After a weekend of watching various services for the late Senator Ted Kennedy, I was moved by the outpouring of affection. Not so much from other politicians—I’m afraid I tend to suspect political motives—but from those he served: his family and his constituents. Whether you admire or deplore his politics is irrelevant. The man lived large, left a voluminous legacy of work and touched legions of people. There are lessons in that for consultants—and anyone who believes their work involves serving others.
Lesson #1: Find common ground. Ted was able to “cross the aisle” like no one else in the Senate. How? He tried to connect from common values. He believed that Democrats and Republicans alike love their country and genuinely want to create positive change. That belief—plus some good old-fashioned horse trading skills— allowed him to respectfully form alliances (not to mention lifelong friendships) with his colleagues from both parties. The result? Landmark legislation that changed everyday life for millions. Not a bad legacy for a consultant…..
Lesson #2: Lead with joy. No stranger to tragedy and heartache, Ted always seemed to find the humor—the joy—in everyday life. Boisterous singing (we’re told he had enthusiasm first, talent second), break-neck sailing and tussling with his Portuguese water dogs filled him with happiness every day. His family—both close and extended—was treated with joyful love, not as dutiful distractions from his work. We can lead (and consult) with joy if we regularly fill our life with it.
Lesson #3: When you mess up, work hard to redeem yourself. Ted was no saint. And one of his biggest errors—Chappaquiddick—ultimately cost him the presidency. As mistakes go, it was a big one. A promising life was cut short. Many would never forgive him. Eventually apologizing, he renewed his attention to his work serving as a voice for the disenfranchised. Ultimately, he made his professional mark championing civil and social rights for the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and blue and pink collar workers. The moral to this story: when we mess up—and we will—we must work to make it right and spend our time making sure it doesn’t happen again.
Lesson #4: Never, ever give up. You of course are familiar with his family tragedies, any one of which could have broken so many of us. You may have heard of Ted’s competitive spirit on the water. And you might have even heard of his urging Teddy Jr—fresh from losing his leg to cancer —that “you can do anything”. Ted applied this belief to his professional life also—otherwise known as health care reform. He has battled and cajoled both parties for almost two decades to enact his beliefs. Finally, while working the phones from Cape Cod as he was dying, his Committee produced a bill, the first from the Senate. When is the last time we worked so tirelessly to make our vision a reality?