Who’s in Your Kitchen Cabinet? 7 Lessons from Reagan on Core Team Building

By Dan Quiggle

team building tips

Twenty-five years after his presidency and ten years since his death (June 5th marks the 10th anniversary of his passing), Ronald Reagan’s influence on our nation still resonates. According to author Dan Quiggle, one thing that was instrumental to Reagan’s effectiveness was his commitment to surrounding himself with excellence and expertise. Reagan put together a group of highly successful advisors (his “Kitchen Cabinet”) who advised him throughout his journey to the White House and even helped him choose the members of his first Presidential Cabinet.

“Like Reagan, business leaders need to understand that seeking out opinions, expertise, and advice from others isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s strong leadership,” says Quiggle, author of the new book Lead Like Reagan: Strategies to Motivate, Communicate, and Inspire (Wiley, June 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-92845-5, $25.00,

“Whether the arena is politics or business, the difference between mediocre leadership and exceptional leadership often is defined by your ability to cultivate and engage your own Kitchen Cabinet,” he adds.

Here, Quiggle shares seven things to consider when building your own Kitchen Cabinet:

  • 1) First, get over your desire to be right.

Reagan chose to fill his Kitchen Cabinet with trusted advisors who were accomplished in their own rights, and whom he knew would be tough with him when necessary—not nodding, sycophantic yes-men.

“If you always want to be the smartest person in the room, you’ll be limited by your own capabilities…which might not be as sufficient to the task at hand as you think,” comments Quiggle.

  • 2) Stock your cabinet with a variety of viewpoints.

“You want your Kitchen Cabinet to represent a variety of different viewpoints and knowledge sets,” instructs Quiggle. “If everyone advising you has similar experiences and opinions, they’ll be of limited use. Also, include people who disagree with you or who have played the part of devil’s advocate in your ventures. Just be sure that these dissenters do have your best interests at heart and won’t try to undermine you.”

  • 3) Keep it small.

Quiggle recommends starting with a Kitchen Cabinet of only two to five people whom you trust and admire.

“Smaller groups are often more effective than their larger counterparts,” notes Quiggle. “They’re nimbler, there’s less of a chance that individual egos will take over, and it’s easier for meaningful mentoring to take place.”

  • 4) Don’t overformalize things.

Reagan’s first meetings with his Kitchen Cabinet took place in their living rooms, not in the Oval Office. The lesson? Don’t overcomplicate things.

“No formal invitation to ‘Join My Kitchen Cabinet’ is required, and you don’t have to use parliamentary procedure during meetings,” comments Quiggle. “Just ask individuals you admire if they’d be willing to share advice and professional insight with you.”

  • 5) Keep in mind that you may need more than one brain trust.

Ronald Reagan looked for experts across the nation within their various fields.

“You’ll probably need to assemble different brain trusts for different tasks, too,” points out Quiggle. “Receiving the best guidance on growing the many facets of your business isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal.”

  • 6) Hear everyone out and take their advice to heart.

“When I need to make a crucial business decision, I talk to my Kitchen Cabinet,” shares Quiggle. “If a majority of them tell me not to do something, I probably won’t do it.”

  • 7) Make sure everyone shares your success-oriented vision.

“The responsibility for making sure your Kitchen Cabinet shares a vision falls on your shoulders,” says Quiggle. “Never forget that you gathered these people to advise and guide you as you pursue your own success, not so that they could turn you into a puppet whose strings they control. Make sure you can articulate what you hope to accomplish, as well as your mentors’ role in helping you achieve it.”

“In a business world that’s becoming more complex and competitive by the day, no one should be trying to steer the ship all alone,” Quiggle concludes. “As Ronald Reagan knew well, two (or three, or five) heads really are better than one.”

Dan Quiggle, author of Lead Like Reagan: Strategies to Motivate, Communicate, and Inspire, is the founder of The Quiggle Group, president and CEO of America’s Choice Title Company, and dean of faculty for the Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C.

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