Profiles in Persuasion: Reagan’s Vision

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In this section, we’ll be looking at how important having a clear and well-articulated vision is for leaders. As our example, we’ll focus on President Ronald Reagan, who served from 1981-1989.

Ronald Reagan is one of the defining presidents in American history. In fact, to this day, many Republicans still identify themselves as Reagan Republicans, aligning their policies and policy preferences with those of the former president. Why did Reagan have such a profound impact on American politics, and on his own Republican Party? In large part, it’s because of his vision.

What do I mean by vision? Vision identifies where it is you want to go. Beyond a simple tagline to repeat in a speech among voters, vision outlines the way you view the world. It gives others a glimpse through your eyes. And a good leader invites others to join in that view.

Reagan won the presidency in what would be a defining decade for the world. Hindsight tells us that the Cold War was coming to a close, but that was not obvious at the time. The Soviet Union was finding a foothold in the Middle East, as America licked its wounds from humiliating defeats on the heels of Vietnam. America seemed to struggle as the Soviets expanded their capabilities in military technology.

But Reagan articulated a vision, one where the Americans and Soviets could come together and end the mutual threat each posed to the other. The key to this, though, was negotiating through strength. Only by ensuring the United States could utterly cripple the Soviet Union militarily, with mutually assured destruction, could both parties realistically discuss ratcheting down hostilities. Largely, these goals were met, as Reagan (and then George H.W. Bush) negotiated and evolved the superpowers’ arsenals from offensive to defensive.

Again, the key was Reagan’s vision: he saw a world where nations sought to protect themselves more than to project their will onto weaker neighbors. Without articulating that vision, it would have been impossible for the United States to coalesce behind a single goal. In practice, developing a clear vision is as much for you and your allies as it is for those you compete against, in business and in Cold Wars.

Reagan also created a vision for the domestic affairs of the United States. Campaigning on an improved economy, in 1984 Reagan unveiled a now-famous ad entitled Morning in America. It captured the essence of his appeal: now, things are better than they used to be; people are working again and life is good.

This domestic policy was spearheaded by “Reaganomics,” what some call trickle-down. The principles of Reaganomics are familiar to many who have heard a Republican running for office in the past thirty years: lower taxes, lower regulation and lower government spending. Reagan’s vision of a smaller federal government was easy to describe and brought many on-board. His 1984 re-election was one of the largest landslides in presidential history.

It’s clear from his tenure that Reagan’s vision was a key component of his success. Outlining your view of the world, and how to get to a better future, is an essential aspect of any leader’s toolbox. We can all learn from the example Reagan set in that regard.

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