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Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

The stretch assignment

Q: How can a senior leader encourage junior leaders to act and make decisions when they find themselves without specific guidance? How can a junior leader know when it's right to take charge?

Gifted junior leaders often feel like that dubious junior leader of yesteryear, Hamlet: "The time is out of joint; Oh, cursed spite! That ever I was born to set it right."

They should go ahead and try. Do so, obviously, with some finesse rather than bullishness. With some understanding of why things developed as they are now, some appreciation for that history. Nonetheless, they should try. Rather than feel they're cogs in the wheel, junior leaders should help steer those wheels.

And senior leaders should bestow, and convey, confidence in them. Most institutions aren't tip-top, operating so impeccably that they can't be (markedly!) improved. It's often up to the junior leaders to "set it right."

Seniors, though, should lay down clear guidelines on this:

· No surprises! Must have a heads-up on changes contemplated, and then underway.

· No negligence. Getting it wrong on judgment is okay, but ignoring or not knowing key factors is not.

· No showboating. Leadership isn't about you; it's about us and our mission.

There surely are a few more, which others more knowledgeable on leadership can fill in. But all such guidelines need to be clearly presented by senior leaders, and understood by juniors.

But the big message needs to be a green light, not amber or red: Go ahead, and try. That'll be good for the organization, especially for the juniors themselves.

Stretch assignments are the most challenging, and thus satisfying. After all, "Our stars must glisten with new fire, or be today extinct."

By Ken Adelman

 |  April 22, 2010; 1:06 PM ET
Category:  Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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