To say that the book was written in another era is an understatement; man had not stepped on the moon, computers and the internet were only thoughts when this model was formed. Yet like several other seminal works on leadership, this book and its ideas stand the test of time. Adair’s concept of leadership requiring a leader to ‘juggle’ three distinct balls; task, team and individual, is remarkably simple yet provides leaders with a solid base from which to tackle complex problems. At Kameleons we use the model to explain the balance of roles that a leader must achieve to reach their (or their team’s) goals. The three balls of task, team and leadership are like the legs of a stool; if one is take away then balance is impossible and goals are more difficult to achieve.
‘The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, because the greatness is there already.’ John Adair
Why we like it:
1. Simplicity. When trying to provide an understanding of leadership, simplicity is the key. At the recent John Adair Leadership Series on the 23rd of April, Adair stated that ‘it is the simpleness of the three balls that provides an elegance and ease of understanding’ for those that use it.
2. Adaptability. It is no secret that Adair’s leadership model is taught widely in both British and Australian military forces – a slightly amended version is still used by the Army and Air Force today. The model however is not a military one; it is a universal leadership model that can be applies to both corporate, not-for-profit and family leadership roles.
3. Intuitively it just ‘feels right’. If you believe that a role of the leader is to provide the best for their team and develop their skills, then this model will just ‘feel right’.
4. Because leadership should be developed by leaders. Adair’s book was written before HR and L&D Departments assumed the responsibility for the development of ‘soft skills’. As Adair stated last week – ‘Never accept the idea that leadership is a soft skill; it is a key ingredient in business success’. Good leadership should not just be talked about; it should be discussed, role-modelled, developed and mentored by senior leaders as a core responsibility of their role.
If there is a limitation of this model, it is that it works on the assumption that the leader is looking to achieve the best out of people and that the sum of the whole will be greater than the parts. It is a model that treats achieving a task as just one of three important goals of leadership – task completion is not the only measure of success.
If money, power or task success are the only measures upon which you determine success as a leader, then this book will feel as out of touch as the original publication date. If you see leadership as trying to achieve something better for your business and team (or in the words of John Adair – you see a leader as ‘other-centred and not self-centred’), then Effective Leadership is timeless.