Leadership Styles of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush


The rich and exciting leadership history of the United States is cherished by political historians all over the world. The US has had 46 presidents, including Joe Biden, and 45 different individuals have led the country so far.

Among them, two names stand out – Ronald Wilson Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush. Their 1984 ticket was a formidable political force that saw them win the 50th quadrennial presidential election by a landslide. The ticket won 535 electoral votes and 58.8 percent of the popular vote.

Before seeking the highest office in the land, the two had served in different political offices. Reagan was elected Governor of California in 1967, an election he won by a large margin. Bush, on the other hand, ran for the position of US Senator for Texas but lost the election by 56 percent to 44 percent.

But what made the Reagan/Bush ticket so strong and successful? It boils down to their unique leadership styles. Here are brief synopses of their styles.

Reagan-Bush Leadership styles

Ronald Reagan’s leadership style was characterized by his ability to effectively communicate his desires to his subordinates. He was widely regarded as “The Great Communicator” by many experts in political history, emphasizing the central role that communication played in his leadership ability.

Reagan’s leadership style was consistent with the contingency model, which focuses on individual events and compares how a leader responds to the situation. In each of these situations, Reagan utilized his communication skills to inform his subordinates of their objectives.

This communication style can be evaluated using the path-goal theory and the situational leadership theory.

  •  Path-Goal Theory

Ronald Reagan may not have been aware of it at the time, but he utilized the path-goal theory to overcome most of his challenges as a governor. He openly communicated his goals to his staff and advisors and provided them with a clear path to achieving those objectives.

Reagan also encouraged his staff to exercise their own judgment on a majority of the goals, while maintaining strict control over the ones he deemed critical to his government.

  • Situational Leadership Theory

Ronald Reagan’s leadership style was particularly suited to the situational leadership theory. He preferred not to micromanage his staff, which is why he surrounded himself with knowledgeable individuals who knew how to respond to different situations.

Reagan’s staff was primarily composed of R1 and R4 subordinates. This meant that Reagan had to sell his ideas to the R2 members and rely on them to carry out the tasks at hand. This did not mean that the R2 workers were unwilling to complete the task, but rather they lacked the necessary skills to do so.

American Entertainer Bob Hope, President Ronald Reagan, Former President Gerald Ford and Vice-President, later President of USA George H.W. Bush circa 1981

To overcome the lack of skill among his subordinates, Ronald Reagan utilized constant positive communication and reinforcement. The R4 staff, on the other hand, possessed both the necessary skills and the willingness to complete the job, making it easier for Reagan to focus on the goals he deemed most important. He also utilized his communication skills to gain insights and information from his R4 subordinates.

Upon taking office as Governor of California, Reagan surrounded himself with intelligent, non-political advisors.

  •  Leader-Member Exchange (LMX)

Ronald Reagan was an excellent communicator, although he may not have been aware that he was using the LMX theory. He had an “in-group” of advisors who remained with him throughout most of his political career. These were the individuals he trusted the most and relied on for ideas and suggestions on how to solve various problems.

Interestingly, Reagan even had “in-group” members from the opposition party at certain points in his career. He effectively communicated his wishes and desires to these individuals and was always willing to meet and discuss important issues with politicians.

Ronal W. Reagan and George H. W. Bush’s successful ticket

The 50th presidential election is regarded as one of the most epic and intriguing by many Republicans. The ticket represented a combination of some of the world’s greatest political minds, and the election shaped US politics as we know it today. Even the Reagan Bush 1984 campaign shirt remains one of the most popular campaign t-shirts nearly 40 years later.

Reagan and his vice president Bush faced only token opposition in their bid for re-nomination. The duo did well because of Reagan’s strong economic recovery from the 1970s stagflation and the deadly 1981-1982 recession. Additionally, there was a widespread perception that his presidency had overseen a revival of national prestige and confidence.

It’s interesting to note that Reagan made history as the oldest person to be nominated by a major political party for president at the age of 73. However, this record has been recently broken by Biden.

Wrapping It Up

They say there is no future without history. The Reagan-Bush ticket of 1984 was one of the most intriguing in US political history. The two won by a landslide and were re-elected without any problems. Much of the Republican support today comes from the trust people put in the party because of the economic revival associated with the duo. The success of the Reagan-Bush administration can be largely attributed to Reagan’s unique leadership style.


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