Ronald Wilson Reagan was one of our most influential presidents ever. He was an empowering leader who encouraged his staff members to make decisions at their level.
In his latest book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, Colin Powell discusses his service as National Security Adviser under President Ronald Reagan. The chapter is entitled “Squirrels” and it relates one of Powell’s many encounters with the President.
In the Oval office, Powell was briefing the President on issues brewing between the State Department and The Department of Defense. After providing a detailed and complex analysis, he feared he had lost the President’s interest. He spoke louder and added more detail hoping to regain the President’s undivided attention; a decision had to be made TODAY!
Suddenly, the President exclaims, “Colin, Colin. The squirrels just came and picked up the nuts I put out for them this morning.” As the President settled back into his chair, General Powell decided the meeting was over.
Back in his West Wing office, Powell reflected on the morning’s event. After reflecting, Powell made the following observations:
- Reagan put enormous trust in his staff. He believed in delegating authority and responsibility and he trusted his staff to do the right thing.
- The President was willing to listen and would always do so. However, he wanted problems solved at the lowest level. The President only needed to solve “Commander in Chief” problems.
- Creating and maintaining mutual trust and accountability are essential to the success of your organization.
- Always communicate with your leaders and keep them informed but never ask them to solve problems you were hired to solve.
One of Powell’s most treasured mementos is an autographed picture of himself and President Reagan. It was inscribed, “Dear Colin. If you say so, I know it must be right.”
Do you empower leaders in your organization? Do you trust others to do the right thing? Can they trust you to do the right thing?