wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
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John Adair (1934- )john adair


British leadership expert (pictured right) who became the world’s first professor in leadership studies.


Key books


Action-Centred Leadership (1973)


Effective leaders must satisfy the needs of the


1. Task 

Making sure the job is done.


2. Individual 

Motivating each person, so maximizing his (or her) contribution to results.


3. Team 

Ensuring effective co-operation and co-ordination within a team or group.


This is what Adair called “Action-Centred Leadership” (ACL) and illustrated it with this diagram:

 john adair



Leaders can achieve all these three interdependent factors (shown above where the circles overlap) by creating:

  • a common purpose.
  • the motivation to achieve it.


So the functions of leadership are:


1. Planning

  • defining a group's objectives.
  • making a plan to achieve them.


2. Initiating

Explaining the group's:

  • aims.
  • plan.
  • tasks and performance standards.


3. Controlling

Ensuring that people's actions achieve their aims.


4. Supporting

Encouraging group effort and individual development.


5. Informing

Two-way communication with the group.


6. Evaluating

Seeing how well the group has achieved its objectives.

The overlapping circles (see above) show that leadership can simultaneously involve individual, team and task requirements.


ACL training must be:

  • practical (emphasizing action).
  • participative (learning by doing).
  • simple (ACL’s three elements are simple but not simplistic).


Key quotes on leadership

In the working situation the individual is both an ‘end’ in himself and a 'means' towards the common task.

Leaders should reflect or personify the qualities expected or required in their groups or organizations.


Effective Leadership (1983)

A leader’s most important job is to

  • define and communicate the common task of his (or her) followers.
  • ensure they carry it out.

Effective leadership requires not only planning, controlling and organizing (see above) but also:

  • mutual trust and respect.
  • integrity.
  • setting an example.
  • leaders’ personal qualities and knowledge that best suit their situation.


Key quotes (on leadership)

Task, group and individual have to be related in values as well as in needs. That is why true leadership has an inescapable moral, or even spiritual, dimension.

True leaders...do or live what they preach or require in others.

By necessity leadership itself has to be something of a team effort.

A good leader communicates.



Effective Leadership Masterclass (1996)


Successful leadership depends on:


1. Knowledge

- knowing what to do.


2. Charisma and humility


3. Inspiring common purpose 


4. Servant leadership

Being a servant leader (listening and responding to followers’ needs).


5. Being functional 

Effectively doing what needs to be done that requires:

  • effective decision making.
  • imagination and intuition in new situations.
  • planning, organizing, motivating and controlling.
  • maintaining quality.


Key quotes (on leadership from the 2010 edition)

You are not a leader until your appointment is ratified in the hearts and minds of those who work for you.

The ability to make things happen is essential.

Two-way communication is inseparable from leadership.

Leaders create not followers but partners in the common enterprise.

Real excellence goes hand in hand with humility.



Develop Your Leadership Skills (2007)


There are four ways for people to have authority over others:

  • position and rank.
  • personality.
  • knowledge.
  • moral leadership.


The best leaders have


1. Enthusiasm and integrity 


2. Toughness 

Ability to take difficult decisions leading to respect but not necessarily popularity.


3. Fairness 

Treating people differently but equally and impartially.


4. Warmth 

Caring for others.


5. Humility 

Listening and acting without arrogance.


6. Confidence 

Self-belief without overconfidence.


Key quote (Adair’s short course on leadership)

The six most important words...

‘I admit I made a mistake’.

The five most important words...

‘I am proud of you.’

The four most important words...

‘What is your opinion?’

The three most important words...

‘If you please’

The two most important words...

‘Thank you’

And the last, least important word...


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