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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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Sheryl Sandberg: Leaning In to Leadership

“What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” 

Sheryl Sandberg is Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, founder of Leanin.org and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Previously, she held the position of Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google and prior to that, she was chief of staff at the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2016, Sheryl was ranked No.7 by Forbes in the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list, so why would this powerhouse of a woman ever need to ask herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”?    

Fear of Success

Well, it’s a question Sheryl has asked herself many times, and, as she sees it, she asks it because she’s a successful woman, and women are fearful of success. Her reasons for believing this to be so come from personal experience, and reach all the way back to her school days.

Having excelled in high school, her yearbook contained the words, “most likely to succeed”, but she had these removed because she feared they would make her unpopular and she wouldn’t get a date for the prom. She went on to win a scholarship in her first year of business school, but chose not to tell anyone about it, again through fear of this level of achievement reflecting badly on her and making her unpopular. In her own words, she says, “I instinctively knew that letting my academic performance become known was a bad idea … Being at the top of the class may have made life easier for my male peers, but it would have made my life harder.”  

Fear of Being Left on the Shelf

Sheryl’s parents were supporters of her academic achievement, but they also encouraged marriage. They believed it was important for a woman to marry young so that she’d get a “good man” before they were all taken, and the fear of being left on the shelf meant Sheryl was married at the age of 24. However, only a year later, she was divorced, leaving her with feelings of “massive personal and public failure”.

Fear had driven her decision to marry, and now divorce had left her so fearful of how she’d be perceived by others that despite having an MBA from Harvard and the offer of a job in Washington, she chose to move out to California in an attempt to escape the shame.

Fear of Not Being Liked

Fast forward to 2008 and her new role at Facebook. In her first performance review with new boss Mark Zuckerberg, he tells her that her efforts to be liked by everyone are holding her back. Sheryl realized he was right when he said that pleasing everyone wouldn’t change anything, and she now says, “Everyone needs to get more comfortable with female leaders, including female leaders themselves.”

This realization became the subject of a TED talk Sheryl gave in 2010. But, once again, fear of exposing herself and fear of telling her personal stories almost prevented her from giving the talk in the way she did. She stood backstage and agonized over whether to open up or stick to the safety of statistics and academic studies, but then she asked herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” She spoke honestly about the difficulties of being a career woman and a mother, and the heartache of having her young daughter cling to her leg and plead with her not to get onto the plane that day. The talk triggered an avalanche of positive feedback, spurring Sheryl to use her speech as the basis of her bestselling first book, Lean In. Amazingly, she has since said, “Everyone I knew told me that I shouldn’t do this book, or talk about this, since it would be bad for my business career.”   

What Would You Do?

Sheryl Sandberg could have listened to those negative voices of fear, but she asked herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” – and then she did it. All of us may find ourselves facing difficult situations or decisions we’re fearful of making as leaders, but next time, try asking yourself the same question – and then go do it.