Action Centered Leadership

Balancing task, team and individual

Imagine you’ve recently started a new job as a team leader. At first, you’re completely overwhelmed with all there is to do. You’ve got to get to grips with the group’s objectives, assign tasks, keep everyone motivated, and adhere to a strict schedule. And that feels like just the tip of the iceberg!

You also know that, under your predecessor, several of the team were struggling a little, so you devote a lot of your time to coaching these individuals. This seems to be working well, with the team members concerned growing in confidence as a result of your hard work. But after a few weeks, your start to realize that things are going badly wrong in other areas.

The group isn’t working cohesively as a whole, and an unpleasant blame culture has sprung up amongst several team members. And an important deadline is missed. You’ve been so busy coaching people that you didn’t see these things till it was too late.

Managing a team is very much like juggling several balls at once. Drop one ball, and it spoils the whole pattern.

Unfortunately, this is an easy mistake for managers to make, as they spend too much time on one responsibility at the expense of others that are just as important. This is where a management model like Action Centered Leadership helps you monitor the balance between the key areas for which you’re responsible, helping you avoid dropping any balls along the way.

In this article we’ll detail what Action Centered Leadership is, and how to use it with your team.

Action Centered Leadership

Action Centered Leadership (sometimes known as ACL) is a model that was first published in 1973 by leadership expert, John Adair.

It’s so-called because it highlights the key actions that leaders have to take when managing their teams. And it’s particularly helpful because it groups these responsibilities together under three key areas:

  • Task: Achieving the team’s goal.
  • Team: Developing and building your team, so that it’s ever more effective.
  • Individual: Helping individuals develop their full potential in the workplace.

These areas are represented by the three interlocking circles, as shown in Figure 1 below.

The model states that leaders must balance the actions they take across all three key areas if they want their group to succeed. The areas are interdependent; if a leader focuses too much on one area and neglects the other two, then the group will experience problems.

The shaded areas in Figure 1 show where one element relies on one or both of the others for success.

Here is an example that illustrates this interdependency:

Imagine your team is working well together, and everyone has the skills to accomplish the final goal. However, there’s one team member who isn’t carrying his share of the load. He’s lacking motivation, and missing deadlines. The entire group’s morale starts to suffer because this one member is dragging down their productivity, and the team misses its deadline because he hasn’t finished his work.

Here, issues with the individual are negatively affecting the task as well as the team.

Alternatively, imagine what would happen if you didn’t articulate your team’s goal properly. Everyone may have great individual skills, and people may work really well together, but because no one is sure what they should be trying to achieve, progress isn’t being made towards your goal.

In this example, both the individual and the team needs are being met, but task needs are being ignored. Because the group isn’t sure how to accomplish their task, they’re headed towards failure.

How to use the tool:

Review the activities you’re carrying out for each of the three key leadership areas, and make sure that you’re dividing your time amongst all three appropriately.

Here’s a list of common tasks for each of the three management responsibilities. You can use these as a guideline; and tasks can be added or eliminated based on your specific situation.


  • Identify the purpose of the group, and communicate that purpose to all team members.
  • Clearly state the final goal of the group.
  • Make sure everyone understands the resources, people, and processes that they should be using.
  • Establish deadlines for project tasks, and explain the quality standards you’re expecting.
  • Create a detailed plan for how the group is going to reach their final goal.


  • Identify the style the group will be working in (very formal, relaxed, etc.)
  • Make sure that everyone in the group has the skills and training to accomplish the final goal.
  • If your team will be working in smaller groups, appoint a leader for each group, and make sure that he or she is effective and properly trained.
  • Monitor group relationships, and resolve conflicts where necessary.
  • Work on keeping the group motivated, and morale high.
  • Give regular feedback on the group’s performance.


  • Make sure that you spend some one on one time with each member of your group for assessment: identify their strengths and weaknesses, their needs, and any special skills they can bring to the group.
  • Make sure each group member has the skills to perform his or her role successfully.
  • Appropriately praise and reward individual team members for their contribution to the group.
  • Help define each individual’s role within the group, and agree the tasks they’re responsible for.
  • If any team members seem to be lagging behind, coach them until they’re back on track.

Important Points:

Leaders have many responsibilities when it comes to managing their teams. And, it’s easy to get so focused on one area that the others slip by the wayside, leading to an unbalanced, poorly-functioning group.

Using a tool like Action Centered Leadership can help any leader stay on top of the most important responsibilities, and keep the group working efficiently, happily, and productively.

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