Leadership of Former President Ronald Reagan Thesis

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¶ … leadership of former President Ronald Reagan. Specifically it will study this leader and describe his development, methods of influencing others, values, traits, and behavior. Ronald Reagan, motion picture actor, politician, one of the best-loved presidents in recent history, was known as a great leader and political leader. How he reached leadership excellence is a study in human nature and tenacity, along with a little bit of the age-old American dream.

Born in the tiny town of Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Wilson Reagan came into the world on February 6, 1911. When Reagan was still a boy, Nelle and John Reagan, his parents, moved to nearby Dixon, Illinois, and he attended Dixon High School, graduating in 1928. His education began at a young age, however. One biographer notes, "His mother taught him to read when he was still a small child, gave him books and newspapers, and called in neighbors to demonstrate his precocity. He read the papers closely most of his life and showed a keen interest in national and world events" (Cannon 26). He continued to Eureka College, where he studied sociology and economics, and played football until he graduated in 1932. After college, his first job was the radio announcer for the Chicago Cubs baseball team as a result of his strong, clear voice. Reagan received a motion picture contract, largely because of his voice and athletic build, and then he moved to Hollywood, were he began his well-known and lengthy career in film and television. The rest of course, is history.

The definition of a leader, taken in the most basic terms, is one who leads others, or has command of others. However, there is far more to being a leader than simply commanding or controlling those who follow. A true leader is one who leads by example, who nurtures, encourages, and enables his or her followers to make their own decisions, stumble and sometimes fall, but always get up and try again. A real leader is one who inspires others to join, and influences others, but does not use their power for personal gain. They inspire others to be the best they can be because they are the best they can be. Real leaders are not afraid to make mistakes themselves, because mistakes help one grow and learn, and no true leader is stagnant and above learning more. Reagan was a true leader because the group he influenced was a large portion of the American people, and they still remember him as a great leader today. He helped America unite at a time when the economy was floundering, and he helped the world unite as he met with Soviet leaders and urged the unification of Berlin and eventually the entire Soviet block. His influence continued long after his presidency as the Soviet Union dissolved, and his influence continues today, as political leaders invoke his memory in their own campaigns. The American people seem to revere him in a way that rises above human to superhuman, a kind of presidential "god" that has no rival, and so, his leadership is still fresh with them, and still moves many of them to great memories and legacy.

Reagan acted on the stage, but as president, he acted on the world's stage, attempting to bring the world together while solving domestic problems like the economy. He built up national defense, pleased a large segment of the population with his defense spending and overall outlook, and created great loyalty in his followers, something that lingers today. To prove his importance as a leader, his funeral attracted over 3,700 people, many of them the world's most prominent leaders and diplomats. A Washington Post reporter writes, "Beneath the towering vaults of Washington National Cathedral, about 3,700 mourners -- leaders of government, heads of state, captains of industry, brokers of power -- sat rapt as the 40th president, who died last Saturday at 93, was commemorated by his admirers and commended to his God" (Von Drehle). The true measure of a leader is also how he is remembered. America and much of the world loved Ronald Reagan, making him a leader for the ages. A true leader leaves a legacy behind, too, and Reagan certainly accomplished that during his time as President of the United States.

No one is born a leader, and Ronald Reagan was certainly no exception. However, many people are born with the qualities that can make them a leader, and Reagan seems to be one of those. When he was a young man, still in school, he worked as a lifeguard on the Rock River, which ran through his hometown of Dixon. He saved seventy-seven people during his stint, making him somewhat of a local legend long before he started down the road to the White House (Cannon 7). While a leader and a hero are not the same thing, they often go hand in hand, and Reagan certainly was a hero long before he became a leader.

The family moved a lot when Reagan was young, leading the youngster to become self-reliant and strong. When the Great Depression hit his family, both his father and his brother were out of work and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (FDR) New Deal was the only thing that put them back to work. As a result, Reagan became a lifelong fan of FDR, and in his first election when he was 21, he registered as a Democrat and voted for FDR (Cannon 26-27). In fact, he remained a Democrat through most of the Truman years. He would later change his politics and his party, but he would never forget his admiration of FDR, another of the world's greatest leaders, and it is clear FDR inspired at least some of his own leadership decisions.

In 1938, after he had only spent two years in Hollywood, Reagan was asked to join the Screen Actors Guild board of directors. This was unusual, but clearly, Reagan's leadership skills were already becoming noticeable. Many biographers believe these skills began when Reagan was in college at Eureka. Biographer Cannon continues, "In his freshman year Reagan took a key role in a student strike protesting the dropping of classes that cost some students the credits they needed to graduate. The strike, Reagan's first political activity, did not accomplish its stated objective but led to the resignation of Eureka's president" (Cannon 9). While it is not known for sure, this early role as a leader could have had a powerful effect on the young man. He discovered he had a talent for bringing people together in a common purpose, and leading them to work toward that common goal. He did not gain the restoration of the classes, but he helped gain change that seemed to have been necessary to the college, and the foundations of leadership were born. Later, after he became President of the Screen Actors' Guild, he would lead a similar strike against the motion picture studios that would be more successful, and cement his foundations as a leader.

Just as Reagan's Hollywood film career was coming to a close in 1954, another stepping-stone to his eventual leadership role took place. General Electric (GE) hired Reagan to become a spokesperson for the company. He hosted a TV show, but more importantly, he traveled the U.S. ten weeks a year, speaking to Americans about GE and its products.

Biographer Cannon notes, "By Reagan's account, he gave as many as fourteen speeches a day and spent two of the eight years he was under contract to GE on the road, traveling by train to every one of the company's plants and meeting all of the company's 250,000 employees" (Cannon 32). Thus, Reagan was becoming known for being more than just an actor, he was becoming a familiar face to people around the country, and his speeches were already becoming notable. These are two more elements of his history and background that would eventually support his leadership role.

During this time, he began supporting Republicans and changing his political views. He registered Republican in 1962, and began talking about his beliefs as he traveled the country for GE. This eventually landed him in hot water with GE executives, and they did not renew his contract in 1962. However, his eight years with GE had improved his speaking skills and brought him to the attention of conservative Republicans. Cannon writes, "But Reagan, although out of work, was in heavy demand as a public speaker for business groups and conservative causes. In 1964 he campaigned for Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater" (Cannon 35). He also gave a rousing television speech that helped raise over $1 million for Goldwater's campaign, and it brought him immediate political attention from the media and the people. Cannon continues, "Goldwater was buried in a political landslide the following Tuesday, but in a half hour of television Reagan had transformed himself from a fading celebrity into the nation's most important conservative politician" (Cannon 36). Thus, Reagan's life was sending him down… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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