This paper is concerned with the second-order consensus problem of multi-agent systems with a virtual leader, where all agents and the virtual leader share the same intrinsic dynamics with a locally Lipschitz condition. It is assumed that only a small fraction of agents in the group are informed about the position and velocity of the virtual leader. A connectivity-preserving adaptive controller is proposed to ensure the consensus of multi-agent systems, wherein no information about the nonlinear dynamics is needed. Moreover, it is proved that the consensus can be reached globally with the proposed control strategy if the degree of the nonlinear dynamics is smaller than some analytical value. Numerical simulations are further provided to illustrate the theoretical results. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.