Becoming an effective leader

Outcome 1 

1.1 - Evaluate own ability to use a range of leadership styles, in different situations and with different types of people, to fulfil the leadership role

Leadership theory and approaches


Adair’s Functional Leadership

Adair observed that effective leadership occurs when a group of people, focused on achieving a goal, are organised and resourced in such a way that the activity is successfully completed. His observations led him to conclude that there are three (3) elements or specific needs that have to be met if a leader is to achieve success; these needs or elements, which are inter- related, include:


  • Task Needs. A group needs a reason to operate as a team; the completion of a single task or a series of tasks to deliver a required or desired outcome provides that reason.


  • Team Needs. For a team to successfully complete a task or series of tasks, all members of the group must work effectively together to achieve the task.


  • Individual Needs. Within a team, the needs of the individual, whilst considered generally subordinate to the needs of the team, must be met if the team is to be effective.










Before looking at what Adair considered to be the leader’s role in ensuring that the 3 needs are met, it is worth noting that the leader has to balance each of the needs – that is, all three needs have to be met at the same time – if he or she is to be successful. Adair depicted this as three interlocking circles, thus:


(Adapted from Adair 1965)



The diagram suggests that all 3 needs must be met equally for the leader to be successful. Many observers believe that this was Adair’s intent. In other words, Adair wanted leaders to pay equal attention to each of his 3 elements of leadership. This is true but did he really mean that a leader should spend the same amount of time attending to each of the needs on every occasion?


By considering what the leader is expected to do to meet each of the 3 needs, we might be able to understand how the 3 needs or elements work together.


Task Needs. The needs of the Task are met by:


  • Defining the Task.


  • What is the aim and vision for the team?

  • What do we have to achieve (outputs and deadlines)?


  • Making a Plan.


  • How will we achieve the task?

  • What resources do we require to deliver the outputs?


  • Allocating Work and Resources.


  • What resources (people and organisational capabilities) do we have?

  • How will we use these to best effect?

  • Who is responsible for what elements of the task?


  • Controlling Quality and Tempo of the Work.


  • What quality standards will we use to measure success?

  • How will we ensure that we maintain the required rate of progress?

  • How will we know when things are going wrong?


  • Checking Performance against the Plan.


  • How often will we check progress?

  • How will we manage risk?

  • What will we do if things go wrong?


  • Adjusting the Plan.


  • How does the necessary change affect the achievement of the task?

  • What extra resources are required?

  • What impact does the change to the Plan have on others?

  • Who do we have to tell about the change of Plan?


Team Needs. The needs of the Team are met by:


  • Setting standards


  • Is the team familiar with the standards to be employed?

  • What behaviours/team values are expected?

  • How are these communicated to them?


  • Maintaining Discipline


  • How will standards/behaviours been forced?

  • What sanctions will be taken against those that do not follow the rules?


  • Building Team Spirit.


  • What are the team’s strengths and weaknesses?

  • How can the team be developed?

  • What activities should we undertake to build team spirit?


  • Encouraging and Motivating.


  • How will we get the best out of the team?

  • What encourages and motivates the team?


  • Appointing Sub-leaders


  • Who has the skills to take on more responsibility?

  • How will team performance be raised by appointing sub- leaders?

  • How will sub-leaders exercise authority?


  • Training


  • What are the training needs of the team?

  • What training can be given by other team members?

  • What training requires external resourcing?


  • Ensuring appropriate communications.


  • What do team members need to know?

  • What information is necessary and what is ‘nice to have’?

  • How do team members like to be communicated with (verbal, in writing, e-mail, text, one-to-one,etc)?



Individual Needs. The needs of the Individual are met by:


  • Attending to Personal Problems.


  • What personal problems are preventing team members from performing at their best?

  • How are the personal problems of a team member affecting others?

  • What issues should be dealt with by professional experts?


  • Encouraging


  • What are the individual’s strengths and weaknesses?

  • How do they contribute to the team?

  • What motivates them to do their job?


  • Status


  • What position(s) within the team can individuals fill (skills, knowledge and experience)?


  • Training


  • What are the training needs of the individual?

  • What training can be given by them to others?


  • Recognising Individual Ability.


  • How will individual performance and expertise be recognised?


As we consider how each of the needs can be met by the leader, it becomes clear that there is significant overlap between them. For example, in deciding who will undertake a particular activity, the leader must identify who within the team has the skills to complete the activity (Task Need – allocating work and resources and Individual Need – recognising individual ability). In determining this, the leader might have to select a team member who is not as experienced as another member of the team. In making that selection, it will be important to explain to other members of the team, including the more experienced team member, why the selected person has been given responsibility for the activity (Team Need – ensuring appropriate communication).



Within the Functional Leadership Model, Adair asserts that the leader has 6 key roles and responsibilities, (or core functions), namely:


Planning:   Gathering    information,   defining   activities    and    setting direction


Initiating:      Briefing team members, allocating tasks and setting standards.


Controlling: Monitoring progress, maintaining standards and making decisions


Supporting: Encouraging and motivating the team, maintaining morale.


Informing: Advising and updating team members on progress/revised plans.


Evaluating: Reviewing performance, considering new ideas.





Some observers believe that the Model loses its efficacy when one, or more, of the needs is given unequal attention. Specifically, there will be times when priority has to be given to meeting one of the needs ahead of the others.

Typically, a tension arises when there is pressure on a team and its leader to complete a task; the leader is often faced with having to disregard individual or team needs to satisfy the Task Need.

There is no right or wrong solution to the problem. The issue itself can be addressed in many different ways. The bottom line, however, is that in this scenario the task need must be met while the other needs can only be met in part.


For example, you, as the leader, might decide to do one or both of the overnight shifts and  require  only one  other  member  of  staff  each  night.  By  taking  on  extra  work yourself, you will attend to all 3 needs. However, by forcing the 2 members of staff who could work overnight to join you, you might adversely affect Team and Individual Needs while satisfying the Task Need. Specifically, the two individuals might feel aggrieved because they were not paid extra for working overnight and because of the impact overnight working had upon their weekend. Moreover, depending upon how strongly they perceive the decision (as an injustice?), they may be resentful towards the other members of the Team.