John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 4th June 2015

When John Adair proposed his model of Action Centred Leadership in 1973, it was quickly embraced as a simple and practical tool for leaders and their advisers. It is often seen as one of the ‘fundamental’ theories or concepts, alongside others like McGregor’s X & Y and Adams’ equity theory.

What’s it all about?

Adair’s Action Centred Leadership is a profound exploration of several things that are crucial to being an effective leader. Among these are:

  • The need to balance different and potentially conflicting demands or expectations
  • The fact that achieving a task or target is not the only purpose
  • The fact that the individual and the team both need to be considered and developed
John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership

The importance of people

Usually represented by the three circles model, it is possible to overlook the key point that the leader’s need is to find the point of intersection, where the task can be achieved while both developing the individual and growing the capability of the team.

It’s easy to focus on the task or goal to the exclusion of all else, and clearly the delivery of planned results is a critical responsibility for any leader. However, if the need to develop individuals and grow the team is kept as a secondary responsibility (or worse still, forgotten) then over time the best people will leave, as they are often the ‘willing horse’ that gets ‘flogged’ in order to ensure results are achieved. This ensures that the performance of the team will ultimately diminish.

A balancing act

Adair’s approach, Action-Centred Leadership, is called this because it is centred on the actions of the leader. The leader must maintain a balance between the needs inherent in each of the three elements. In particular, this is important when responsibilities are being delegated, roles are being defined, or projects allocated. Consideration is needed to think clearly and strategically about who should do the task. Will they learn and grow from doing so? Will the team grow and develop too?

If focused primarily on the task or target, it may often seem to be the best answer to allocate a project or task to the person most skilled in that task, as they will probably do it quickest and best. But will they learn from doing so? No. Will the team grow? No. Better to ask the ‘best player’ to coach and mentor a less skilled or experienced colleague in completing the task. That way, the best player will learn from being a mentor, and perhaps be groomed for a future leadership role, while the other person is learning too, and the capability of the team is being grown.

Action Centred Leadership is covered in more detail during our leadership and management programmes, where you’ll develop your leadership abilities to their fullest, alongside gaining a nationally recognised qualification. To find out more, simply get in touch below.

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