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Leading for Success

Looking to elevate your leadership skills? Action Centred Leadership offers a proven framework to become a more effective and well-rounded leader.

Action Centred Leadership is a leadership and management model created by John Adair whilst lecturing at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in the 1960's and 70's. It is the basis for much of the leadership training delivered by the British Armed Forces today, but despite being conceived in a military context, is entirely applicable to a commercial setting. In fact I've found it the most useful training throughout my career, and continue to regularly refer to one of the many books I own on the subject.

Three Circles

According to action centered leadership, there are three areas of need present in any working group:

  1. To achieve a common objective: The Task
  2. To be held together or to maintain itself as a cohesive unity: The Team
  3. The needs which each individual brings with them into the group: The Individual

One of the most memorable features of the Action Centred Leadership model is the "three circles" diagram represented below. The purpose of this is not only to show the three need areas, but also that they interact with, and to some degree, depend on, each other.


Let's look at each area in turn, and then how they fit together.


The task circle represents all of the ways in which you, as the leader, can help the task to be achieved. In my experience people usually find it quite easy to understand this area as it really comprises all of the things we intuitively think of as the responsibilities of a leader - distribution of work amongst team members, planning, maintaining deadlines, reviewing progress and so on.

The key, I find, in mastering Action Centred Leadership, and standing out as a great leader, is really in recognising that the other two areas both exist, and are equally as important as the task.


A united, connected team with a sense of loyalty to each other and a shared purpose is a safe bet for success. The team circle encompasses all the actions to make this happen, whichder might include facilitating effective communication, encouraging cooperation or even resolving conflict.

In practice this could mean having two people that don't usually work together to collaborate on a project, or particularly for remote teams, hosting a regular 'social' meeting.

It also means not incentivising individualism - you see this often in sales teams, whereby any individuals who meet their target for a particular quarter, or year, get some kind of reward or bonus; This can lead to a 'everyone for themselves' culture. Instead I would suggest it is better to reward the team as a whole, only if everyone meets their targets. In this way, the stronger team members start to help and mentor the weaker ones, benefiting the team as a whole.

It can be easy to think of the success criteria of this area as a team which never disagrees - but that would be dangerous. Rather, it is much better to foster an environment where appropriate challenge is encouraged, and well received by the group. It is important that individuals feel able to voice concerns, and those concerns to be heard, considered, and if appropriate, acted upon.


It would be easy to think of the individual needs as similar to the team needs, but that would be a mistake - akin to not appreciating the difference between equality and equity. Some individuals will naturally require more of your time and effort than others - and they will all require it in different ways. Some people love to be left to work autonomously, whilst others require regular guidance and feedback; some people appreciate being celebrated in public, whilst for others a private chat is more meaningful. Maslow's hierarchy of needs can be useful here.

This may seem obvious, and perhaps it is, but how often is it really acted upon? Do you, for example, vary the frequency, or duration, of your 1:1 meetings based on the individual team members preference; or consider the manner in which a briefing for a new task is given based on your knowledge of what motivates that person? It's these kinds of actions that will ultimately create highly successful outcomes.

It's A Balancing Act

In Adair's book "Effective Leadership" he explains that the three circles diagram came about to show that the three areas of need are always interacting with, and dependant upon, each other. As a leader you need to be constantly evaluating the needs that fit within each area, and be taking actions to keep them in balance. Think about how a lack of focus in one of the areas would affect the other two.

Not meeting individual needs, for example, can lead to people feeling taken for granted, a loss of motivation and quiet quitting. A lack of focus on team needs, however, can lead to ineffective communication, conflict, and a lack of creativity. In both cases, the consequences of this will affect the needs of the other, and also result in a less effective output for the task. In this way we can see the dependency upon, and tension between the three circles, enphasising the need to keep them in balance.


Action Centred Leadership isn't a rigid formula, but rather a flexible framework. The specific needs of your team, task, and individuals will constantly evolve. The key is to develop your situational awareness and adapt your approach accordingly. By consistently reflecting on the three circles and making adjustments, you'll cultivate a thriving team environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute their best.

In the next part of this series, I'll cover more of the Action Centered Leadership model, and explore practical tools and techniques to assess the needs within each circle. Stay tuned to discover how you can use Action Centred Leadership to supercharge your leadership skills 💪.