Tomorrow, February 6th, marks the 100th Birthday of Ronald Reagan, possibly the most important American leader since the Second World War.
Here is not the place to discuss his politics. However, when a man rises from a poor background to a position of great power without the benefit of family connections – something that seems more, rather than less, difficult these days – and uses that position to achieve most of his personal agenda, those of us who are interested in achieving our own objectives would do well to analyse how he did it.
1. Belief. Reagan had a sincere belief in his country, his religion, his political principles, and himself. That came across very clearly, even to his enemies. The first step in persuading others to believe in your product is to show that you believe in it yourself.
2. Optimism. In his early years, Reagan was a follower of Franklin Roosevelt, the man who proclaimed “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” As the years passed, Reagan rejected FDR’s policies but mastered his techniques. He understood that if you project a positive image, even in negative circumstances, you are half way to making that image a reality.
3. Clarity of Purpose. Even Reagan’s greatest admirers must admit that he was not a great intellectual in the academic sense. Far more effective was the way he worked out a few basic principles in his mind, based mainly on experience and observation, and, once he was sure of them, he stuck to them.
4. Delegation. Accepting his own limitations, Reagan hired some very smart subordinates and let them get on with their jobs without interfering. There were exceptions, but most did better than would have been done by an interfering chief executive who tried to do everything himself.
5. Charm. Reagan went out of his way to be pleasant to people with whom he disagreed profoundly. He realised doing so would never change their minds, but it costs nothing to be nice – and good social relations, even among competitors, can sometimes ease the way to a mutually acceptable compromise.
6. Practice. The famous communications skills were the product of years of experience as an actor and a public speaker. Even for the naturally talented, there is no substitute for effort.