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Using adaptive leadership principles to support Public Health 3.0 in multidisciplinary undergraduate education

Suzanne R. Hawley (Public Health Sciences, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 27 January 2021

Issue publication date: 31 August 2021




The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered public health vulnerabilities worldwide, particularly in the hard-hit USA. US public health professionals, regardless of role, may need to exercise leadership in both planned and unexpected situations. This model of practice outside of traditional roles, known as Public Health 3.0, requires adaptive leadership – a systems approach to making progress on complex challenges. Educational programs should improve students’ adaptive leadership competency to prepare them for the public health workforce. This paper aims to provide an educational framework for implementing adaptive leadership instruction for undergraduate students.


This paper used experiential and traditional instructional strategies and adaptive leadership competencies to develop a semester-length leadership course for undergraduate students in health, nursing, social science, business and education. Adaptive leadership principles were learned and practiced, preparing students for systemic challenges through the lens of Public Health 3.0. Competencies were assessed pre- and post-semester.


Of 248 students, 72% were health professions majors. Students reported pre-post scores on 29 measures of competency, interest, learning and behavioral change. Quantitative evaluations identified statistically significant improvement in all domains. Additional quantitative feedback indicated improvement on the three Kirkpatrick levels of evaluation assessed (reaction, learning and behavior).


Tiered evaluation methods indicated that this leadership course enhanced participants’ self-reported adaptive leadership learning and competency, as well as intention and ability to translate learning into practice. A broad spectrum of competency development is needed for students entering practice in the Public Health 3.0 era, particularly related to pandemic response.



The author would like to thank Theresa St.Romain for her assistance with manuscript preparation, the Kansas Leadership Center for permission to use adaptive leadership materials for educational purposes and Sonja Armbruster and Peter Cohen for helping to co-develop the adaptive leadership class in its original form.


Hawley, S.R. (2021), "Using adaptive leadership principles to support Public Health 3.0 in multidisciplinary undergraduate education", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 248-262.



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