3 Leadership Lessons from the Gipper

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.

Image via Wikipedia

[tweetmeme]“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.”
~Ronald Reagan

It is just sixty-nine days into the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. President Reagan is wearing a new blue suit and instead of his best watch, he choses an old one his wife Nancy had given him. The President is leaving the Hilton Hotel after delivering a speech to the Construction Trades Council. Suddenly he hears a small fluttering sound, pop, pop, pop. Jerry Parr, Head of the Secret Service grabs the President and throws him into the back of the car. Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy puts himself between the President and the gunman, John Hinkley Jr. He makes a spread eagle of himself to be as large of a target as possible and is shot in the chest. President Reagan has been shot. He is rushed to George Washington University Hospital. The new pin stripe suit is cut off President Reagan and he is hurried to the Operating Room. One of the doctors told the President that they were going to operate. President Reagan states, “I hope you are a Republican.” A nurse asks how he is feeling and he responds, “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia” borrowing a line from W. C. Fields.

As you probably know, President Ronald Reagan survived the assassination attempt and went on to serve two terms as President of the United States.  The would be assassin was not the only challenge the President faced during his first 100 days in office.  He led the nation out of what is still the worst economic crisis this nation has faced other than the Great Depression.  He led us out of this crisis by controlling government spending and reducing taxes.  This formula was called Reaganomics. President Reagan is also credited with foreign policy victories including the end of the Cold War.  He squelched terrorism activities by bombing Libya, and used military action in Grenada to prevent the spread of communism and maintain stability in the Western Hemisphere.

Ronald Reagan is credited with being one of the greatest Presidents and is quite possibly the greatest President of the 20th Century.  What can we learn from the actor turned politician?

1.   Communicate the Vision – All great leaders have a vision.  This vision must be communicated over and over again.  You must be able to make everyone understand where you are going if you are going to lead them there.  Don’t be afraid to over communicate important messages.

2.  Stay True to Your Convictions – Anyone listening to the press or to the President’s critics would have thought that he was a bumbling fool.  They mocked him for believing tax cuts were the answer when his critics thought we needed more government programs.  They mocked him for his foreign policies.  Ronald Reagan had done his homework and never deviated from his convictions.  Do your homework, make sure you are on the right path, then don’t let your critics stand between you and your goals.

3.  It’s never too grim for some humor – The first thing President Reagan said to his wife was “Honey, I forgot to duck.”  The 40th President was trying to lighten the mood of those around him even as he is very close to dying.  Humor can ease tensions and allow people to focus on the task at hand.  Humor can send the message that we will get through it and that things are not as bad as they seem.  Don’t be afraid to have some fun at work.

Ronald Reagan was a great man, a great leader, and one of the greatest Presidents of all time.  He was known as The Great Communicator.  He was able to convey to an entire nation where we were going.  While there were certainly compromises in the spirit of working with others, President Reagan never compromised on his convictions.  He knew how and when to use humor to encourage those around him.

What will you do today to be more like Ronald Reagan?

[tweetmeme]“There are no easy answers’ but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

~Ronald Reagan
Much of the commentary is taken from President Reagan’s personal diary. Other facts were obtained from Wikipedia

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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16 Responses to 3 Leadership Lessons from the Gipper

  1. Gina says:

    Love this post! It is so true- on all points. Communicating the vision is one of the most important things- it’s how your people know the plan and not only get behind you, but help execute it. Staying true to your convictions is easy if you truly believe them. Staying true to who you are is the first part of that- It’s easy to sway from beliefs when they are not firmly part of your identity. I know many that can benefit from this- I will be passing along.

  2. Susan Oakes says:


    All very good and important points that we in business could learn from especially humour. I would also add being aproachable. That is one of the things I perceived about him and a leader should have this so not to miss a good idea or improvement that others want to discuss with you.

  3. Keyuri Joshi says:

    Oh I just love this post! The Gipper is my favorite and visiting his library is on my “bucket list”. Since my husband doesn’t write me any love letters :-), I want to read the ones Ronnie wrote to Nancy!

    I like all of your points but of the three, today I will choose to stay true to my convictions and keep a thick skin on while I’m at it! I occasionally have the opportunity to guest blog for a “mom” website that has a huge following. While most of the comments I receive are pleasant, there are a few that are horrific with ugliness. Surprisingly, these come from adults who complain about “online bullying” in kids! I will continue to provide posts that render value and worry less about the bullys!
    Thanks Christian!

  4. Umesh says:

    Great article!
    I have subscribed this blog via RSS.
    I came here through Linkedin group !!

  5. President Reagan surrounded himself with experts and listened to them. He truly set an example of great leadership. We could certainly use a president like Ronald Reagan today. Thanks for the post.

  6. My godmother knew him and Nancy very well.

    Sherryl is right about the fact that he surrounded himself with experts and listened to them. That in combination with the fact that he was a good actor were the reasons for his success. Many times he had no idea about the issues the nation, or world for that matter, was facing. But his experts knew what to do, Reagan learnt the script and played his role.

    • Catarina,

      It would have been fascinating to know President and First Lady Reagan. I feel fortunate just to have been a young adult during his presidency. There are many lessons we could learn from President Reagan. I thought about adding hiring and relying on a good team but didn’t want to make the post too long. Maybe I’ll make it part 2.


  7. Hello, Christian. Ronald Reagan — a visionary, a great articulator of his vision and one who showed through example how it should be done. Among other things, Ronald Reagan was a great American. Good choice of a leadership example. The other critical contribution Ronald Reagan made was to show us that anyone can do anything. He came from humble beginnings to become one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history. Wow, where’s Reagan when you need him?!

  8. Great post. I think all of the principles apply to our business and personal life. We must have a vision for the future. Setting goals is a great way to define your vision in life and business. I always use humor to get through almost any situation. It helps put a different perspective on the challenge until you can come up with a plan to overcome it.

  9. Doc says:

    Great post, Christian! Reagan was one of my favorite Presidents, and a hell of a good man, to boot! The only other, in my recollection, that had the potential for being as great, was JFK, who never had the chance to prove his worth.
    Reagan’s nickname, The Great Communicator, was nobly earned. He had a charisma that few men can boast of, and he used it artfully.

  10. Mina Joshi says:

    Great Post. President Reagan had a vision and he conveyed it to USA. Reading this article has reminded me to keep track of my Objectives in life.

  11. Shane says:

    Thank you Christian for a great post and great site. It is great that you are covering off such a wide range of business and personal improvement topics.

  12. Very interesting post and all the best to you Christian. One thing I would say and, of course, I would because I suffer from that cynical across the pond syndrome – is. Hang on, a full stop and pause is needed. The second most famous Ronald in America. Had Donald been a Rat and not a duck then he would have been a contender. Ronald Rat, mmm. It was not going to work. Ronald McDonald and Ronald Reagan are the Ronald’s that count. Ronald – the former president of the USA – may have said
    “There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.”
    ~Ronald Reagan

    but I would ask why oh why, didn’t he allow himself to grow older gracefully. His hair (in your picture) looks like he has just turned up at Rydell High for the new term and yet his face, tells a natural story of time spent on horse back in the Wild West. When a man talks about constriants on the human mind and barriers he should rise above the Hollywoodifacations of the superficial. Just for Men may stand in the way of you getting the job but at least you can allow your true colurs to come through. You wouldn’t catch Noam Chomsky with the face of an older wise man and the hair of Elvis circa 1959.

  13. Mark Welch says:

    Although “The Gipper” was the right person at the right time, there is another president of the 20th century who led our country out of even tougher times, and that is FDR. He led us out of the Great Depression and through and out of WWII – two challenges much greater than Reagan faced.

    Another great one of the 20th century, IMHO, was Teddy Roosevelt. Panama Canal, National Park System, breaking up of monopolies… He was a man who knew what needed to be done for the benefit of our country and did it well. Awesome president.

    FDR, of course, was a Democrat; Teddy Roosevelt a Republican. Some people have trouble acknowledging great leaders of a party which is not of their political ideology. We’ve had great and poor presidents from each party. To me the question is not which party, but what/who does our country need at the moment. Reagan was perfect for his moment; so was FDR.

  14. Pingback: Guest Post: 4 Tips from Historic Leaders « Beyond Lean

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