How to Keep your Organization Flying High

adair 3 circles

John Adair developed Action-centered leadership over forty years ago while teaching at Sandhurst. His theory—one of the simplest and most memorable—states that as a leader, you have three core responsibilities:

  • Achieve your Task
  • Build your Team
  • Develop your Individuals

The theory has passed the test of time and sure enough, if you succeed in each of these areas, you’ll no doubt succeed as a leader. However, I’d offer two insights that I believe will make success much more probable. I’ll cover one today and one tomorrow. The first is:

The 3 areas are interrelated

Managing these three areas is like flying a helicopter. To move a helicopter you nudge the cyclic control in the direction you want to go. This causes the rotor disc to tilt in that direction and the aircraft follows. Pretty simple, right?

Not so fast. You see, the thrust that is now moving the helicopter was siphoned off the thrust that was keeping the helicopter up in the air—so to keep from falling you must pull up on the collective control, increasing the main rotor’s power. Increasing power, however, increases the torque on the fuselage, causing the aircraft to spin—so you must add a little left pedal to raise the output of the tail rotor.

Adair’s three areas are just as interrelated as the controls of a helicopter. You can’t mess with any one area without affecting the other two. How you achieve your task has an effect on teamwork, which directly influences each individual. Likewise dealing with an individual or focusing on the team will have positive and negative consequences in the other areas.

Nothing is done in isolation. If you favor one or two areas and don’t account for the effects you’re generating in the neglected area or areas, your organization will spin out of control.

Just as helicopter pilots understand the relationship between their various controls, so leaders must understand the interdependencies of individuals, tasks, and teams. Understanding their relationships will allow you to anticipate needs, make swifter, smarter decisions, and—in the end—keep you from crashing your organization into the ground!

How are you at managing the interdependent needs of the team, the task, and the individual?

4 thoughts on “How to Keep your Organization Flying High”

  1. Geoff, you keep giving me concrete pictures. Great stuff! Thank you!
    I often talk about my helicopter flight simulator experience with others. Nothing like actually trying to fly one yourself.
    I continue to see some leaders so focused on completing a task that they step on other’s toes and cause a lot of damage…the job is done, but morale is lowered.
    In trying to manage interdependent needs of the team, task and the individual, I consider Pink’s concepts in his book “Drive” often. I try to give autonomy, as much as possible. I continue to focus our group on the big picture (purpose). And I trust those that I lead to figure it out. Others have trusted me, and I am in a place now where I pass that trust on to others.

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