Yesterday President Obama, Vice President Biden, a bevy of Senators and Kennedys, and other assorted political leaders dedicated the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. The speakers honored Ted Kennedy as someone who, in his 47 years in the Senate, knew his mission and knew how to stay focused on it. As a result, he became an extremely effective leader.
Both John McCain (R-AZ) and Trent Lott (R-MS) spoke at the event, as well as a number of Democrats. The presence of Republican Senators yesterday spoke to Kennedy’s ability to reach across party lines to accomplish the work that needed to be done. By focusing on the vision he wanted to achieve, Kennedy was able to see who else needed to be involved and he recruited others, even when their political perspectives differed dramatically.
For example, as President Obama pointed out in his speech, Senator Kennedy and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) shared a concern for children’s health, though they differed on many other things. They focused on their mission to get children the care they needed. Together, across party lines, they crafted the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, to insure that American children could receive good health care, whatever their parents’ economic status was.
Ted Kennedy and John McCain, despite deep disagreements in many areas, shared a concern for immigration reform and for patients’ rights. Because they were able to focus on the mission of fixing a broken immigration system, they were able to forge a more just immigration system. Their clear focus on patients’ needs resulted in the Patients’ Bill of Rights.
Ted Kennedy believed in the importance of the Senate and its role in American government. Part of his mission focused on educating the American public about the legislative branch of government. The new Kennedy Institute will provide opportunities for children and adults to learn the importance of legislative leadership and how it works, to understand how focusing on mission can achieve breakthroughs in the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
In a world in which too many elected officials forget they have work to do once they get into office and focus solely on pleasing their electoral base so that they can get re-elected, Ted Kennedy serves as an example of someone who remembered he had a job to do. He ran for office because he had a sense of mission and purpose. He saw dire needs that he could address. Once elected, he kept his focus on his mission and, again and again, accomplished tasks that seemed impossible. May leaders today, whether they are in politics, business, or any other arena, learn from him about how mission-focused leadership can make a difference.