John Adair’s Action-centred Leadership

Professor John Adair’s relatively simple action-centred leadership model provides a handy blueprint for leadership and management in a group or team setting. Its attraction is that it is easy to remember, apply and adapt. According to Adair, good managers and leaders need to have full command of the three main areas of the action-centred or ‘three-circle’ leadership model. Being able to keep the right balance between the three core areas of task, team and individual; gets results, builds morale, improves quality, develops team working and is the mark of a successful manager and leader.

John Adair’s Action-centred Leadership Model

  • Achieving the task
  • Managing the team or group
  • Managing individuals

Task Team Individual

The model relates well to the demands of modern business management. It is adaptable and can be used in many and varied team situations. In this way it is a useful leadership management framework.

The responsibilities of a manager for achieving the task are:

  • Identify aims and vision for the group, purpose, and direction – define the activity (the task)
  • Identify resources, people, processes, systems and tools (financials, communications, IT)
  • Create the plan to achieve the task – deliverables, measures, timescales, strategy and tactics
  • Establish responsibilities, objectives, accountabilities and measures, by agreement and delegation
  • Set standards, quality, time and reporting parameters
  • Control and maintain activities against parameters
  • Monitor and maintain overall performance against plan
  • Report on progress towards the group’s aim
  • Review, re-assess, adjust plan, methods and targets as necessary

The responsibilities of a manager for the team are:

  • Establish, agree and communicate standards of performance and behaviour
  • Establish style, culture, approach of the group – soft skill elements
  • Monitor and maintain discipline, ethics, integrity and focus on objectives
  • Anticipate and resolve group conflict, struggles or disagreements
  • Assess and change as necessary the balance and composition of the group
  • Develop team-working, cooperation, morale and team-spirit
  • Develop the collective maturity and capability of the team – progressively increase team freedom and authority
  • Encourage the team towards objectives and aims – motivate the team and provide a collective sense of purpose
  • Identify, develop and agree team- and project-leadership roles within group
  • Enable, facilitate and ensure effective internal and external team communications
  • Identify and meet team training needs
  • Give feedback to the team on overall progress; consult with, and seek feedback and input from the team

The responsibilities of a manager for each individual are:

  • Understand the team members as individuals – personality, skills, strengths, needs, aims and fears
  • Assist and support individuals – plans, problems, challenges, highs and lows
  • Identify and agree appropriate individual responsibilities and objectives
  • Give recognition and praise to individuals – acknowledge effort and good work
  • Where appropriate reward individuals with extra responsibility, advancement and status
  • Identify, develop and utilise each individual’s capabilities and strengths
  • Train and develop individual team members
  • Develop individual freedom and authority

 The action-centred leadership model is Adair’s best known work, in which the three elements – Achieving the Task, Developing the Team and Developing Individuals – are seen to be at once independent and interdependent. Adair lists what he sees as core functions of leadership and says they are vital to the action-centred leadership model:

  • Planning – seeking information, defining tasks, setting aims Initiating – briefing, task allocation, setting standards
  • Controlling – maintaining standards, ensuring progress, ongoing decision-making
  • Supporting – individuals’ contributions, encouraging, team spirit, reconciling, morale
  • Informing – clarifying tasks and plans, updating, receiving feedback and interpreting
  • Evaluating – feasibility of ideas, performance, enabling self-assessment

This further suggests that the action-centred leadership model fully integrates the concepts of managing and leading.

Adair also promotes a ’50:50 rule’ which he applies to various situations involving two possible influencers, e.g. the view that 50% of motivation lies with the individual and 50% comes from external factors, among them leadership from another. This contradicts the common assertion that most motivation is from within the individual. He also suggests that 50% of team building success comes from the team and 50% from the leader.

Adair demonstrates how management thinking changes and becomes more sophisticated over time, in response to the development of previous management thinking. There is respect for Adair’s work – it is seen as more accessible and relevant than other gurus’ thinking. It is holistic in that it works easily in a multi-dimensional way and it gets right to the heart of the leadership role. By focusing on things that a leader must do, it explains very clearly why some succeed and others do not.



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