How Ted Kennedy Got Things Done

It has been said that when Republicans wanted to drum up financial support all they had to do was invoke the name of Ted Kennedy in a piece of direct mail and the funds would roll in. That a man who was an anathema to some could over time become so revered by men and women on both sides of the political aisle is a tribute to Kennedy’s ability to connect personally, as well as to his dogged perseverance in causes that mattered to him.

How Kennedy was able to bring sides together is a virtue that leaders at every level need to master. While leadership in the corporate sector can come largely from the executive suite, to get things done well you need to act more as a legislator. That involves working with and persuading people who don’t agree with you. Regardless of what the CEO desires, initiatives do not happen until people on the ground embrace them; and that’s where peer-to-peer leadership, the kind that occurs in legislative bodies, works.

Persuading a peer may be more art than science but there are some solid practices you can employ.

Stand on principle. No doubt Kennedy had personal failings, but as a legislator he was known as an advocate for the poor, the disadvantaged, and the working man. As a corporate leader, you want to grow the business, but how you do it matters. Maintaining integrity is essential. You want to be known as someone who works with others, seeks to develop the talents of others, and puts the team first.

Be responsive and responsible. Your colleagues need to know the issues that motivate you. For Kennedy it was poverty, unions, peace, and health care. As an executive, the choice of issues is never so clear cut, but you need to deal with what comes your way and do so in a manner that demonstrates conviction as well as credibility. Be known as one who can get things done.

Share the credit. Kennedy, as NPR’s Tovia Smith reported on Morning Edition, often let others put their names on bills that he pushed for. On some, his name may have jeopardized passage, but on others he wanted colleagues to receive the publicity, especially back in their home states. A leader can often accomplish more by taking a step back and letting others share in the glory of getting good things done. Those who hog the limelight are those who stand alone; those who stand in the shadows may have many friends.

Be a friend. Kennedy did not let political differences get in the way of friendship. He was personally close to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. If you work in a large organization, you need all the friends you can get. Don’t let differences over issues mar personal relationships. You cannot be friends with everyone but you can agree to disagree. And if you remain amicable you can work together on future issues.

Reaching out to a colleague who doesn’t agree with you is never easy, but still it is necessary to try. It’s useful to recall how Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican Senator from Utah, remembered one of his dearest friends, the liberal Lion of the Senate, Edward M. Kennedy, “Ted Kennedy, with all of his ideological verbosity and idealism was a rare person who at times could put aside differences and look for common solutions. Not many ever got to see that side of him, but as peers and colleagues we were able to share some of those moments.”

Stand for your principles, but work together with others to achieve laudable goals — it’s a legacy that every leader should embrace.

View original here, by John Baldoni @ Harvard Business Publishing