Leadership Lesson: Never Take The Window Seat

As I strode down the aisle of an airplane last week, as is my custom, I surveyed the first class passengers.

They are, after all, conveniently on full display for us. You typically have to walk past them, and they board first. Sometimes you’re even rewarded by spotting a celebrity or near celebrity (by which I mean politicians).

No such luck this time. But it did remind me of something.

In his latest book about Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential run, The Greatest Comeback (podcast conversation here), Pat Buchanan notes that one of his early assignments “was to travel with [Nixon] and occupy the aisle seat beside him on the plane to keep people from interrupting him while he was thinking or outlining a speech…”

While Buchanan was running interference for Nixon, Ronald Reagan would take the opposite approach.

As Craig Shirley writes in Reagan’s Revolution, “Whenever he flew, Reagan would sit in the front row so he could talk to people as they boarded the plane.”

This, of course, is a small thing, but it strikes me as also quite telling. One man intentionally avoids people; the other invites conversation. One man declares war on the media, the other man becomes “The Great Communicator.” One man’s presidency goes down in flames, the other man has an airport named after him…

Is that a coincidence? Think about that the next time you book a flight.

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Note: The reason I recalled this dichotomy was because the Reagan airplane story is one of the sections Shirley alleges was lifted by Rick Perlstein, whose book, The Invisible Bridge, notes: “When Ronald Reagan flew on commercial flights he always sat in the front row. That way he could greet passengers as they boarded.” (Perlstein then goes on to tell a longer story which was previously described in Shirley’s book.)