Ronald Reagan believed that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. He worked to find the best and brightest people for each area of his administration to create a brain trust around him that would contribute to his ability to make informed, intelligent decisions. He wasn’t afraid to be outshined, but rather he knew that the key to his effectiveness and success would be having leaders in their respective fields join him and support him in his vision for America. Rather than being intimidated by those with expertise and experience, he was motivated by it, inspired by it and thrived on it.
When Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States in 1980, rather than limiting himself to see who was already there in Washington, D.C., or even automatically rewarding those who had served on his campaign staff or transition team, he committed himself to expanding the reach of his recruitment for his initial cabinet and White House senior staff. He looked for experts across the nation within their various fields. He appealed to their patriotism and persuaded them to give back to their country by sharing their time, their talents, and their expertise with the Reagan administration and work in the White House for a few years, being part of reviving America. President Reagan did this with great success and was able to bring people to Washington, D.C., with unique skills and experiences upon which he would rely heavily and from which he would draw extensively during the challenging years ahead.
By fully engaging and empowering an exceptional team of widely qualified, deeply committed experts, President Reagan ambitiously sought to return America to economic prosperity and pursue the end of oppressive regimes worldwide. He was able to do so with great success thanks to his ability to assemble a team that would be loyal to him and committed to his vision for a revitalized America and a freer world, while bringing their unique and vast experience to the table.
In a move which surprised many, President-elect Reagan even reached out to James Baker, who had managed the presidential campaigns of both Gerald Ford in 1976 and George Bush in 1980, both of which had been in opposition to Ronald Reagan’s candidacy. Ronald Reagan, though, was able to look beyond any personal aspects of this decision and look to the expertise and effectiveness that James Baker embodied. This proved to be a wise decision, as James Baker is credited as having significant positive influence over the first term of the Reagan presidency, particularly domestically.
Ronald Reagan, using his self-deprecating humor, would be the first one to admit he wasn’t always an expert on everything. Yet he would surround himself with expertise, creating a powerful brain trust around him, allowing him to ultimately make informed, excellent decisions.
Through principled leadership and a strong sense of self, Ronald Reagan chose professional value over personal emotion and the country—and the world—benefitted greatly. President Reagan created a vision and set expansive goals. True leaders are not threatened by having smart people around them; they are empowered by it. That is true leadership.
By learning from Ronald Reagan and his example of how to assemble the best team, you can inspire loyalty and earn and keep greater commitment from those around you.
Image Used Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library: President Reagan and staff during a cabinet room meeting (from left to right) Secretary of State Alexander Haig, National Security Advisor Richard Allen, President Reagan, Deputy Secretary of State William Clark, Chief of Staff James Baker III and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger (5/28/81).