A Lesson in Courage
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer
I am currently working through a book by Bret Baier titled Three Days in Moscow. The book is part of Baier’s Three Days series and focuses on the life of Ronald Reagan and a speech he gave to students at Moscow State University on May 31, 1988. As I absorb this amazing book, I see examples of courage that I have found very inspiring. Examples that, until this book, I don’t believe were ever reported. President Reagan, a man maligned by the press and misunderstood by so many, stayed true to who he was; stayed true to the just cause he was called to pursue; and in so doing, changed the world. Here are the four key characteristics of our 40th President’s courage.
Know who you are. Reagan’s first awakening occurred when he was the president of The Screen Actor’s Guild. In a time when Senator McCarthy was holding hearings to investigate communism in America, Reagan was called to testify on how the Soviets were infiltrating Hollywood. Holding to his convictions, he refused to name names. It wasn’t his place to investigate his colleagues but rather to represent his industry. Reagan realized that he would be attacked and criticized if he ever was connected with Soviet Sympathizers. Yet, when a young actress named Nancy Davis had her reputation questioned because of the actions of another “Nancy Davis,” he stepped up and defended the up-and-coming actress. Reagan’s motivation was to defend those who couldn’t defend themselves. To fill in the gap and add value to others.
Know why you do what you do. At the same time, Reagan discovered, as Bret Baier noted, “the danger of the Soviet’s attempts to undermine American democracy and commit espionage against the US government.” This awareness, this calling, would percolate in Reagan’s heart and mind for the rest of his life. This calling convinced him to run for the presidency, stand firm against criticism, bald-faced lies, and go against his own advisors and speak the truth. Reagan was openly criticized in the media as a warmonger and someone too simple to lead the free world, and through it all, he saw a world in desperate need of freedom and opportunity. His unwillingness to remain silent when faced with injustice energized him to continue forward.
Lead with compassion. Compassion was always foremost in Reagan’s heart. When he was the spokesman for General Electric, he traveled to each GE site and met with the hourly employees. Over an eight-year period, Reagan visited 139 plants, met with over 250,000 employees, and listened to their unique life stories. His compassion allowed him to connect with ordinary Americans and build an awareness of their hopes, dreams, and concerns—critical insight for later in his career.
Stay the course. Perhaps the most amazing example of courage I learned from Three Days in Moscow is how often Reagan needed to go against the “wisemen” in Washington. The greatest example was his West Berlin speech. All of his advisors, including the West Germans, warned that he should not mention the Berlin Wall or reference it in any way. They were concerned that it would upset the Soviets. Well, stay the course he did. While standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, he uttered those famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Where would the world be had Ronald Reagan not stayed the course with compassion and courage? If you would like to hear more about the leadership lessons I found in Bret Baier’s book, please join Marisa Norcross and me for Episode 226 of The Next Page podcast.