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Technical v. Adaptive Challenges


How To Use This Planning Tool

Technical v. Adaptive Challenges

5 Step Planning Process

Health reform presents both types of challenges for public health leaders. Some are routine and lend themselves to technical responses, while others are adaptive and require planning, building partnerships, gathering information, and building capacity of various types. According to Linsky and Heifetz in When Leadership Spells Danger,

“A challenge for adaptive leadership is to engage people in distinguishing what is essential to preserve from their organization’s heritage from what is expendable. Successful adaptations are thus both conservative and progressive. They make the best possible use of previous wisdom and know-how. The most effective leadership anchors change in the values, competencies, and strategic orientations that should endure in the organization.”

Public health leadership requires a diagnostic capacity that identifies the forces at play that constantly shape health reform and health transformation. These include legal, administrative, and financial forces, among others. Referring to his work in psychiatry, Heifetz said,

“When a person comes to you with a problem, it’s not your job actually to solve their problem. It’s your job to develop their capacity to solve their own problem.”

Similar to Heifetz’s reference to his own work, this planning tool is designed to develop the capacity to solve the challenges facing you as the health and health care landscape continues to evolve. In the next section, you will begin to put adaptive thinking into action.


• A great place to start learning more about adaptive leadership is the book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World by Heifetz, Linsky, and Grashow.

• The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) released a video on adaptive leadership in public health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fA-dSo2qg6Y&feature=youtu.be.