Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model

Everything you need to know about Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model

When new leaders and managers transition to new roles, they experienced uncertainty, doubt, and a lack of clarity over what it takes to excel in their new positions. If you’re in this position, you might wonder what practical actions and steps you need to take to excel in your new role. 

John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership model is a unique leadership model that was ground-breaking for its time. The model defines effective leadership by actionable steps, offering aspiring leaders, managers, HR, and development managers a working template for success in new leadership positions.

Who is John Adair? 

Before delving into John Adair’s Action Centered Leadership model, let’s shed some light on the person behind the model. John Adair was born in 1934, a British academic and an expert in leadership theory, but that’s not all. 

Adair’s unique mix of knowledge and experience spans military service, a Master of Letters from Oxford, a professorship, and lecturing posts. Before Adair’s Action Centered Leadership model, the ‘Great Man’ theory (which believed that successful leaders shared similar characteristics) took precedence. 

Adair’s firm belief in leadership as a taught concept played a significant role in challenging the ‘Great Man’ leadership theory. His Action Centered Leadership theory clearly differentiates between leadership and management. It defines leadership in the context of three distinct but overlapping spheres: the individual, the task, and the team.

What is Action-Centred Leadership? 

John Adair’s simple Action-Centred Leadership model provides a great blueprint for leadership and the management of any team, group, or organization. Action Centred Leadership is also a simple leadership and management model, which makes it easy to remember, apply and adapt to your own situation. 

Good managers and leaders should have full command of the three main areas of the Action Centred Leadership model and should be able to use each of the elements according to the situation. Being able to do all of these things, and keep the right balance, get results, build morale, improve quality, develop teams and productivity, and is the mark of a successful manager and leader.

Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model 

The three parts of Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership model are commonly represented by three overlapping circles, which is a trademark belonging to John Adair and used here with his permission. 

Adair’s famous “three circles’ model is one of the most recognizable and iconic symbols within management theory. When you refer to this diagram for teaching and training purposes, please attribute it to John Adair, and help preserve the integrity and origins of this excellent model. 

John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership model is represented by Adair’s “three  circles’ diagram, which illustrates Adair’s three core management responsibilities: 

  • Achieving the task 
  • Managing the team
  • Managing individuals

Achieving The Task

  • Identify aims and vision for the group, purpose, and direction – define the activity (the task)
  • Identify resources, people, processes, systems, and tools (inc. 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 the plan
  • Report on progress towards the group’s aim
  • Review, re-assess, and adjust plan, methods, and targets as necessary

Maintain The Team

  • Establish, agree and communicate standards of performance and behavior
  • Establish a style, culture, and 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 group – progressively increase group freedom and authority
  • Encourage the team towards objectives and aims – motivate the group and provide a collective sense of purpose
  • Identify, develop and agree on the team- and project-leadership roles within the group
  • Enable, facilitate and ensure effective internal and external group communications
  • Identify and meet group training needs
  • Give feedback to the group on overall progress; consult with, and seek feedback and input from the group

Managing Individuals

  • 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 on 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 utilize each individual’s capabilities and strengths
  • Train and develop individual team members
  • Develop individual freedom and authority

Advantages and Disadvantages of Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model

The effectiveness of Adair’s Action Centered Leadership model can be attributed to its highly specific and actionable approach. The emphasis that this model places on the task, team, and individual, keeps a focus on the key fundamental factors capable of driving the direction of any successful leadership journey. 

Using specificity and actionable guidance, the model was able to challenge the existing ‘Great Man’ theory, gaining traction among leaders and managers. While Adair takes a practical and holistic view of leadership, some critics consider his hierarchical approach unsuitable for the linear structure that can be typical of modern-day organizations. 

This is based on the notion that modernized leadership styles lean towards empowerment and enablement of team innovation, and Adair’s traditional approach may seem authoritarian.

Core Functions of Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model

Importantly as well, Adair sets out these core functions of leadership and says they are vital to the Action Centered Leadership model:

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

The Action Centred Leadership model, therefore, does not stand alone, it must be part of an integrated approach to managing and leading, and also should include a strong emphasis on applying these principles through training.

Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model is not just a theory, it will help you in every step of your journey. From your schooling days to your workplace, you’ll have to manage people at different levels, and following these rules will make you a strong leader. 

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