuss application of concepts, and work on adaptive challenges
  • The Adaptive Leadership Academy will require approximately 10 hours of time each month for 7 months, including 2 – 3 hours of participation in live sessions.

    The Adaptive Leadership Academy is open to anyone in public health or healthcare that holds an executive level leadership position (local health officer, division director, departmental director). There is no cost for participation in the pilot, due to generous support from CDC and HRSA.

    For more information about this program, reach out to Deya Greer.

    Public Health Infrastructure and Systems

    Deya Greer

    Senior Program Analyst, Performance Improvement

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