The Great Communicator


You may have noticed a little excitement on the other side of the pond, specifically in Iowa. The starting gun’s been fired and the 2016 Presidential race is officially under way.

So a quick quiz question. Name the three Republican front runners and the two leading Democrats. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. That’s easy. That old guy – Bernie something? The young one from Florida. And Ted something? Didn’t he win in Iowa?

Yes he did. Ted Cruz is the one you’re trying to think of. He beat The Donald and Marco Rubio. And Hillary beat Bernie Sanders. Just. 701 precincts to 697.

You’ll soon know everything there is to know about them – because on November 8th, one of them will become arguably the most powerful person in the world (subject to a small discussion with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping). Barack Obama will voluntarily give up power and one of the five mentioned will find him or herself sitting behind the desk where the buck most emphatically stops. POTUS 45 will be in office.

I’m fascinated by American politics for two reasons. First of all I now go to Denver every year – and thanks to The Alternative Board I think of a great many Americans as friends. The second reason is simple: how can such an energetic, vibrant, enterprising country produce such consistently underwhelming candidates?

I was born in 1973 – more or less a year before Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat finally put paid to Tricky Dicky. He was followed by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Then came ‘the Great Communicator’ – to be followed by the Bush/Clinton years and the current incumbent.

How many of them have impressed me? Probably only one: Ronald Reagan.

ronald-reagan

Was he the brightest President of my lifetime? Absolutely not.

Did he have the best grasp of policy and foreign affairs? No way.

But was Reagan the best leader? Without question.

As I’ve written many times on this blog, leadership isn’t being the best, the smartest or the one with the most knowledge. Leadership is about leading. It’s about saying ‘that’s where we’re going’ and getting your team – or the American people – to follow you.

I’m always struck by the sharp Democrat/Republican divide when I visit the States. Changing allegiance seems a much more difficult step to take than in this country. And yet Reagan’s folksy style – and his ability to capture the spirit of the US – easily bridged the divide.

Reagan gave the impression that he wanted to be President because he believed; because – like Margaret Thatcher – he’d had a moment when he’d realised, ‘No-one else is going to do this: it has to be me.’

Too many politicians since – on both sides of the Atlantic – have sought to lead for all the wrong reasons. To mis-quote JFK, for what leadership will bring to them, not what they can bring to the people they seek to lead.

The parallels with business are obvious. Everyone running their own business has had their own ‘it has to be me’ moment: the moment when they knew they had to act. And as we all know – and as Reagan said after the Challenger disaster: “the future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted: it belongs to the brave.”

As this week’s title suggests, Reagan’s effectiveness as a speaker lead to him being known as ‘The Great Communicator.’ As Ken Khachigian, one of his former speechwriters says, what brought him the name was “his ability to educate his audience, to bring his ideas to life, by using illustrations and word pictures to make his arguments vivid.”

And that’s an exact parallel with business leadership. The title doesn’t make you a leader: neither does the biggest office or the reserved parking space. What makes a leader is the ability to bring your ideas to life – to paint a picture of the future your team can see and believe. And then they’ll follow you anywhere…

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4 comments

  1. simonjhudson · February 5, 2016

    Absolutely. But if you aren’t the brightest tool in the box, but are the one everyone prefers, then you better make damn sure that your surround yourself with the best and brightest craftsmen who can advise you as a leader and can turn the powerful rhetoric and vision great leaders communicate into meaningful (and moral) action.

  2. edreidyork · February 5, 2016

    That is very true! And it’s not always easy, is it, to find those “best and brightest” to surround yourself with?!

  3. tommortonharrogate · February 5, 2016

    I agree with Simon — Reagan’s leadership consisted not only in his communication, but his delegation of key decisions to a first class cabinet. As he said — No matter what time it is, wake me, even if it’s in the middle of a Cabinet meeting.

    Also surely Clinton was hardly “underwhelming”? And Carter’s contribution SINCE he was President have made a material benefit to mankind as a whole.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. edreidyork · February 5, 2016

    Tom – you’re right on Clinton (well, you’re right on all of it strictly speaking!); he could never be described as underwhelming – terrific charisma which in the end hindered as well as helped!

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