With over a million people taking the the Action Centred Leadership Programme, John Adair is certainly one of the most powerful figures and theorists on leadership. Born in 1934, he became a professor at Surrey University, focusing purely on leadership qualities and how to lead a team.

He was actually the first professor to ever focus on this subject, having already held previous roles in leadership quality advice to such groups as the Royal Military.

There are a number of theories which you can take away from Adair in order to improve team work, one of which is the Three Circles Model.

This was a significant confrontation to the widely accepted model of leadership, which was the Great Man Theory, a 19th century ideology. The Great Man Theory focused on the idea that all successful leaders had similar traits, whether it be their charisma, their incredible wit or their political clout. This outdated search for heroes was first confronted by Herbert Spencer in 1860, however Adair has provided some of the most interesting arguments to the theory to date.

The three circles model didn’t focus on their personal traits, but actually on the task at hand. The three main responsibilities a leader would face would be covered by three overlapping circles.

The Three Circles

The first circle is the task which they have to complete. The second is the team which are assigned to complete the task. The final circle is each individual within the team.


The reason these three overlap is because they all intertwine and are reliant on each other. Each individual needs the task in order to have a goal and something to challenge them. The task requires an entire team, rather than just one person. The team can also only succeed at the task if each individual is fully capable in the area they are focusing on.

8 Functions Of Leadership

From the three circle model, Adair highlighted 8 functions any leader should take responsibility for, in order to see optimal results, which are:

  1. Clearly defining the task – setting out the objectives and exactly what has to be completed, so their can be no confusion surrounding the topic.
  2. Extensive planning – this doesn’t just revolve around planning for the task, this also involves working out a contingency plan if the task isn’t completed, as well as alternative strategies to achieving the same goal.
  3. Briefing the team – we’ve all heard of the importance of synergy to corporate success, well this is where it comes in. The team need to be briefed in the pertinent manner, as well as building the right environment for each individual to excel in their role.
  4. Controlling the outcome – this focuses on efficiency, as you want to achieve the goal with a minimal cost of resources, whether that be financial, man hours or any other resource which might be used.
  5. Evaluation – Once a task is complete, it is imperative that the finished task is evaluated and judged based on a number of metrics, to highlight how it could be improved for further projects. It is important to learn from our mistakes, or from what we have succeeded at, so fully analysing performance post-completion is critical.
  6. Motivation – Keeping the team members inspired is critical in order to see them working to their maximum potential. Motivation can be caused through both internal and external benefits, of which Adair believed they should be split 50/50.
  7. Organisation – With any task, if the group begin to fall behind, it becomes a constant battle to play catch-up. This situation is regularly down to poor time management and delegation. A good leader needs to know exactly who is doing what task, what deadline each team member has for each task and their development process.
  8. Setting An Example – this is more important than people think and is often overlooked. People naturally mirror what their manager does and in the manner they do it, so it is important to set an example, whether that be turning up to work early or offering a presentation on how to complete a task properly.


Some argue that given this model was built in the 1970’s, it is outdated and doesn’t resemble the way a leader should act in modern times. The main argument circles around the fact that it is a very basic model, with no real complexities. On the other hand, the advocates of the Three Circle Model often state that it is the simplicity of the model which makes it so ideal.

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