What Is The Functional Leadership Model? The Functional Leadership Model In A Nutshell

The functional leadership model concentrates on how leadership occurs as opposed to who does the leading.  The functional leadership model argues that leadership does not rest with any one individual. Instead, it is based on a set of behaviors collectively embodied by the group that assists in task completion.

Understanding the functional leadership model

The functional leadership model concentrates on how leadership occurs as opposed to who does the leading. 

As the name suggests, leadership is a distributed function under the functional leadership model. By focusing on the function of leadership, it is easier to see the stimuli responsible for influencing the behavior of an organization – even if these stimuli are driven by informal or unexpected sources.

Functional leadership itself is sometimes used to describe job positions where the individual has a large degree of autonomy. Employees in these positions, regardless of rank or seniority, play an active role in facilitating organizational effectiveness and cohesion. By extension, the model also suggests any employee can embody leadership behaviors under the right circumstances.

Functional leadership model interpretations

The functional leadership model is best exemplified by action-centered leadership, an interpretation developed by British academic John Adair. 

Adair’s model is based on three, overlapping or interlocking circles denoting team, task, and individual needs. These needs and the relationship between them should be taken into account by the leader.

Each circle overlaps because:

  • Achieving a task builds a team and satisfies the individuals comprising the team.
  • Teams lacking cohesiveness reduce task performance and individual satisfaction.
  • Individuals lacking satisfaction results in a loss of cohesiveness and impede task performance.

The eight key functions of the functional leadership model

For a leader to achieve success in the context of the above three needs, Adair believed eight functions must be developed and displayed: 

  • Defining the task – in a functional leadership model, tasks are distilled into clear SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-constrained) objectives.
  • Planning – this involves considering alternative ways to achieve a task and formulating contingency strategies should problems arise.
  • Briefing the team – this is seen as a fundamental aspect of leadership essential to creating the right working environment, encouraging teamwork, and motivating each individual to perform.
  • Controlling what happens – Adair also noted that the most effective leaders achieved maximum results from the least amount of resources. These results are facilitated by the leader exhibiting good self-control and having the ability to delegate and monitor as necessary. 
  • Evaluating results – leaders also need to evaluate and appraise team and individual performance
  • Motivating individuals – Adair describes six principles for motivating others: be motivated yourself, select people who are highly motivated, provide fair rewards, give recognition, set realistic and challenging targets, and remember that progress is a motivator.
  • Organizing people – sound leaders can organize themselves and the team around existing organizational procedures or structures. This may involve good time management, personal development, and delegation.
  • Setting an example – setting a good example is paramount because bad behavior tends to stand out. This eighth function is based on the premise that subordinates observe and then mimic the behavior of their superiors.

Key takeaways:

  • The functional leadership model argues task completion is based on a set of behaviors collectively embodied by a group of individuals. By extension, any employee can embody leadership characteristics to increase organizational effectiveness.
  • The functional leadership model is best exemplified by action-centered leadership, an interpretation developed by John Adair. Adair’s model is based on three, overlapping circles denoting team, task, and individual needs
  • The functional leadership model stresses the importance of eight key functions: defining the task, planning, briefing the team, controlling what happens, evaluating results, motivating individuals, organizing people, and setting an example.

Other Types Of Leadership

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.

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.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

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