Functional leadership model
by one person
• the team can only achieve excellent task performance if all the individuals are fully developed
• the individuals need the task to be challenged and
Adair’s model challenged trait theory by focusing on what
leaders do. He showed that leadership could be taught and
did not depend on the traits a person had.
The 8 Functions of Leadership
Adair noted the following 8 key functions for which team
leaders are responsible. (Examples are given in brackets)
1. Deﬁning the task, (by setting clear objectives
through SMART goals)
John Adair's Action Centred Leadership Model
2. Planning, (by looking at alternative ways to achieve
the task and having contingency plans in case of
Functional leadership theory (Hackman & Walton, 1986;
McGrath, 1962) is particularly useful theory for addressing speciﬁc leader behaviours expected to contribute to
organizational or unit eﬀectiveness. This theory argues
that the leader’s main job is to see that whatever is necessary to group needs is taken care of; thus, a leader can
be said to have done their job well when they have contributed to group eﬀectiveness and cohesion.
3. Brieﬁng the team, (by creating the right team climate, fostering synergy, and making the most of
each individual through knowing them well)
4. Controlling what happens, (by being eﬃcient in
terms of getting maximum results from minimum
Functional theories of leadership are developed by studying successful leaders and identifying the actions and behaviours they show. Large studies with lots of data make
it possible to correlate what leaders actually do, i.e. their
actions or functions with their successful results.
5. Evaluating results, (by assessing consequences and
identifying how to improve performance)
6. Motivating individuals, (by using both external
motivators such as rewards and incentives as well as
eliciting internal motivators on the part of each team
In the Functional Leadership model, leadership does not
rest with one person but rests on a set of behaviours by
the group that gets things done. Any member of the group
can perform these behaviours, so any member can participate in leadership. The Functional theory of leadership,
places greater emphasis on how an organisation or task is
being led rather than who has been formally assigned a
7. Organising people, (by organising self and others
through good time management, personal development, and delegation)
8. Setting an example, (by the recognition that people
One of the best known and most inﬂuential of functional
observe their leaders and copy what they do).
theories of leadership, used in many leadership development programmes, is John Adair’s “Action-Centred
Criticism of the Model
John Adair developed a model of Action-Centred Lead- Some people consider Adair’s Three Circles Model too
simplistic and to be outdated as it was developed in the
ership has connecting circles that overlap because:
• the task can only be performed by the team and not Implications for the nature versus nurture debate
This question of whether leaders are born or made is part
of the whole question of whether human behaviour is due
to nature or nurture. It is a short leap from functional
leadership theory, to the belief that if one person can do
something, then others can also learn to do it. The implication that leaders are made and not necessarily born with
the necessary traits for leadership, opened up the possibility of leadership development.
• Hackman, J. R., & Walton, R. E. (1986). Leading
groups in organizations. In P. S. Goodman, & Associates (Eds.), Designing eﬀective work groups
• (pp. 72–119). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
• McGrath, J. E. (1962). Leadership behavior: Requirements for leadership training. Prepared for
U.S. Civil Service Commission Oﬃce of Career
• Development, Washington, D.C.. ⁎
• Adair, J. (1973) Action-Centred Leadership. New
York, : McGraw-Hill.
• AstraZeneca (1999) Leadership in AstaZeneca. AstraZeneca HR, Dec 1999.
• Bass, B. (1985) Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. New York: Free Press.
• Bergmann, H., Hurson, K. and Russ-Eft, D. (1999)
everyone a Leader: A grassroots model for the new
workplace. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
• Blackler, F. and Kennedy, A. (2003) The Design
of a Development Programme for Experienced Top
Managers from the Public Sector. Working Paper,
• Department for Education and Skills (2003) Management andLeadership Attributes Framework.
DfES Leadership and Personnel Division, April
• Deutsche Lufthansa AG (1998) Leading With
Goals: Lufthansa Leadership Compass. FRA
PU/D, July 1998.
• Katzenbach, J. and Smith, D. (1994) the Wisdom of
Teams. New York: Harper business.
• Lewin, K. (1935) A Dynamic Theory of Personality.
New York, McGraw Hill.
• Tichy, N. and Devanna, M. (1986) Transformational
Leadership. New York: Wiley.
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