Ten lessons from Reagan on building a brain trust
Look to your opposition (but make sure they support you). After being elected president, Ronald Reagan reached out to James Baker for advice. This move raised more than a few eyebrows, because Baker had managed the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford in 1976 and George Bush in 1980, who had both been in opposition to Reagan’s own candidacy. Was collaborating with the competition really a good idea?
“Absolutely,” confirms Quiggle. “Ronald Reagan was able to put away any lingering hard feelings and focus on the expertise and effectiveness that James Baker embodied. This proved to be a wise decision, as Baker is credited with having significant positive influence over the first term of the Reagan presidency, particularly domestically.
“Of course, in business, you won’t want to include your direct competitors in your brain trust,” Quiggle acknowledges. “But you could seek the advice of a retired competitor or someone in your industry who has a different specialty from you. For instance, if you’re an ad exec at an agency that specializes in retail, you might stock your cabinet with the leader of an agency that specializes in manufacturing. You can also adapt this tactic by making sure your advisory team includes people who disagree with you or who have played the part of devil’s advocate in your ventures. Just be sure that at the end of the day, these habitual dissenters do have your personal and professional best interests at heart and won’t try to maliciously undermine your efforts.”
Keep it small. You don’t want to blast your concerns, challenges, and goals to your network of 1,000+ people…or even to a “slightly” smaller group of 15 or 20. In fact, Quiggle recommends starting with a Kitchen Cabinet of only two to five people whom you trust and admire. You can always add more members to your brain trust as your business grows and your need for specific types of advice changes. It’s substantially more difficult to scale down!
“When it comes to the size of advisory groups, more isn’t always better,” Quiggle says. “In fact, no matter what their purpose is, smaller groups are often more effective than their larger counterparts for many reasons: They’re nimbler. It’s easier for members to hear one another out and come to a consensus. There’s less of a chance that individual egos will take over, since everyone needs to pull their own weight. And, of course, it’s easier for meaningful mentoring to take place.”