Leadership Made Easy: The Action-Centred Leader

John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership Model
John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model

John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership Model

The action-centred leadership model, proposed by John Adair is the first conceptual leadership theory I remember being taught. I still recall the lesson I had on this in school and can picture the three interlocking circles, projected onto a screen, of ‘task, team and individual’ that sum up the model. 

You may well already know this tool and if so, here is a refresher. If you have not come across this before then read on, it is a theory I highly recommend and still use as it is one you can easily apply in the workplace.

Adair’s place in leadership theory

The leadership approach is born of the skills and behavioural trends of management theory as it is based on the assumptions that leadership can be taught. 

This means that action-centred leadership is closely linked to contingency and behavioural leadership theories that propose that what a leader does is more important than who they are. This contrasts with much earlier theories that supposed you needed to be born to leadership. Adair wrote before the idea of transformational leadership became popular but that does not mean you should ignore his model.

The three core management responsibilities

The tool has served me well through my whole career and I love it because it is simple – and therefore easy to remember and apply – without being overly simplistic. 

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Albert Einstein

The most important lesson it has helped me with is balancing the needs of the following three core management responsibilities:

  1. The Task – the defined goal or mission 
  2. The Team – managing the defined group selected to achieve the task
  3. The Individual – making sure that each person who makes up the team and every role is considered and supported

The three circles

These three elements are best known in their Venn diagram form where they become interlocking circles.

This model demonstrates the need for a leader has to have an intimate understanding of each element in order to achieve success. Success is more than just the task. Achieving a project is much more of a journey of ups and downs as compared to what a simple plan might suggest.

There will be times, to ensure the final success of the task, you might need to prioritise support to one individual if they are struggling. At another time, if working to a tight deadline, the task will take precedent and the team may suffer a bit to get the project over the line. Knowing this helps the leader manage the balance over time.

The PICSIE management and decision-making process

To complement these core responsibilities Adair also set out the core functions of a leader which can be remembered by the acronym ‘PICSIE’. These stand for:

  • Plan – to define the goal, make a plan and assign resources
  • Initiate – to communicate and start the task
  • Control – to manage the team and measure progress 
  • Support – to support individuals and the team, through maintain morale,
  • Inform – maintaining good communications internally and externally, providing insight
  • Evaluate – assessing progress and success against the defined aims of the task

The astute among you will also see that this set of core functions also serves as a decision-making process. The process is effectively a loop where evaluation naturally leads back to another round of planning and so on.

The Action-Centred Leadership Model

Keep it simple stupid

In the military people often used the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. In other words, don’t overcomplicate things.

John Adair really did create a useful but simple model. I put it to good use even at school and went from the quietest person in my year to the dizzy heights of college prefect. 

Having this tool really helped me to start to grow as a leader, so, remember: “Who Adairs Wins!” No? Ok, but hopefully you will remember the key elements of taskteam and individual and use this tool!

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