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Martin Baker

Clear Lessons & The Charity Learning Consortium


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Video: putting John Adair’s leadership theory into action


John O’Brien says using an Action Centred Leadership approach to focus on the team, the task and the individual is as relevant today as it’s always been. 

In this video John O’Brien explains how using John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership model helped him turn a failing business around:

“About 30 years ago, when I was at Sandhurst doing my officer training, I was trained in John Adair's Action Centred Leadership model, based on three key components, which is to address leadership in the team, the task and the individual. And that process works very well today across any sector.

I found a few years after that, I was going in to take over a significant business unit covering part of the country. And I found that although nationally the organisation was in tremendous form - it had a huge reputation - in the region, the team was really disintegrating.

We were losing revenue, we were losing engagement with our key customers and stakeholders and we had to reconstruct that. I adopted John Adair's model and applied it across the three areas.

So the first thing was to really focus on getting people to believe in their task again. They'd all joined that organisation to have a profound impact on society and work with major businesses in effecting that change.

Yet somehow, the soul had gone, it had been lost, in that belief in the task that they were trying to complete. And we resurrected that and invested a lot in making people understand again why they joined and what they wanted to achieve as a team.

The next stage was understanding and bringing the team together. We were spread over very many different locations, six or seven offices. There were people effectively working in silos and we had to reconstruct the team.

So we did that by getting team events going. We brought people together to celebrate success, we visited each other's projects and even went out for a drink, just to get the team to operate together.

And the third and critical component was that you have to invest in the individual. So if you have the task right and the team right, every individual needs to know what's expected of them.

They need to know the qualities and the way in which you want something delivered, but also the expectation in terms of the reward that they'll get, once they're successful. And of course you try and nurture individuals that perhaps have a problem with that. But there are some times when they aren't up to your requirements and we have to make some changes.

But that model, the Action Centred Leadership Model, of those task, team and the individual, stands as true today as it did 30 or 40 years ago.”

Watch the video for the full story...

More on John...

John O’Brien is the European Managing Partner at ONE HUNDRED Agency and the Senior Representative Europe at Changing Our World.

He served 10 years as a British Army officer where operational experience shaped his approach to inspiring leadership and purpose driven delivery.

He was the co-founder and CEO of Destria Partners until 2017 - a UK based, global, ethical purpose agency, focusing on creating enhanced performance by putting purpose at the core of strategy, communications and people for charities, corporates and public sector bodies alike.

Previously he spent a decade as The Prince of Wales’s programme director at the charity Business in the Community and also held responsibility for their worldwide CSR and sustainability programmes. His discreet, often behind the scenes interventions have made him a trusted advisor and confident of high net-worth public figures, major corporates and public and charitable sector institutions. He was awarded an MBE in 2017.

He has worked with over half the UK FTSE 100, launched initiatives covering 20 countries and created what the UK Government acknowledge as the largest mobilisation of volunteering for sixty years with over two million participants in less than four months. He is the co-author of “The Power of Purpose” with Telegraph business writer Andy Cave. A business bestseller by Pearson, the book appeared in the Amazon top 10 & WH Smith top three business charts. It was shortlisted for the UK Business Book of the Year 2018 and appeared in the Forbes leaders top 15 business reads 2018.

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