The Lion of the Senate’s Legacy: How to Step into A Leadership Void

August 28, 2009 6 Comments

By Melinda Weekes

On Wednesday, August 26, 2009, a great public servant and leader died.  Massachusetts Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy’s legacy of service, championing the under-served and working class of our country, had come to an end in one form, now to transition to a legacy of another sort. It was the second day of the Facilitative Leadership course I was co-training, and of course, that morning, we paused to mourn, reflect, reminisce and examine our study of leadership in the brilliant, shining light of his life long leadership practice.

Later in the day, I came across this blog piece published by the Harvard Business Review, entitled, “How Ted Kennedy Got Things Done,” and couldn’t help but notice how much the observations of his distinguished service track so well with several of the attributes and principles of Facilitative Leadership:

What similarities do you notice? What improvisations are necessary?

Further, my co-trainer, Julia Santiago, brilliantly pointed out to us as we were lamenting the huge void left by the Lion of the Senate in terms of leadership in our times: part of Kennedy’s legacy is exactly that of stepping in to boldly fill a leadership space in the wake of an aching void (left by his brothers Jack and Bobby).

How might we, also, step into that void for these times? What will it take for you or me or others to DO this, in these times, given our context? What can we learn from Senator Kennedy’s case study in facilitative leadership?


  • Katherine says:

    The inauguration of President Obama left me reigning in hope and unlocking doors of new leadership opportunity in my path. It’s only be a few months, but I am not the same and at every turn it’s clear we have dawned a new era that requires us in this moment to gather all the lessons we can for the hard work ahead.

    New champions for social change have an inheritance of tools, which are applicable to the persistent dilemmas in the fabric of American life. We can fight for justice, we will win battles in health care reform and there is a future. Thanks Sen. Kennedy for all you have given.

  • Federico Rivera says:

    I appreciate your reflections on Edward (Teddy ) Kennedy and the amazing legacy he left behind. In some ways it reminds me of great leaders from our past and the much needed work before us. Who will continue to push for what is right and just today? How many of us are willing to sacrfice our precious time to the struggle? I hope that a new cadre of leaders will emerge and answer this clarion call. I am also aware that great leaders are never perfect. They have their own issues that must be exposed and discussed.

  • Melinda says:

    Katherine and Frederico – right on! Thank you for your reflections and for the passion and push I feel behind your words. I cant help but think how harshly history and future generations will judge us if we fail to step up to the plate. In a way, the complexity, number and depth of the issues we fact seem also immaterial in light of the resources, talent, and capacity at our fingertips, as well as the great need(s) of the moment. The times are pressing upon us to rise to the occasion. I feel the press…

  • Linda says:

    One of the striking leadership characteristics of Teddy was that HE never wavered in his beliefs and values (though his behavior, well, perhaps a different story). He was unapologetically liberal, progressive. In a way that is rare today. His stances were of value and belief, not of dogmatism – and he (literally) embraced those with views different from his own. Lots to explore there!!

  • Melinda says:

    Linda…nice observation. And, so nuanced that we might miss it and miss out. Yes….TK was indeed unwavering, but not dogmatic. Convinced of the righteousness of his position and beliefs, but not self-righteous to the point of demonizing, alienating those who were persuaded otherwise. Yes. How can those of us who want to stand firm and unapologetically upon our convictions and values do so in a way that brings us closer to, not aliented from, those of differing views and convictions…while clearly standing as an ally with those whom we rep/serve/hold those convictions with. Am wondering out loud if the particularities of his multiple privilege helped to serve his success in this regard in a unique way. Wondering if, for example, in this upcoming workshop Curtis and I hope (!!!) to host for the Making Money Making Change conference ( we might examine how others of similar privilege can be effective in leveraging privilege, taking stands and crossing barriers in ways that others might have a tougher time with. Not convinced myself that there is a link between the two, but the rareness of his efficacy with being unapologetic but not dogmatic has got me grasping for answers/reasons/explanations we can learn from…..

  • Curtis says:

    How to step into the void? My answer and what I am striving for is to be first and foremost of service, stay curious, ask questions, listen, add value, connect resources, be less about proving and more about improving, help bring others to life . . .

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