Reagan's first inaugural address

On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan stood before a crowd at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to deliver his inaugural address. The nation had just emerged from a decade of presidential scandal, international crises, and prolonged recession.

After brief opening remarks, President-elect Reagan cut to the chase:

These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people.

Reagan followed this blunt assessment with his vision for the days ahead:

We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding: we are going to begin to act, beginning today.

During the challenging times, the country needed a leader who could speak clearly, exude confidence, and lay out a solid plan. Political leanings aside, Reagan provided exactly that. As a sales leader, your influence is equally important and inspiring salespeople to follow the course you’ve set requires the same quality of leadership.

What you say matters

Reagan clearly stated what everybody already knew: The country was in trouble. Anything less and the people would’ve seen through it. Whether setting a vision, training your team, or delivering difficult news, it’s important for leaders to communicate clearly. This is no time for a soft-shoe routine. Salespeople know when leaders are trying to push something they don’t believe in or dodge a question.

Own the state of the business, no matter what. This is important whether you’re cleaning up someone else’s mess, or changing a course you previously set. Owning the mistakes you’ve made increases your credibility (provided you demonstrate your ability and willingness to learn from the past).

Use cause and effect language to state the situation along with the solution. Tell it like it is or risk compromising your effectiveness. Realistically assessing the situation and clearly setting expectations empowers team members instead of leading them to uncertainty (which is harder to handle than difficult news).

How you act matters

An unstable emotional state is like a virus. When you’re sick, you stay home from the office not just to rest and recover, but also to prevent the spread. Take the same caution when you’re struggling with negativity or lacking enthusiasm.

If you’re having a bad day, it’s easy to let it affect you. Unfortunately, those effects aren’t limited to you—how you carry yourself influences the whole team. They’re looking to you to set the direction and the tone. Time to put on your game face.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be real (people are drawn to leaders who demonstrate vulnerability). It’s about being aware of how your personal highs and lows can impact your team so you can communicate constructively.

What you do matters

In Fort Worth, Texas, where I’m from, there’s no shortage of guys wearing boots and cowboy hats while driving trucks capable of pulling thousands of pounds of animals. But if every one of those guys also had a ranch, there wouldn’t be enough land for all of them (even in Texas). The image they project doesn’t match their lives.

Leaders can’t afford to be all hat, no cattle. We’ve talked about how important it is to deliver your message effectively and to have your game face on. But it’s in your ability to walk it out every day where the rubber meets the road. If you can’t perform and follow through, the best-crafted message delivered with just the right tone will fall flat. You’ll quickly pick up a reputation for being insincere and lacking integrity.

As a leader, you set the tone. Reagan’s honest description of the country’s state would’ve created alarm by itself. But by stating the situation clearly and following it confidently with a solution, he inspired people to look ahead with hope rather than deflating their spirits. In every interaction, you have the ability to do the same. “With great power comes great responsibility.”