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Be more like Reagan than Trump at work

Ronald Reagan in 1984, left and Donald Trump in 2015. Ronald Reagan in 1984, left and Donald Trump in 2015.
Ronald Reagan in 1984, left and Donald Trump in 2015. Photographs by Getty Images

When you’re running for President, there are two parts to building consensus. On one side, you need to inspire your constituency. But equally important is the art of diplomacy—after all, whoever wins the election will still have to negotiate with the other side as well as leaders of other nations.

The proclamations and condemnations of Republican front-runner Donald Trump have unified many conservative voters who’ve felt their voices have gone unnoticed during the Obama era. But soon enough, Trump will have to answer for his deeply polarizing views. “At some point, people start asking themselves, ‘Who do we actually want to be President?’” says John Pitney, a political scientist professor at Claremont McKenna College.

In fact, in a field of more than a dozen Republican candidates, no clear consensus-builder has emerged yet to convince voters of his or her potential in defeating a Democratic candidate. To do so, many “inspire to be [Ronald] Reagan,” says Pitney. “But not many are born with his skillsets.”

Reagan was the quintessential consensus builder, according to Pitney, because of his ability to fire up his constituency, while managing to connect with those on the other side of the aisle. He blended confidence in his own beliefs with a genial demeanor to negotiate with Democrats and foreign leaders.

Whether or not you agree with Reagan’s politics, that balance of energy and diplomacy is exactly what you need in order to get things done in your own office. Here’s how managing the right mix between the two can serve you well in your career.

Show you care to build a following

When we work, says Tiziana Casciaro, a professor of organizational behavior and HR management at the Rotman School of Business in Toronto, we pick our partners using two primary sets of criteria: competency and likability. But competency is important only to a point. Casciaro found that if someone is capable but a jerk, most people will avoid working with them. If the person is a likeable fool, however, other employees will look for small traces of competence in order to work closer.


If you want to get your co-workers on your side, devote time to getting to know them and figuring out where they come from. This will help you understand what they enjoy and increase how much they enjoy working with you. If you’re a manager with a likeable individual on your team, says Casciaro, use him to head new, important initiatives that require your team’s support for success.

Energize the constituency with your ideas

Positive vibes don’t mean plastic smiles and fake laughs. People want to trust their co-workers, which is difficult to do if you’re just paying lip service.

“We want to work with that person who will be there for us,” says Casciaro.

One of the best ways to develop goodwill is by energizing those around you with your own enthusiasm. After all, if you’re pushing the boundaries of people’s expectations, it could excite and infuse your co-workers. Others will want to follow, even as you make strides to help yourself stand out.

If your peers see the value and you’ve convinced them of its purpose, they will understand the opportunity in front of them. And with others on board, convincing your bosses of your idea’s value will be a lot easier too.

Show diplomacy whenever you can

One way for younger workers to stand out is by showing they can mediate between two opposing groups within the office. That kind of diplomacy goes a long way in the corporate world.

Take, for example, a young programmer who needs to develop a site that matches sales goals and marketing goals, but those two teams have a contentious relationship. But if the programmer can show she understands both sides’ needs and can lead them to a middle ground, management will notice. If you can “bring calm to the situation, then you can stand out,” says Joseph Magee, a professor of management at New York University.


“It’s particularly noteworthy for a junior person,” he adds. “Playing the mediator, nobody hates that person, and they tend to be well liked in that role because the group or the team makes better decisions when the person is around.”

If you’re proud of your mediating skills, make sure to ask for a 360 review when it’s time to discuss your performance. That way everyone you interact with in your organization can comment on how your consensus-making abilities have improved the business. By doing so, you’re allowing your consensus-building skills to drive your career forward. And if that falls short, you could still aim to be the next Donald Trump.