Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator 

"Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts."
-Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address 1989


Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Connection Between Communication and Leadership

          Can someone be a successful leader without well developed communication skills? It certainly doesn't seem that they can exist separate from each other. Real Communication: An Introduction defines leadership as, "The ability to influence others' behaviors and thoughts toward a productive end" (260). Communication is defined as, "The process by which individuals use symbols, signs, and behaviors to exchange information" (4). So there doesn't seem to be a direct connection between the two definitions at face value; however, after some digging, it is apparent how the two are connected and how they are very interdependent. 
          The definition of leadership includes the part about "influencing others". Here lies the connection between leadership and communication. If leadership is "the ability to influence others", then communication must play a role in that influence. The authors of Real Communication: An Introduction say, "One of the most important functions of communication is the ability to influence people" (8). Someone cannot be a successful leader, by this definition, without having the ability to influence, and influencing others is one of the most important functions of communication. By these definitions, leadership cannot exist without communication.

Reference: O'Hair, Dan, and Mary Wiemann. Real Communication: An Introduction. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. Print.

Ronald Reagan's Leadership Through a Communication Lens

          Ronald Reagan was regarded by many, friend and foe alike, as the 'Great Communicator'. He frequently released letters, gave speeches and  joked with his friends and supporters. In the article printed by BBC America entitled "Reagan's Mixed White House Legacy", the author describes Reagan as " the best communicator the White House had ever had and, for a while, [he] made America feel good about itself again." 
          Reagan was always labelled an optimist. His cheerfulness and optimism can be detected in several of his speeches and interactions. The article also reports on the time when Reagan got shot. He quipped to the surgeons, "I hope you're all republicans." This cheerfulness helped Reagan immensely with communicating. People naturally want to follow people who are cheerful and optimistic. We are more willing to do something for someone who is optimistic than someone who does not see hope in the future or hope in the people of the country. Reagan had both. He once said, "I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life."
          Robert Collins is the author of the book Transforming America: Politics and Culture During the Reagan Years. He spends a good chunk of his book discussing the man that Ronald Reagan was and how his personality impacted his administration. Collins writes that at one point, David Gergen, Reagan's director of communications sad, "He [Reagan] had a quiet assurance about life, so that he seemed to glide, serene in his belief that everything would tun out for the better. People felt good about being around him, as if everything would be all right for them, too" (53-54). 
          Collins later writes this about the eighties: "With so many competing truth claims vying for attention and validation in the chaotic postmodern culture, the pursuit of the truth was chimerical. In the postmodern world, everything was 'true' - and so was nothing" (149). With this description of this time in history, it is logical that people would be attracted to Reagan. He was someone who was certain when things seemed uncertain. He is described as someone who was reassuring and calm. In a time where everything seems to be changing and things that used to be accepted as truth are being questioned, of course a leader and communicator like Reagan is appealing. He communicated with clear, simple language and never minced words. He tried very hard not to be ambiguous or foggy in what he was speaking about. He was for all intents and purposes the right man at the right time.

Excerpts taken from: Collins, Robert M. Transforming America: Politics and Culture During the Reagan Years. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007. Print.