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John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model

John Adair developed his highly influential leadership model in the 1960s, challenging the widely accepted leadership model known as the ‘Great Man Theory’ which dated back to the 19th Century. This model focused on the idea that all successful leaders had similar traits and were ‘born leaders’. John Adair had contrasting ideas that leadership can be taught and is a transferable skill that does not depend on leaders having the same personality traits or skills sets.

Adair’s theory claims that leaders are responsible for three functions that are represented by three overlapping circles:

1. Achieve the task

2. Build and maintain the team

3. Develop the individual

The three circles of the theory overlap because they are reliant on each other. An individual needs the task to have a goal and something to challenge them. The task requires an entire team, not just one person and the team can only achieve each task if every individual is fully capable and performing well. Considering this from a different perspective; a poorly performing individual will have an adverse effect on team performance and an underperforming team will not complete a task effectively.

Leaders have responsibilities under each of the three functions mentioned above to ensure completion of the task that will inevitably result in a positive atmosphere and satisfied team members.

Adair suggests the following actions under each of the management activities:

Leadership responsibilities to ‘achieve the task’

· Identify the aims and vision of the group as well as overall direction and purpose

· Define the objectives

· Identify resources – people, processes and/or physical tools

· Create a plan to achieve the task

· Set standards

· Monitor team and individual performance

· Report on progress – reviewing and adjusting as required

Leadership responsibilities for ‘managing the team’

· Establish standards of performance and behaviour

· Establish the culture of the group early on

· Monitor and maintain integrity and focus

· Anticipate inter-group conflicts and disagreements and resolve these

· Facilitate effective internal and external communication

· Provide regular feedback

Leadership responsibilities for ‘managing the individual’

· Appreciate the personality, skills, strengths, needs, aims and concerns of individual team members

· Assist individuals in their own development

· Provide recognition and praise as well as constructive criticism

· Reward superior performance

· Develop capabilities and strengths

Adair identifies eight leadership functions all leaders need to be able to perform, each of these must be constantly refined and developed:

1. Defining the task – this should be done using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound)

2. Planning – leaders should be open-minded, positive and creatively searching for alternatives

3. Briefing – team briefings by the leader are a basic and essential function to foster teamwork and motivate individuals

4. Controlling – leaders need self-control, good control systems in place and effective delegation and monitoring skills

5. Evaluating – leaders must constantly assess the consequences of actions taken, evaluate performance and appraise and train individuals

6. Motivating – Adair identifies 8 basic rules for motivating people that include setting realistic but challenging targets, creating a motivating environment and treating each person as an individual

7. Organising – good leaders must be able to organise themselves, their team and their company

8. Setting an example – the best leaders naturally set a good example for their teams, if this is forced, leaders will become complacent.

Some criticise the hierarchical approach that Adair’s theory takes, claiming it does not allow for modern organisational structures that tend to be more linear. Current thinking suggests that leadership should focus on empowerment, enabling and encouraging innovation, whereas Adair takes a more traditional approach which could be seen as authoritarian.

However, others claim that the simplicity of Adair’s model makes it ‘timeless’ and the simple, practical framework provides clarity to the role of a leader. The simplicity of Adair’s ideas results in this model being relevant to leaders, irrespective of the sector they work in and the task being completed.

Successful implementation of Adair’s model will enable leaders to

- Build morale

- Achieve strong results

- Improve work quality

- Develop strong teams

- Improve productivity

Keep your eyes open for our next blog where we will be discussing Steven Covey’s Circles of Concern and Influence and the relevance to leadership and management.

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