So it’s worth looking at Reagan’s leadership, and three key ways in which authenticity defined it – all on display in that motorcade ride:
1. Unshakable adherence to values. Two words often used to describe Reagan were optimistic and stubborn. Note that he not only had a belief system (for example, optimism), he also adhered to it (stubborn).
Reagan believed the adage that people like you better if you tell them their virtues than their vices. He saw the good in just about everyone. Americans responded well to Reagan telling them that they were good and that they were a part of a grand experiment to benefit the world.
His basic belief system was born in two parts. The first was the moral architecture built in his early childhood. In his limo that morning, Reagan told me how greatly his mother had influenced him. She was an occasional preacher, a Bible teacher, and expounder.
His early values provided him with an internal compass he consulted almost unconsciously. These beliefs weren’t bracketed by a specific creed or organized religion; they were his own, in the way that Jefferson handpicked moral ingredients that made up his belief system.
The second part was developed as an adult in his political journey from union organizer to staunch conservative. This “Part B” focused on what he came to believe was the correct fundamental role of government – small and nonintrusive – and the primary position of the private sector. Hence, his interest in public-private partnerships.
Reagan’s beliefs made him regular, honest, confident, and repetitive, but somehow not boring. His constituents knew what to expect. People understood his message. What you saw with Reagan was what you got. Nothing dauntingly intellectual, yet purposefully inspirational.
2. A high degree of self-knowledge. Teleprompters cannot hide gaps in self-knowledge. The camera lens magnifies every element of personal insecurity. I remember trying to convince the president to wear higher cut collars on his dress shirts to provide a more youthful appearance.