You’re Never Too Old to Lead

Imagine that you are Ronald Reagan when he was 65 years old. You have just spent the last 20 years of your life dedicated to implementing a policy of political leadership that you believe will help your country and the world. All of your efforts to touch hearts and garner support for your vision comes down to a single vote at the national convention in 1976. The vote is 1,187 to 1,070 … and you lose.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan holding hands and smiling at Camp David
Ronald Reagan at Camp David with Nancy Reagan, Photo courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library

Smile When They Say You’re Too Old to Lead

Excerpt from Lead Like Reagan – Principles of Dynamic Leadership:
One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson is when he said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, but by his acts.’ And ever since he told me that…

                           – Ronald Reagan, Annual Salute to Congress Dinner, February 1981.

Losing the Primary at Age 65

This is what happened to Ronald Reagan. He had just lost the convention vote to be the nominee for president of the United States to incumbent president Gerald Ford. He was 65 years old and had the financial security to retire in style. He had a large family, lots of friends, good health and many interests. He loved to spend time on his beautiful ranch in California, riding horses and working chores. I often wonder if Ronald Reagan was tempted to ride off into the sunset and spend the rest of his days in well-earned retirement.Instead, he summoned the energy to put forth yet another campaign, and 4 years later became the oldest man to be elected President of the United States of America.

“Every one of us … has been put there for a reason”

Why did he do it? And why should we put forth the effort to establish one more relationship, or begin one more project, or create one more company?

Maybe Reagan was motivated by the notion of fulfilling the reason he was put on earth. In May of 1988 at Moscow State University he said this: “Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.”

Reagan had a respect for serving others and believed that we make a living by what we get – and a life by what we give.

And Reagan had a respect for those who served others. Both Reagan and Mother Theresa were 74 years old when he presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, at the White House in 1985. He said, “This is the first time I’ve given the Medal of Freedom with the intuition that the recipient might take it home, melt it down and turn it into something that can be sold to help the poor.”

Mother Theresa would go on to live another 12 years, accomplishing incredible things throughout the world.

Reagan did not associate maturity with age. At his commencement address to the young college graduates at Eureka College in 1982, Reagan said, “Maturity is a matter of becoming comfortable with yourself with the world around you as time moves on and circumstances change.” Ronald Reagan certainly saw many circumstances change over his long life.

Smiling at His Age

Reagan liked to make fun of his age, as he did on his birthday in 1986: “I did turn seventy-five today, but remember, that’s only twenty-four Celsius.”

And when he signed into law the Alternative Motor Fuels Act of 1988 Reagan said, “This bill is a landmark in the quest for alternative forms of energy. And believe me, when you’re my age, you just love hearing about alternative sources of energy.”

In reality, Reagan had a huge amount of energy. Many people half his age were unable to keep up with his physical regimen. Contrary to reports, and Reagan’s own self-effacing humor, Reagan never felt the need for taking naps. (On a side note, also contrary to other reports, he never wore makeup – even when acting, and he never dyed his hair.) But he did stay physically active each day, whether doing physical work-outs in the White House or working hard at his ranch.

In his 70’s Ronald Reagan seemed a young man, both physically and mentally. And, when the matter of age came up, he promised not to make a campaign issue out of his opponent’s youth and inexperience. After that, nobody else did either.

You’re Never Too Old to Lead

Lead Like Reagan – Principles of Dynamic Leadership investigates the leadership techniques that Ronald Reagan followed to become president of the United States at the age of 70 and one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century.

For more of my articles on President Reagan, click here.    

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