From a ride in Ronald Reagan's limo, lessons on authenticity
On my first limousine ride alone with Ronald Reagan as a senior aide, he told me how much his mother shaped his beliefs. One thing about President Reagan, you knew what he believed in. Many voters may have a difficult time finding such rock-solid conviction in Romney or Obama.
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No deal! To his credit, though, he tried it. For one day. After that he said, “Thank you, but it’s just not me. I have to wear the shirt collars I am comfortable with – even if they do expose my Adam’s apple and make me look older.”Skip to next paragraph
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Reagan, as a leader, was comfortable with himself, so people were generally comfortable with him. He was not unmindful of his mistakes, but he didn’t obsess about them. He was accorded the “Teflon” label because no matter what mistakes he made, most of them didn’t stick to him. But really, it was his attitude on the inside that caused criticisms to only temporarily affect his popularity, his outside.
He was not prone to personal pique, and he didn’t take things personally. He was able to live that famous saying that sat front and center on his desk, “There is no limit to how far a man can go or what he can achieve if he does not care who gets the credit.” And he didn’t care.
3. The power of nonverbal and verbal communication. It is often said that you win your audience within the first eight seconds in which you enter a room, and you may lose them in the first eight seconds of your speech.
True, Reagan had honed his nonverbal communication skills on studio back lots and under stage lights, yet many of these moves were natural and as fluid for him as when he was a lifeguard or a running back – just as was his motioning of me to the correct side of the motorcade limo.
Early in the first term, the way Reagan entered the East Room at the beginning of White House press conferences was altered to fill a camera lens – the opening televised frame of the president striding down the “cross hall” on the long red carpet and up to the podium to provide a sense of anticipation of the important messages to come.
These types of moves may be attributed to theatrics and handlers, but they are all essential elements of Reagan’s leadership style and reflected his reverence for the country. And because of that, they worked – not through artifice but naturalness.
Fundamentally it is important to relate the ability of the “great communicator” back to his ever-present belief system.
When Reagan honored the fallen Challenger shuttle astronauts and repeated those famous lines from John G. Magee’s poem “High Flight,” you had a sense he could feel “the surly bonds of earth” loosening – because he did.
He lived in that type of world. He believed, as the poem concludes, that those who had perished on that space mission would “touch the face of God.”
Reagan's speaking skills were directly related to his beliefs in this way: He knew what he believed, and what he spoke was what he believed. There is no better test or proof of a leader’s ability to communicate than that.
James S. Rosebush was a deputy assistant to President Reagan and also chief of staff to first lady Nancy Reagan.