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Alan M. Webber
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Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine, is an award-winning editor, author, and columnist. His most recent book is Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.

The Secret of Smart Staffers

There's a lot to be said about Ted Kennedy as a leader and his career as a public servant. I'll leave it to others to discuss his contributions and his failings, his greatness and his falls from grace. For me, there is one aspect to Senator Kennedy's career in the Senate that deserves special mention as a key to his legislative achievements and his personal strength. It's a story I heard years ago when I lived in Boston and worked in politics, and it came from enough different sources that I knew it to be true.

The unspoken key to Senator Kennedy's leadership is this: He was never afraid to hire people on his staff who were smarter than he was.

Political leaders need great staffers. This is nowhere more important than in the Congress, where a leader has both a personal staff and, over time as he or she accrues power, committee staff. Too many political leaders -- and other leaders -- are intimidated by staffers who are smarter than they are. They need to be the smartest person in the room.

Senator Kennedy didn't need that; he knew his strengths and weaknesses. By hiring the most talented people he could find, and then taking their work and using his power and influence to turn it into law, Senator Kennedy both built a remarkable career as a legislator and allowed staffers to work to their full potential in the service of America.
We should all wish that more leaders followed Senator Kennedy in this example.

By Alan M. Webber

 |  August 27, 2009; 11:25 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I had the pleasure of meeting with, and working with, several members of Senator Kennedy's staff regarding multiple issues concerning the organization for whom I worked. The aides were professional, smart and responsive to our needs. Because of the hard work of staff members, our organization received the assistance it needed, along with the funding for our initiatives - all of which were necessary. It is really too bad that other legislators are so lacking in the Senator's skills and those of his team. I wish his staff all the best and deepest condolences.

Posted by: carolineC1 | August 27, 2009 8:00 PM
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'What profound advice are you going to provide next: "Don't forget to chew before swallowing?" '

No.

"Think before typing" will do.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | August 27, 2009 6:16 PM
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With the reputation enjoyed by Kennedy's staff it is easy to understand why his staff positions were so competitive. A staff job for a new lawyer was viewed as "graduate" training in the law, providing staff lawyers the opportunity to work with some of the best legal minds in this country.

Posted by: jeganjr | August 27, 2009 3:11 PM
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Isn't "Hire Smart People" like the, uh, worst kept "Secret" in all the entire world?

What profound advice are you going to provide next: "Don't forget to chew before swallowing?"

Posted by: JSD111 | August 27, 2009 2:55 PM
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I remember when the Boston Globe wrote that Kennedy would have been better suited to be a bartender in Southie. They were right.

Posted by: Jerzy | August 27, 2009 1:42 PM
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