Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Leadership, and Ted

Ted Kennedy's death on Tuesday was not something I wanted to write about (see my blog entry on the man, I didn't write much.), but snarky crap I've read elsewhere, written by people who met the man on occasion, inspired me to write about Ted Kennedy. You'd think a good education would include the advice "if you can't say something nice about someone shut up, especially if they died yesterday". I guess my friend who met Ted missed that day at school.

I admired Ted Kennedy. He was a classic leader.

The only thing one can lead is people. Join the military if that statement confounds you. I did. The military will explain leadership to you clearly. It is people that you lead, in the military or anywhere else.

You can run a corporation, but that's not leadership (although you might lead while running that corporation). You can do many things that are important, but that are not leading - you can manage an enterprise, influence legislation, do complicated surgery, invest in real estate, manage securities for a bank, create new ways to exploit credit card holders, or worse, but none of that is leadership.

Leadership requires that you influence other people's behaviors in a positive way. We could argue about what positive might be, but let's give that a pass.

People follow leaders by choice. That's the trouble, if you can't inspire by your deeds, and less, by your words, you can't lead. People will follow you because they see you doing good, and doing good well.

You don't have to be perfect to lead, and that's good, because none of us are perfect.

If you are not a leader, or are the snarky jerk I mentioned  above, this all might mean nothing to you.

So to Ted  Kennedy. Brilliant leader, flawed human being, like us all. Simply put, he worked to make life better for ordinary people, and he succeeded in a dysfunctional environment, by leading.

Why a brilliant leader? His colleages in the Senate chose to follow him. Why? I suspect because they saw him working hard, knowing the issues, and most importantly, compromising with, and respecting them.

He worked in an era of government that is gone - there's no more compromising in the legislature, because there are no more leaders. It's the end of effective government on the legislative side.


  1. Thanks Mike. I was on my horse about this, really pissed about the crap written about the man. Good Lord, how hard is it to behave with a little grace?