Thursday 11th February 21:06

Models of Management: Adair's Three Circles

adairsthreecircles_142John Adair is one of the world's leading authorities on leadership with over one million people having taken his Action-Centred Leadership programme in numerous countries. He became the first ever Professor of Leadership Studies in 1979 at the University of Surrey near London, having served in the Scots Guards and lectured at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. In 2009, he was appointed Chair of Leadership Studies at the UN Staff College in Turin. Adair is best known for his model of the three connecting circles which represent the three concerns of managers for Task, Team, and Individuals.

Adair's Three Circles: The 3 Concerns of Leaders

Before Adair's Three Circles Model, most people associated leadership with the so-called "Great Man Theory", or the idea that leadership required outstanding people with outstanding talents and skills. Adair changed all that by focusing on what leaders actually did. His model was based on three overlapping circles representing the three responsibilities that leaders have. These are a responsibility for the Task, for the Team, and the Individuals in the team. The reason these three overlap is because, firstly, the task can only be performed by the team and not by one person; secondly, the team can only achieve excellent task performance if all the invididuals are fully developed; and thirdly, the individuals need the task to be challenged and motivated.

Adair's Three Circles: the 8 Functions of Leadership

With this model of the Three Circles at the heart of a leader's role, Adair developed 8 key functions that team leaders were responsible for. They are:

1. defining the task, ie setting clear objectives as in SMART goals
2. planning, ie looking at alternative ways to achieve the task and having contingency plans in case of problems
3. briefing the team, ie creating the right team climate, fostering synergy, and making the most of each individual through knowing them well
4. controlling what happens, ie being efficient in terms of getting maximum results from minimum resources
5. evaluating results, ie assessing consequences and identifying how to improve performance
6. motivating individuals, ie using both external motivators such as rewards and incentives as well as eliciting internal motivators on the part of each team player. Adair thought the ratio of internal-external motivators should be 50-50.
7. organising people, ie organising self and others through good time management, personal development, and delegation
8. setting an example, ie the recognition that people observe their leaders and copy what they do.

Adair's Three Circles: the Importance of the Model

Some commentators today see Adair's Three Circles Model as a bit out-of-date - having been first formulated in the 1970's, - and too simplistic. While there is some truth in this, others argue that it is the simplicity of the model that is its greatest strength. More importantly, it should be recognised that, at the time it was developed, the Three Circles Model represented a departure from existing models of leadership. By showing that leadership could be taught and didn't just depend on the traits a person had, Adair changed the thinking of the whole management world.

Further Resources on Adair's Three Circles Model

For a pdf file on the Three Circles Model that you can download and keep, click here.

Use this link from John Adair's own site to download a free Functional Leadership questionnaire for your personal use or use on a leadership coaching programme.

Download the "Teambuilding" manual in the MTL Step by Step series which covers Adair's Three Circles Model here.