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Trainer’s tip: Explaining John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership model


Harvey Bennett suggests an interesting activity to help explain John Adair's theory, while other trainers offer their perspective as well.

Harvey Bennett suggests this activity:

1. Outline the ACL model

2. Show the movie '12 O'Clock High' (Gregory Peck, c1949, available on DVD) in two parts.

3. After the first part, to the point where the CO is fired, ask the managers to consider the impact on the task of having a CO who is wholly people-centred.

4. After the second part (the point where the adjutant makes the statement "the only difference between them (the two COs) is this much", get the managers to look at the impact on the crews of a wholly task-focused approach.

Do not show the rest of the movie.

5. Get a discussion going on the value of each approach.

6. Pose the question of how they would apply the principles (of ACL) to their back-at-work situation.

If you use 360-degree feedback you can use an ACL-based 360 which I'm sure they would find helpful and enlightening. A number of my clients use this approach.

Rus Slater recommends taking things one at a time:

If a manager is totally task focused, the task may be achieved but the staff may be knackered, demoralised, quitting, suing or stabbing someone in the back.

If a manager is totally team focused, we'll all have a great time chatting and hugging, and be really nice to everyone and go out a lot together, but some people will get excluded and we will be bankrupt by Christmas.

If a manager is totally focused on the individual we will never get any tasks done because we'll all be taking time off for compassionate reasons or going on navel gazing courses and we'll all be trying to look after number one at the expense of each other.

So according to ACL we have to centre each* of our decisions and actions with an equal balance between task, team and individual.

(*'each of our decisions and actions' - not 'this week we are focusing on tasks, next week we'll focus on the team' etc.)

I know this isn't an activity but you can then ask them to work in groups to describe each type of focus and the benefits of taking the ACL approach.

Sue Beatt also offers an interesting perspective:

This is not an exercise but does illustrate the points well.

A few years ago the company I then worked for had a guy called Peter Mackie in as a speaker at our annual conference. He had taken part in the Global Challenge yacht race and had written a book about it - 'Global Challenge: Leadership Lessons from the World's Toughest Yacht Race'.

He told the story about the winning yacht and how the skipper had been completely task focused (i.e., winning) and had driven his crew almost into the ground to the point where they were ready to mutiny.

On the yacht that came second, the skipper seemed to have achieved the task-team-individual balance and the crew said at the end that if they were given a half hour break, they would get back on the boat and do it again. They had achieved what they wanted to achieve (finishing) and had formed lasting friendships along the way, together with fantastic memories of working with a great team.

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John Adair's Action Centred Leadership Model

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