Action-Centered Leadership

  • Action-centered leadership defines leadership in the context of three interlocking areas of responsibility and concern. This framework is used by leaders in the management of teams, groups, and organizations.
  • Developed in the 1960s and first published in 1973, action-centered leadership was revolutionary for its time because it believed leaders could learn the skills they needed to manage others effectively.
  • Adair believed that effective leadership was exemplified by three overlapping circles (responsibilities): achieve the task, build and maintain the team, and develop the individual. 

Understanding action-centered leadership

Action-centered leadership defines leadership in the context of three interlocking areas of responsibility and concern. This framework is used by leaders in the management of teams, groups, and organizations.

Action-centered leadership is the brainchild of John Adair, a British leadership theorist and author who has released more than 40 books on leadership in business, the military, and various other contexts.

Developed in the 1960s and first published in 1973, action-centered leadership was revolutionary for its time.

Unlike other theories, Adair based his on the belief that effective leadership was not simply a trait one was born with.

Instead, certain qualities could be learned by anyone via specific, actionable steps and best practices.

Action-centered leadership remains popular today because its ideas are practical and relevant to all leaders irrespective of their job title or industry.

The model is also simple to use and has positive effects on productivity, morale, and company culture.

The three circle model of action-centered leadership

Adair considered that leadership occurred in the context of three circles: 

  1. Achieve the task.
  2. Build and maintain the team/group, and
  3. Develop the individual. 

Each circle represents a key responsibility and individuals must have a good grasp of all three to be effective leaders.

Note that the three circles overlap. Some aspects of achieving tasks will overlap with building the team, while elements of developing the individual will also overlap with achieving tasks, and so on.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at each circle below.

Achieve the task

Tasks are activities that require strategic guidance and a collaborative effort from team members.

Some of the steps that clarify how strategic guidance are listed below:

  • Determine the vision, aims, purpose, and direction of the team for each task. Then, identify key people, tools, processes, and resources.
  • Devise and implement a plan to achieve the task with deliverables, timelines, and strategies that are concise and measurable. 
  • Define time and quality standards for deliverables and reporting parameters. Threats to these parameters should also be controlled or prevented.

Build and maintain the team

To sustain team performance, leaders must be able to promote values that encourage cohesiveness or unity. Adair noted that this leadership ability depended on an awareness of the motivations of individuals.

Some steps to build and maintain the team include:

  • Establish standards for team behavior and performance.
  • Clarify a team’s culture and style.
  • Anticipate and resolve conflict. 
  • Implement and maintain standards of effective group communication.
  • Monitor the balance of team composition and adjust if necessary, and
  • Promote maturity and enhance capabilities to increase a collective sense of autonomy.

Develop the individual

Individual development can only occur when their physical and psychological needs are met.

Physical needs may include an attractive salary or facilitative workspace, while psychological needs relate to purpose, meaning, and recognition.

Adair recommended that individual development could be performed with the following initiatives:

  • Recognize and appreciate the diversity of individual team member personalities, aspirations, concerns, and strong points.
  • Encourage and support individuals in their professional development. Where appropriate, individuals should be offered more responsibility or career advancement opportunities.
  • Celebrate and praise desirable behaviors whilst offering constructive feedback for less-than-desirable behaviors. 

Leadership Styles

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Blue Ocean Leadership

Authors and strategy experts Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne developed the idea of blue ocean leadership. In the same way that Kim and Mauborgne’s blue ocean strategy enables companies to create uncontested market space, blue ocean leadership allows companies to benefit from unrealized employee talent and potential.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.

Ethical Leadership

Ethical leaders adhere to certain values and beliefs irrespective of whether they are in the home or office. In essence, ethical leaders are motivated and guided by the inherent dignity and rights of other people.

Leading by Example

Those who lead by example let their actions (and not their words) exemplify acceptable forms of behavior or conduct. In a manager-subordinate context, the intention of leading by example is for employees to emulate this behavior or conduct themselves.
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