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Ronald Reagan: Rekindling the Dream

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

Ronald Reagan was President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, a role he stepped into at the age of 69, making him the oldest person to be elected into presidency at the time. Prior to his political career, he was a Hollywood actor, yet he became one of America’s favorite presidents, so what was it about this hugely popular man that allowed him to become a great leader who achieved great things by getting the people to do the greatest things?

A Likeable Fellow

Well, at his funeral in 2004, Ronald Reagan was described by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “a cheerful and invigorating presence” and “big hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair” by former U.S. President George Bush. The people who worked for him described him as a humble, kind and decent man, and his ability to communicate with all people on all levels led to him becoming known as “The Great Communicator” – in short, he was a likeable fellow. Ronald himself once said, “An actor knows two important things – to be honest in what he is doing and to be in touch with the audience. That’s not bad advice for a politician either.” His greatest skill as a leader was being a leader that people wanted to follow.

An eternal optimist, Ronald Reagan had a vision of the future that he was able to communicate and share with his “audience”, not only getting everyone to see his dream, but getting everyone to feel inspired and excited about being a part of achieving it. In this sense, the message was heard because of the messenger conveying it, demonstrating his belief that, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”

 A Human Being

 A great leader recognizes their strengths and their weaknesses. He may have been President, but Ronald Reagan remained a human being. Throughout his years in the White House, he never allowed ego to stand in the way of changing policies that were not working; he admitted mistakes, learned, and moved forward. He never failed to be gracious or to treat everyone he met with respect, treating waitresses at dinners in the same way as the dignitaries around the table.

It was his humor and humility that took him into the hearts of the American people and many others around the world. At his funeral, former President George Bush told a story of Ronald Reagan’s recovery after an assassination attempt in 1981 that captured his character beautifully: “Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble. The Good Book says humility goes before honor, and our friend had both, and who could not cherish such a man?”

An Honest Man

 He was often accused of not working hard enough as President, but Ronald Reagan understood the importance of creating a balance in life, and the importance of delegation. He knew that the contributions of a strong team would always be more effective than attempting to micromanage everything himself, and he knew that talented people needed freedom in their work to remain motivated and inspired to do it to the best of their ability. He didn’t want robotic people around him acting only on instructions, he wanted motivated individuals who would remain positively inspired to achieve the greatest things.

In response to the accusations, he used his trademark humor, saying, “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?” and he once famously quipped, “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.” These responses demonstrate his tremendous strength of character and confirm that even as the U.S. President, Ronald Reagan did not take himself too seriously. He firmly believed that the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things, and his success is proof positive.

Take a moment today to consider whether your dream for your company or organization is a dream that is shared by everyone in the team, and then take a leaf out of “The Great Communicator’s” book by ensuring that the things you do and the things you say are inspiring those around you to do the greatest things to achieve that dream. Are you a leader that people want to follow?

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Winston Churchill: The Lion of Britain

Winston Churchill Quotes

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Sir Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister from 1940-45 and 1951-55. His inspirational wartime speeches are known around the world and his Battle of Britain, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” and, “we shall never surrender” lines are often quoted. He’s never far from the top of any “Great Leaders” Top 10 list, so what led this hugely successful man to say, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”?

Third Time Lucky

Well, having been deemed academically lacking by his father, it was decided that Churchill should pursue a career in the military rather than in law or politics. He was enrolled at Sandhurst as an officer cadet in 1893 after successfully passing the entrance exam on his third attempt – an early indication that failure would not dampen his enthusiasm to succeed.

As a cavalry officer and war reporter, Churchill served in Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt and South Africa, but his interest in entering the world of politics grew stronger and he devoted himself to reading and studying British political news in a determined effort to overcome his lack of university education.

Daring Do

After a daring escape from a prisoner of war camp in South Africa, Churchill became something of a hero back at home in Britain, helping him to become MP for Oldham in the General Election of 1900.

In his early years as a politician, he was never afraid to disagree with his party leader and standing up for what he believed to be right led to him leaving the Conservative Party and joining the Liberals. His political career was well and truly underway and in 1911, Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, a role in which he continued to argue strongly for what he believed.

Catastrophic Failure

By 1914, war in Europe was looming and Churchill argued determinedly that Britain must get involved. However, with Churchill at the helm, a string of British naval failures in the first few months of war resulted in heavy losses, not least at Gallipoli, and he was forced to resign from his post – his reputation heavily stained.

This degree of failure would have ended the political career of many, but Churchill doggedly made his way back into office and returned to the Conservative Party, taking the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924, a post once held by his father.

Disaster Strikes Again

Churchill’s decision to restore a currency system that fixed the pound sterling’s value to a set quantity of gold – known as the Gold Standard – led to a collapse in export markets, and a general strike called by The Trades Union Congress brought Britain to a grinding halt. In 1929, Labour won the General Election and the Conservatives, along with Churchill, were out.

The following years became Churchill’s “wilderness years” with Conservative Party leaders largely ignoring him, including his warnings over the gathering strength of Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Walking with Destiny

In 1939, Britain declared war against Germany and Churchill was plucked from exile to resume his role as First Lord of the Admiralty. By 1940, Britain and the Allies were losing the war, leading to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s resignation. Churchill stepped up to the post, also taking responsibility for the war effort as Minister of Defence. In his book, The Second World War, published in six volumes from 1948-53, he wrote, “I felt as though I were walking with destiny and that all my past life had been a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

History shows us that Winston Churchill was indeed the right man for the job in Britain’s hour of need. His skills as an orator inspired an entire nation and raised the morale of a population during times of extreme hardship, and he led Britain to victory in 1945. Churchill’s success as a leader was the result of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm – an enthusiasm for politics that he never lost.

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Hillary Clinton: Breaking Barriers

Hillary Clinton Quotes

Hillary Clinton was the First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001 but there have been many more firsts in this famous First Lady’s life that have perhaps been overshadowed by events in her political career.

Born in 1947, Hillary has been known to say that the unusual spelling of her name is down to her mother naming her after mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary. Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay made history when they became the first men to scale Mount Everest, but, as this event took place in 1953, it suggests that this was not the case. In fact, it has since been suggested that the Everest-conquering namesake version of events became a family story created by her mother to inspire greatness in her young daughter – and it would appear to have had great effect.

High Aspirations

During her school days, Hillary was greatly inspired by NASA and the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At around the age of fourteen, she wrote a letter to NASA to ask what she would need to do to become an astronaut – an indication that her mother’s story had indeed inspired her to achieve great things – but the reply she received informed her that women were not accepted on the training program. In high school, Hillary was class vice president in her junior year but lost her battle against two boys for class presidency in her senior year. At the time, one of the boys said to her, “You are really stupid if you think a girl can be elected president”. This was back in the 60s, but it seems that these happenings sparked her on-going drive to tackle gender inequality and her belief that staying positive and optimistic is the key to knocking down barriers and getting to wherever you want to go in life… “There is a sense that things, if you keep positive and optimistic about what can be done, do work out.”

In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine that speaking up for women’s rights was considered controversial when Hillary Clinton made her famous “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech as First Lady of the United States at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, but her words are considered to have been key in terms of empowering women. However, it was another speech given in 1969 that began Hillary’s string of firsts. As a student at Wellesley College, she became the first student ever to give a speech during commencement festivities; a speech that earned her a seven-minute standing ovation. She then graduated from Yale Law School in 1973, one of only 27 females in a class of 235, and became the only female on the President Nixon impeachment investigation team. In 1975, Hillary moved to Arkansas where she join the Rose Law Firm. By 1978, she had co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and been appointed chair of the Legal Service Corporation, the first female to hold the position, and then in 1979, she became the Rose Law Firm’s first female partner.

High Expectations

Hillary’s string of firsts didn’t end there. In 1986, she was the first female to join Wal-Mart’s board of directors, and in 1987, she became the first chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession. In 2001, Hillary was sworn in as U.S. Senator from New York, the first female to hold this position, also making her the first ever female to be elected into office after serving as First Lady.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s dream of breaking through “that highest, hardest glass ceiling” to become the first female U.S. president may have been dashed, but her achievements continue to inspire women around the globe. Back in 1969 when she gave her speech at Wellesley College, Hillary said, The question about possible and impossible was one that we brought with us to Wellesley four years ago. We arrived not yet knowing what was not possible. Consequently, we expected a lot… We arrived at Wellesley and we found, as all of us have found, that there was a gap between expectation and realities. But it wasn’t a discouraging gap and it didn’t turn us into cynical, bitter old women at the age of 18.” She has maintained throughout her life a sense that things, if you keep positive and optimistic about what can be done, do work out.

We all face challenges in life and all of us, at times, question what’s possible, but something we can all learn from Hillary’s achievements is that it’s only by remaining positive and optimistic that we can make change happen and make the seemingly impossible possible. In her words, “You have just one life to live. It is yours. Own it, claim it, live it, do the best you can with it.”

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Marissa Mayer: Creating Impact at Yahoo

Marissa Mayer Quotes

Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo in 2012, a post she stepped into after thirteen years at Google where she had been one of the company’s earliest employees and the first female engineer. On arrival at Yahoo, she became the youngest woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company, and while her success in this post is up for debate, there can be no denying that Marissa is someone who’s not afraid to step up to a challenge, or in her words, “I always did something I was a little a little not ready to do.”

Growing up, Marissa describes herself as “painfully shy”, yet she pushed through this to become captain of her high school debate team, Spanish club, and pom-pom squad, alongside taking part in a wide range of extracurricular activities including ballet and piano lessons. Perhaps overcoming her natural shyness taught her how to do what she was “a little not ready to do” but she says, “I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough. Sometimes that’s a sign that something really good is about to happen. You’re about to grow and learn a lot about yourself.”

Being in the Room

Marissa graduated from Stanford University with degrees in symbolic systems and computer science. She had intended to major in paediatric neuroscience but switched to symbolic systems – a combined study of computer science, philosophy, linguistics and psychology – which she describes as “studying the brain without the gore.” After graduation, she had any number of job options open to her but chose to sign up with Google because she felt the company offered greater opportunities to be a part of the decision-making process. She explains her choice by saying, I also interviewed at McKinsey, which is a great company, but I had some friends who went there, and they said, ‘Well, we give the presentations, and then we leave the room, and the executives make the decisions’ … I just felt like at Google I could be in the room. Even if you fail, you learn so much by being where the decision is made.”

When Marissa joined Yahoo, the company was struggling, and the first thing she wanted to do was change the culture. She wanted the people working there to feel valued, and she wanted to attract new recruits who would feel excited about joining the company, so she spent the first few weeks listening to people and building a picture of what could be done to generate a sense of pride in the workplace. She says, “One of the things that make people proud to work somewhere is having insights into how decisions are made.”

Go Time

Marissa made herself available to talk to people in the cafeteria every day, and she remembers on one occasion soon after her arrival, an employee approached her and asked, “Is it go time?” Having only been there for a few days, she made it clear she wanted him to stay and give her a chance, but he then let her know she’d misunderstood him; when he said “go”, he meant it as in getting to work. He explained that he was frustrated by the amount of time it took for management to make decisions, saying he had ideas he wanted to put forward.

This was exactly the attitude she was looking for and she opened up a weekly forum to encourage all employees to put forward their ideas which were then shared with the board, helping to demystify management decisions and create transparency across the company in the process. While at Google, Marissa learned from personal experience that being “in the room” and being a part of the decision-making process helped to generate a sense of trust between employees and the board which, in turn, helped a sense of pride to develop. Her leadership style and the decisions she has made have been criticized by many but she has her own way of dealing with this, saying, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is there are always a lot of good choices, and then there’s the one you pick, commit to, and make great.”

As of this writing, Yahoo has been sold to Verizon and Marissa will not be a part of the future rebranded company called “Oath” (merging the capabilities of Yahoo and AOL). While Marissa’s future is uncertain, a leader as bold and innovative as Marissa is sure to find her way. We all have moments at work and in life when we feel a little not ready, but just remember, it’s pushing through those moments that helps you to grow – and it could be a sign that something really good is about to happen!