The political climate today is contentious and honestly, like you I’m sure, I have a hard time making sense of it. So when I share stories about and lessons from my experience with President Ronald Reagan, I do not share from a place of propping up a political party or a particular political figure. Rather, I share about Ronald Reagan as a person and as a leader, in life, and not just because he once was president of these United States.
I believe, even if Ronald Reagan never became a household name, even if he was never President of these United States, even if he never made it into the history books, Ronald Reagan would still be a legacy leader because fundamentally, at his core, he saw people as individuals and he was good to individuals.
What I appreciate most about my time with President Reagan was being able to observe him behind-the-scenes, when seemingly no one was watching.
In reality though, there is always someone watching, especially if you find yourself in a leadership position.
While I served in the post-presidential office of Ronald Reagan, everyday I would get the President’s schedule and upon seeing each day’s visitor list, I would try to act very normal.
Nonchalantly, I would saunter over to my office, shut the door behind me, ensure I was alone, then call my mom in a state of panic and excitement, and scream through the phone, “Mom! You have no idea who is coming in today!”
The visitor list would include people like Queen Elizabeth, Wayne Gretzky, Bo Derek, Tom Selleck. The list of visitors was a crazy mix of world leaders, athletes, thought leaders, etc.
Upon reflection and now in thinking about my own leadership legacy, the hallmark leadership attribute of Ronald Reagan is that he treated every individual exactly the same, no matter their clout. He extended goodness to every individual he encountered.
Beyond working in the post-presidential office, I was fortunate enough to keep the relationship with President Reagan going and eventually was able to introduce him to my family.
One of my favorite pictures is of my son, playing on the floor of President Reagan’s office. We have that picture in our home, with a letter written by President Reagan to Justin on the day Justin was born. The letter to Justin reads:
Dear Justin, Welcome. Your arrival is cause for great joy.
Trust in God. Believe in our Constitution. You will have a special life.
Ronald Reagan’s outlook - the reverence he had for the individual, the fact that he saw each and every person as special, unique, that their life and their story mattered - is what makes him a legacy leader, even without the presidential title.
President Reagan taught me, in real-life and in real-time, the individual matters.
Today, as leaders we are busy. We have full schedules. That is to be expected and that isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. Though, in the midst of the hustle, if we are to cultivate our leadership legacy, here are two things to think about when approaching people, all the people you encounter, today:
1. See Them - See people as individuals, not as a collective group, not as a commodity, and not as what they can do for you. See them for who they are as individuals; this will positively impact the way you interact with people in your life.
2. Treat Them with Goodness - Be good to people no matter their clout. Treat them with goodness, as individuals, no matter if their title is CEO, Prime Minister, or door man. Treat them exactly the same way you want to be treated even if you have no clout in someone else’s life.
Seeing and treating people as individuals is legacy leadership.
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