Paul Butler | Great Leaders Talk Straight

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Earlier this week we visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in the beautiful Simi Valley. Perhaps, I’m a naïve optimist but I’d like to think that most reasonably minded people would consider him to have been a good man and a good leader. 

If you haven’t been to this wonderful estate, I’d highly recommend it. I was inspired once again to remember why I believe so much in the goodness that is the United States of America. One of Reagan’s quotes, which still fills me with hope, is, “America is less of a place than an idea, and if it is an idea, and I believe that to be true, it is an idea that has been deep in the souls of mankind.” 

One of the attributes of Ronald Reagan that made him such a likeable leader was his straight shooting — he had a reputation for clear, unambiguous speak. Perhaps his most famous words that were plain and yet pointed were to the late Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union when he demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Yes, great leaders speak straight and give clear direction, especially during times of national or even local crisis.  

After I’d parked the car and we began walking to the entrance I started to see signs I hadn’t seen for quite a while. Each sandwich board simply displayed just two words in large, bold font: MASK REQUIRED.   

We griped a little to the cashier but she professionally apologized and stated with a hint of humor, that today was our “lucky day” as the relevant authority had reinstated a mandatory mask mandate due to the recent spike in cases of sickness.  I must admit I thought I’d be a firsthand witness to a Republican rebellion of visitors flatly refusing to wear a mask but I was mildly surprised to not hear one person raise their voice or refuse to comply with the order.   

I chewed on this phenomenon under my mask for a few minutes — why were perhaps 400 conservative folks willing to slip back on the mask without grumbling or having a tantrum?  I came to the conclusion it was for two reasons — firstly, the order was clear: just two words with no ambiguity.  Secondly, the purpose was bigger than the point.  The purpose of why we were here; (to pay tribute to our country’s 40th president) was much larger than the point being made. 

I am hoping as we head into a new year that all that talk of mask mandates, social distancing, vaccinations and booster shots are in the rear-view mirror.  But if we do have to go back there — let’s ensure we talk straight, especially as leaders.  Two words — that’s all they needed within that city on a hill this week.  No mixed messages. No twisting and turning. May our leaders — all of our leaders — always honor authority and speak straight, for our safety as well as the safety of others.  

I can only imagine the leadership responsibility Reagan carried on his shoulders during his tenure as the country’s chief executive officer. Foreign affairs dominated his second term, including the bombing of Libya, the Iran-Iraq War, the Iran-Contra affair and the ongoing Cold War.  His reputation for straight talk ensued when he publicly referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” It made me think that part of a leader’s responsibility during our war on COVID, (past, present or future) was, is and will be, to take care of their people.  

So, the lesson I was reminded of up on the hills of the gorgeous Simi Valley was that great leaders not only talk straight but they also care enough about others to do so.  If the authorities placed over us, in the most populous county in the United States reinstates mandates — then as individuals and especially as leaders of others, we should honor that authority by doing the right thing regardless of our political opinions.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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