When I joined the Royal Air Force, 45 years ago at the tender age of 18, I arrived at the gates of RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire, to be trained as an Engineering Officer, with some trepidation. The “hi- tech” aspects of a career with military aviation thrilled me – TSR2 had just been cancelled but we still had Phantoms, Lightings, Vulcans, Victors and a myriad of other types. The thought of becoming a “leader of men” was put to one side for a while, however, as a Sergeant barked orders at me, a mere Officer Cadet, lowest of the low.

otrudge commissioning small

Caption: The young Otridge being inspected by the Reviewing Air Vice Marshal at his passing out parade from RAF Henlow in 1969.

As one progressed beyond the fundamentals of the military, drill, personal weapons, discipline, dress and so forth we started on the more academic side of the course, one subject being leadership. And at this point we were introduced to the concept of “The Three Rings”, John Adair’s action-centred leadership, which consider the leader’s responsibilities in three areas.

adairs action model

In the military sense Task Needs are paramount when in an operational scenario. There is a war to be fought or prevented, the battle must be won and Individual Needs are subjugated to the greater good – and sometimes people die.

However, a strong fighting force relies on there being a coherent group. Servicemen need to totally identify with their group and would be utterly loyal to the other group members. The group has to have a well-defined identity too. These operate at different levels: the Corps or Regiment, the flag under which they fight.

Then there is the fighting unit – a Battalion or a Battle Group (which is a Battalion plus embedded supporting elements), and then the working team: a Platoon or Section of 6 to 30 soldiers working in close personal harmony –their “mates”. At this level the bonds between the soldiers must be so strong they would give their own lives in order to save another.

In order to be an effective group member, each individual must have personal strengths. They must not be encumbered by personal worries before going into battle, they must be paid correctly, fed, clothed, clean (not always possible in the mud!), fit and healthy. They must also have confidence in their own skills in order to perform their role to the best of their ability under pressure. And finally, they must know what is going on, what the plan is, and what their role in that plan is. All these factors are known as the “Hygiene Factors”, the lowest acceptable level of motivation that can be given to a member of the group.

There are other individual needs, known as the “Higher Motivators” That means feeling involved in terms of one’s contribution to the team, praise when a one makes a good contribution, and of being given appropriate responsibilities in recognition of one’s skills and abilities. These higher motivators are the key to success.

But, how does the leader balance these potentially competing needs? In the heat of battle, the leader cannot be concerned with little Johnny’s whining that he is hungry. Johnny is expected to have made his own arrangements in terms of carrying enough personal rations and other essentials. However, it would be crass in the extreme to call everyone back in the middle of a long weekend stand-down just because the leader fancied having a battle exercise for his own gratification.

The solution is simple and obvious. In peacetime the focus is on both building the individual, making sure all their needs are satisfied, and building the teams at different levels. Even in peacetime, however, there are times when team needs supersede those of the individual – one person sowing dissent amongst the ranks has to be dealt with appropriately to prevent their dissatisfaction from spreading, and the team to close ranks and either deal with the dissenter themselves, or for the leader to handle it formally. But, in war, the Task needs are paramount, and rely on the team and individual strengths built up between battles.

Translating Adair into Politics

So, how do we translate this military leadership model into politics? All the “foot soldiers” are volunteers for a start, the party has no responsibility to maintain their “hygiene factors”, and we do not fight wars, but we do fight wars of words. And, in the current situation, of getting our country back from the clutches of the EU, it is closer to a war than any previous electoral fight in modern Britain.

adairs model politics

The diagram shows what we are dealing with in politics. The task is to win elections at all levels, not just during the election period itself, but between elections – they say one doorstep visit between elections is worth six at election time. Branches need to not just do this, but to campaign with attacks on the media, local papers and websites/webpages and to hold public meetings or attend other meetings such as resident’s associations. We need to recruit new members and retain existing ones, train and unify members and to raise funds. In doing this, the truly effective leader, who would normally be the Branch Chairman or Campaign Manager, needs to perform all the following actions at the different stages of a campaign:

  Task Needs Team Needs Individual Needs
Between Campaigns
  • Identify electoral target(s)
  • Identify their resources: people, election material, electoral data
  • Create a campaign plan – on doorsteps and the media
  • Develop team-spirit, cooperation, morale
  • Motivate team towards objectives & aims
  • Identify and meet group training needs
  • Understand people: skills, strengths, needs, aims, fears
  • Develop & utilise capabilities & strengths
  • Train and develop individual team members
Starting the Campaign
  • Establish responsibilities, objectives, measures
  • Delegate by agreement of volunteers
  • Set standards: “party lines”, canvassing data to collect
  • Agree & communicate standards of behaviour, particularly when canvassing and online
  • Identify & develop team roles within group
  • Agree appropriate individual responsibilities and objectives
In the Campaign
  • Control and maintain activities
  • Monitor and maintain performance against plan
  • Report on progress to the Branch Committee
  • Assess, adjust plan, methods and targets if necessary
  • Monitor & maintain ethics, integrity & focus
  • Anticipate & resolve group conflict
  • Change as necessary group balance & composition
  • Steadily increase group freedom & authority
  • Effective comms to activists & members
  • Give & seek feedback with group on progress
  • Support people – plans, problems, challenges, highs/lows
  • Recognition & praise – effort and good work
  • Reward people with responsibility & status
  • Develop individual freedom and authority
  • Support people – plans, problems, challenges, highs/lows
  • Recognition and praise – acknowledge effort and good work
  • Reward people with responsibility, advancement & status
  • Develop individual freedom and authority
After the Campaign
  • Conduct an honest assessment of campaign
  • Give and seek feedback to/from group on campaign
  • Praise and reward those who performed well publically to the Branch

I show it as four phases, which is perhaps a simplistic way of looking at it, as many believe the right approach is continuous campaigning, however, the tempo rises as the election looms closer. But when it is quieter is the ideal time to calmly and coolly plan, to determine what resources are available and to train people. Training need not necessarily be formal, but the less experienced activists may need some guidance and encouragement from more experienced activists, perhaps by example with some canvassing between elections in a mixed ability team.

When the starting gun is fired for the main campaign, things start to get hectic, it is time to call on the volunteers (who ideally have been identified beforehand) to agree their roles, to set the standards for them, and form them into teams. As the campaign gets under way, the manager needs to keep their finger on the pulse, not just directing operations, but watching and listening, checking the plan is being met, that relationships remain harmonious and that people are recognized as individuals. Then, after the campaign it is time for the wash-up, to see how others felt about it, to analyse the outcome (whether win or lose) to see what could be done better next time, and most importantly to feed that analysis back to members, and reward those who put in the most effort and/or displayed the greatest skill.

And in doing this and doing it well the effective leader is bringing the three circles together as illustrated in this picture.

adairs model integrated

You need a plan with which to determine the teams you need and the right people in each team. Those people need to be both motivated and capable of delivering to the task.

And the payback on getting that right is people feel a part of the campaign, they contribute willingly and effectively to their team, and the team wins the election.

At the end of the day, that’s what we are here for – to win elections!

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