AS SEEN IN USA TODAY MONEY SECTION, FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2004, PAGE 6B
Leadership lessons from the Reagan years
By Del Jones USA TODAY
intrusive government. He articulated a direction, says Al Vicere, executive education professor of strategic
vice president, George Bush, and Treasury secretary James Baker, Sonnenfeld says.
Ronald Reagan, described as one of the great presidents, might say greatness can be boiled down to two words: "Well . . . leadership."
What makes a great leader? That question is complex enough to keep an army of business consultants employed. As Reagan is laid to rest, USA TODAY went looking for the leadership lessons of the 40th president.
Start with a moral foundation. Reagan was called the Teflon president because criticism didn't stick. Why was that?
Alan Axelrod, author of leadership
books about several leaders including Gen. George Patton and president Harry Truman and also a critic of many Reagan policies says it's because Reagan was "a decent person with high character," contrary to the "selfish pig" impression exuded by
Reagan saw right and wrong. To him, communism was evil, and the human craving for freedom was good. Experts say most people forgive mistakes made by leaders who have both conviction and a good heart.
The vision thing matters. Vision and strategy have fallen out of favor as companies focus on the nuts and bolts of slashing costs, eliminating errors and executing. But vision is the North Star for any organization, says Wess Roberts, author of Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.
leadership at Penn State.
Take the heat. Those
transform the world, or a company, make tough calls such as firing the air traffic controllers, says Noel Tichy, director of the University of Michigan Global Leadership Program. Great leaders have several qualities. One is making tough decisions.
If Reagan were a corporate CEO, he would be a combination of Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Jack Welch of General Electric, Tichy says.
Be comfortable in your own skin. So what if Sam Donaldson shouts embarrassing questions? Have a jelly bean. Joke about being friends with Thomas Jefferson. That doesn't mean making light of the importance of your job.
The most powerful tool is the ability to make people feel like what they do matters, says Paul Argenti, director of Dartmouth's Tuck Leadership Forum.
But leaders who are at home in their skin give the OK for others to feel at home in theirs. That's when things get done.
Unlike former CEOs such as Al Dunlap of Sunbeam, Reagan demonstrated that leaders need not be mean to be tough, says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean of executive programs at the Yale School of Management.
Maintain a sense of humor. At all times. Even during a nuclear arms race. "I have left orders to be awakened in case of national emergency, even if I'm in a Cabinet meeting," Reagan said.
Be a great communicator. Maybe more CEOs should start out as actors because they need to show more emotion and passion.
Where it comes to vision and strategy, "say it well, say it often, say it simply and say it passionately," says Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Successful leaders take a simple message and repeat it endlessly, Tichy says.
"The absence of knowing what's going on and why creates a toxic environment where distrust, suspicion, and fear overpower
confidence, camaraderie, courage," Roberts says.
Delegate. Get out of the way of talented people. Reagan didn't immerse himself in detail as did workaholic presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter before him.
"It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?" Reagan said.
Reagan had grand, long-term visions to end the Cold War and block
Reagan was secure enough to surround himself with former
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