To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership — not only on the movie set where I learned it, but everywhere.
— Ronald Reagan
If there is one thing everyone could agree on when it came to Ronald Reagan, the man had vision. There is no question he had a vision in every leadership role he ever held. In the Screen Actors Guild, as Governor of California, and as President the man always had a vision of where he was going, and he held to that vision. As a leader, no one ever questioned his vision. Obviously many questioned the wisdom of the vision, the wisdom of the journey, the course he had chosen, but no one ever wondered if he had an objective.
Leaders have to be able to translate vision into action. Not their own action, but action from those they are leading. Communicating the vision in a way that results in true buy-in is a critical element. Many leaders can communicate, but it is a special few who can actually hold on to that vision AND see it become a reality. Selling the idea is one thing; having others take action is an entirely different issue.
As a leader, Reagan was undeniably gifted at outlining his vision and sharing that vision with others. At its core, the vision never changed. It was direct, concise, and easily defined. He had a very unique ability to envision a goal and communicate that vision to a very broad, diverse, and often splintered audience in such a way that his vision became theirs. He was able to gain buy-in – sometimes very cautious, begrudging buy-in, but buy-in nonetheless.
While grasping and holding a vision is easy in theory, it becomes much harder in the face of adversity. And that is a fundamental requirement of great leaders – they must hold on to their vision. Never waver, and never doubt. It is interesting in a way, the other great leaders of the Reagan Presidency, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, also never wavered; they never doubted. Opinion pools, protests, challenges, tough times – nothing shook their core vision. And yet their ability to lead was complimented by their ability to work with others, to build relationships and partners, to find a path that was acceptable to all.
It has been refreshing to hear the stories and read of the celebrations of what would have been President Reagan’s 100th birthday. Time seems to heal many wounds and temper grudges, even in politics. Having a vision, holding that vision, and communicating that vision to others – call it the Ronald Reagan gift for all leaders.