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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.

Archive: Ken Adelman

Reason, incentives and coercion

This I learned the hard way--very hard!--as director of President Reagan's arms control agency negotiating nuclear weapons cuts with the Soviets in the 1980s...

By Ken Adelman | March 8, 2011; 02:53 PM ET | Comments (2)

What you get when you give power away

Not that we want any of the autocrats to retain state power. They should all consider packing their carry-on bags for a one-way trip to the Maldives. But if they had wanted create a reputational power...

By Ken Adelman | February 22, 2011; 10:20 AM ET | Comments (1)

Egypt needs a new leader

No way can a leader lousy for 30 years become someone poised for greatness in the future...

By Ken Adelman | February 1, 2011; 10:21 AM ET | Comments (4)

The mitigators: David Cameron and Nick Clegg

Protesters might terrify formal-attired Camilla and Charles. But even that turned out fine. With budgets being slashed, there's no way to avoid such resistance--whether from students with scant tuition or from beneficiaries with lavish government handouts. But the harmony, decency and rationality of the Cameron-Clegg team...

By Ken Adelman | December 20, 2010; 04:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

Gridlock has its rewards

It's tragic what Obama has to endure from Republicans, or they from him, or all of us from all of them. So what's new? Our political system was designed thus...

By Ken Adelman | December 6, 2010; 04:25 PM ET | Comments (0)

Slash and smile, with a stiff upper lip

No need to invent a slash-and-smile playbook. There's one already working--in Britain. David Cameron and Nick Clegg, UK prime minister and deputy, provide a shining model of economic and political leadership. In economics they're slashing everything, from momentous entitlements to emotional health centers...

By Ken Adelman | November 30, 2010; 11:39 AM ET | Comments (0)

Let's end terrorism hysteria

Airport security should have been handled by contractors. If they did something really stupid--like groin-groping--they could be fired. Government folks can't. Plus, then government would be a step removed from glaring stupidity...

By Ken Adelman | November 22, 2010; 03:40 PM ET | Comments (11)

'How sweet it is to wear the crown'

We Republicans are delighted that the Democratic faces in Congress remain those of Pelosi and Reid. Their decisions to remain leaders is bad news for Democrats. Yet it's surprisingly unsurprising. Even great historic leaders like Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Maggie Thatcher, and many others simply hung on too long. Why do they, even after achieving great feats? Shakespeare puts the reason simply: "How sweet it is to wear the crown"...

By Ken Adelman | November 8, 2010; 05:44 PM ET | Comments (2)

The worst 'expert' flubs

Most critical is for the leader to realize that experts don't have a perfect track record. Far from it. If you're not already skeptical of expert opinion, glance over these doozies...

By Ken Adelman | September 29, 2010; 01:00 PM ET | Comments (1)

Leaders beget leaders

Call it "distributed leadership" or another term of academic jargon, it's the critical attribute that has real leaders empowering their subordinates and colleagues to make critical decisions for the organization.

By Ken Adelman | September 22, 2010; 04:22 PM ET | Comments (1)

Tactical flexibility, Reagan-style

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...

By Ken Adelman | September 7, 2010; 01:10 PM ET | Comments (0)

Connecting everyone to the mission

The two key elements of all leadership are simply: 1) to connect everyone to the mission, and 2) to each other. Other aspects of leadership may be critical, but not as indispensable as these two. Connecting everyone to the mission takes identifying that mission. Only top leaders can do that. Only they can set the whole organization's direction, and give it meaning.

By Ken Adelman | August 31, 2010; 08:35 AM ET | Comments (0)

Why not a ten week recess?

Leaders should break routine and be at work in critical circumstances - albeit presuming that the leader's presence is helpful. Not the case here.

By Ken Adelman | August 17, 2010; 08:53 AM ET | Comments (0)

The difference between a secret and a mystery

No, it's not primarily the size of the sprawling intelligence network that makes it flawed, though that's surely a problem; anything that big can't work all that well.

By Ken Adelman | July 20, 2010; 02:30 PM ET | Comments (2)

'A hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree'

George Steinbrenner had a passion to win. His "hot temper" leapt over any "cold degree" of leadership do's and don'ts.

By Ken Adelman | July 15, 2010; 02:25 PM ET | Comments (0)

Salad days for our Senators

If they choose an old geezer, let 'em.

By Ken Adelman | June 29, 2010; 05:03 PM ET | Comments (1)

McChrystal should just be the start

Even tough-minded hombres like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush couldn't bring themselves to boot aides lacking discretion or competence - or both.

By Ken Adelman | June 24, 2010; 07:22 AM ET | Comments (1)

Strategic failure

Israeli leaders make it hard to be Israel's friend nowadays.

By Ken Adelman | June 1, 2010; 02:23 PM ET | Comments (4)

'To unmask falsehood'

The clearer a nominee's views, the more controversial that nominee could become. See 'Bork, Robert' for elaboration.

By Ken Adelman | May 11, 2010; 05:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Rose Garden embrace

Don't just think about what the GOP could gain by embracing the tea party movement.

By Ken Adelman | May 6, 2010; 01:02 PM ET | Comments (0)

Can government fix it?

Recent serial disasters -- Gulf oil spill, Times Square car-bomber, immigration flood, Wall Street malfeasance - shows that conservative Republican anti-governmentism is no longer convincing.

By Ken Adelman | May 4, 2010; 01:52 PM ET | Comments (4)

The stretch assignment

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; 01:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

A hole 'narrow but deep'

The leader should focus the group on the cataclysmic consequences, rather than the improbability of such an event happening.

By Ken Adelman | April 13, 2010; 05:46 AM ET | Comments (0)

Undoing our conventional wisdom

Oppressed people overthrew bad leaders long before Twitter, but haven't done so a lot more since its advent.

By Ken Adelman | April 8, 2010; 12:35 PM ET | Comments (1)

Easier said than done

Besides being factual, thus appealing to the head, a leader in crisis should connect emotionally, appealing to the heart.

By Ken Adelman | April 6, 2010; 10:43 AM ET | Comments (0)

'Mine own teaching'

The Pope's fault was not in performing poorly on something he cared about, but rather not caring about something he should have.

By Ken Adelman | March 30, 2010; 06:02 AM ET | Comments (0)

Good point, bad movie

Jesus' parables are considerably more fetching than Deuteronomy's dictates.

By Ken Adelman | March 9, 2010; 06:24 AM ET | Comments (5)

Rove's Brutus problem

President Bush should have learned a lesson from Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' and gotten rid of Karl Rove.

By Ken Adelman | March 4, 2010; 02:39 PM ET | Comments (7)

Al Haig: The leader I want to remember

He came through in a clutch moment, providing leadership when Nixon could not, but as Secretary of State under Reagan, Al Haig disappointed himself and the nation.

By Ken Adelman | February 22, 2010; 05:38 AM ET | Comments (51)

Supreme tea-party hostess

Sarah Palin is adept at the shout out, not the figure out or plan out.

By Ken Adelman | February 9, 2010; 01:15 PM ET | Comments (10)

Changing for the wrong reasons

When evidence changes, leaders should change. Not because they face political opposition, like McCain, or can't abide being outside today's conventional wisdom, ala Powell, but because of a change in evidence.

By Ken Adelman | February 4, 2010; 02:28 PM ET | Comments (4)

The president's fuzzy leadership

President Obama's leadership performance has been disappointing, as he has missed opportunities for "defining" moments.

By Ken Adelman | January 19, 2010; 11:52 AM ET | Comments (2)

No Marshall Plan for Haiti

The U.S. government knows how to do disaster relief, but not economic development, and Haiti has no track record of success.

By Ken Adelman | January 17, 2010; 07:26 AM ET | Comments (6)

The tender topics

Harry Reid tread into territory we all know to be explosive.

By Ken Adelman | January 11, 2010; 02:30 PM ET | Comments (4)

Winning over the troops

At Agincourt, Shakespeare's King Henry V motivated his 6,000 exhausted, starving men by binding them together as a group and hitching their efforts to a higher cause.

By Ken Adelman | January 5, 2010; 06:08 AM ET | Comments (0)

Bipartisanship is overrated

It's the premise of bipartisanship that's faulty - namely, that there's one right answer to health care, deficit reduction, or whatever.

By Ken Adelman | December 21, 2009; 03:13 PM ET | Comments (3)

Surprisingly clueless

Golf is hard. Reacting to revelations of such personal failure isn't.

By Ken Adelman | December 7, 2009; 01:10 PM ET | Comments (1)

Political greasing

The president should fill sought-after state-dinner seats with folks who aren't on his payroll - above all, members of Congress, governors, pundits and journalists, and lots and lots of big-time campaign financiers.

By Ken Adelman | November 23, 2009; 03:23 PM ET | Comments (11)

Succes doesn't always translate

Too much admiration for military leaders leads to the misperception that because they perform nobly on the battlefield, they must be good at overall strategy.

By Ken Adelman | November 4, 2009; 09:07 AM ET | Comments (9)

A Shakespearean tragedy

Like Julius Caesar's Brutus, bad leaders who can't see -- and therefore compensate for -- their own weaknesses.

By Ken Adelman | October 26, 2009; 02:40 PM ET | Comments (2)

Nominee: Fred Adams of Utah

Fred Adams did the improbable: Build an affordable, popular Shakespearean festival in rural America.

By Ken Adelman | October 15, 2009; 04:34 PM ET | Comments (0)

'Let's Meet as Little as We Can!'

As the world's greatest business consultant, Shakespeare got it about right: "Let's meet as little as we can!"

By Ken Adelman | October 8, 2009; 06:14 AM ET | Comments (10)

Fear of Failure

In American institutions -- whether government with President Obama, or business with the CEO -- fear of an individual doesn't instill that much fear.

By Ken Adelman | August 18, 2009; 12:52 PM ET | Comments (4)

Justifications for Looking Backwards

In this instance of the CIA misconduct, there's suspicion of a recurring pattern and allegations of illegality. Hence the justification for looking back on this matter rather than charging ahead.

By Ken Adelman | July 14, 2009; 03:31 PM ET | Comments (1)

Motivated by Real Concern

Evaluating Cheney's behavior of giving his opinion hinges upon one critical question: Whether Cheney's opinion is right or wrong.

By Ken Adelman | May 12, 2009; 12:15 PM ET | Comments (5)

Some Skills Cannot be Taught

So much of leadership is style, courage, clarity of goal and quality of the individual, and these critical elements cannot really be taught.

By Ken Adelman | April 20, 2009; 11:42 AM ET | Comments (5)

A Record Unblemished by Success

On a Navy ship, the captain is responsible for whatever happens on board. In the corporate world, unfortunately, too many boards of directors make excuses for leaders who fail. Wagoner had to go.

By Ken Adelman | March 31, 2009; 09:55 AM ET | Comments (1)

Managing, Not Leading

Top-notch leaders are able to turn difficult messes into defining moments, as President Reagan did early in his presidency. President Obama could see the AIG uproar as a golden opportunity -- but so far he has just muddled through.

By Ken Adelman | March 22, 2009; 09:40 PM ET | Comments (0)

"We Happy Few"

Henry V's memorable St. Crispin's Day speech, which came to life through actor Kenneth Branagh, offers us lessons for facing today's economic crisis.

By Ken Adelman | February 17, 2009; 11:46 AM ET | Comments (0)

Not His Problem

Obama should not make this his problem -- he has enough already, thanks.

By Ken Adelman | December 15, 2008; 10:22 AM ET | Comments (1)

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