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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.

Tactical flexibility, Reagan-style

Q: In defending Craigslist against charges that it facilitates prostitution and casual sex and undermines the news business, founder Craig Newmark relies on an unwavering commitment to free expression, free markets and an open Internet. Is such an unwavering commitment to core principles the essence of leadership, or is leadership more about accommodating core principles to other social needs and values?

Ronald Reagan set the leadership model here - no, not on "prostitution and casual sex," but on remaining firm on strategic goals yet loose on interim measures.

Reagan's strategic goals were clear and remarkably consistent. His final address as president in January 1989 featured the same goals of less government, lower taxes, castigating communism and renewing the American spirit as his 1965 speech for Barry Goldwater, well before Reagan was elected to any public office.

Yet, much to the consternation of Reaganauts, the real Reagan was tactically flexible. He'd take part of his objective, shake his head, and mutter that we'd get more next time. Better to get some results, disappointed, than to drive over the cliff with flags flying, triumphantly. So he'd sometimes say and always believe.

Likewise was Abraham Lincoln flexible on the tactics, or interim measures, on the singular issue of his ear, slavery. Yet Lincoln was adamant, totally inflexible, on the strategic approach; no expansion of slavery from where it legally existed, at all, ever, in any form. Hence the Kansas Nebraska Act, the self-determination pact and Freeport Doctrine of Stephen Douglas were simply unacceptable.

Such were the "core principles" of two great leaders, who regarded them as "unwavering commitments" never to be violated. How much they were implemented, timing, and such tactics, all of those required real-time decisions. All of that was adaptable.

I know of no better models, or lessons, for modern leaders.

By Ken Adelman

 |  September 7, 2010; 1:10 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , CEOs , Corporate leadership , Ethics , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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