McCain’s Message and Legacy


Like many Americans, I found myself reflecting on the legacy of Senator John McCain as I watched the televised celebrations of his remarkable life. Hailed as a lion of the Senate, war hero, two-time presidential candidate, and family man, Senator McCain was a larger-than-life figure. While all of these accolades are well-deserved, John McCain was also quite human.

I know this because I witnessed him doing something extremely human: traveling. My one and only encounter with the senator was in the Phoenix Airport. Like me, he was waiting to board a flight. He stood in line with no entourage or security detail, held his briefcase, and waited for the gate agents to announce that boarding could commence.

During those moments when we all stood there together, the senator did nothing extraordinary. Sure, he was greeted by several of his constituents, shook more than a few hands, and made small talk, but it was all very normal under the circumstances. He followed process, did what all of us had to do, and waited patiently to board his flight.

Senator McCain was also like many of us in that he had to get things done in his organization. Of course, his organization was the United States Senate and more broadly, the federal government, but it was an organization nonetheless. Results mattered. That meant he had to work with people who held different views.

Most of us don’t walk the halls of power each day or have reporters hang on our every word, yet, like John McCain, we need to collaborate with people who hold different views. Sure, politics look different in the corporate world—but the maneuvering, alliances, and power struggles are all the same. And the same ideals that set John McCain apart can set us apart as well.

Here are some questions to consider in light of Senator McCain’s legacy:

How are you doing when it comes hearing others out?

McCain knew how important it was to engage those who see things differently. Of course, he had his own strongly held views—especially when it came to matters of principle—and he never hesitated to voice those views. President Obama said that this was one of the reasons he respected John McCain so much. Nevertheless, McCain was willing to hear others out.

Do you collaborate with people you may not agree with?

A hallmark of McCain’s career was his willingness to buck the system, reach across the aisle, and find ways to work with those from different political traditions. During his eulogy this past weekend, President Obama noted examples like campaign finance and immigration reform—hot topics that required bipartisan collaboration—as the reasons McCain earned the nickname he readily embraced: Maverick.

Senator McCain’s willingness to collaborate earned him the respect of his colleagues and the American people. In the same way, you will earn the respect of your colleagues and customers when you demonstrate your ability and commitment to working with others to solve tough problems.

Do you show respect to everyone —even those who oppose you? Do you defend them when others unfairly criticize them or do you engage in gossip and rumor mongering?

In one of the most memorable moments of the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain corrected a woman who stood in a town hall meeting to say, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not—he’s an Arab.” McCain immediately shook his head and took the microphone from her. He responded, “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

Similarly, we know how easy it is to demonize colleagues from other departments or functional areas. In office turf wars, it can become more important to win than to do what’s best for our organization or customers. But Senator McCain is proof that it doesn’t have to be that way. Throughout his campaign and beyond, Senator McCain defended Obama and called on the American people to rise above petty politics and search for common ground.  


How do you want to be known in your workplace? As a great listener? A person who respects all colleagues? A selfless leader? Passionate advocate? Or maybe just someone who’s committed to results more than ego? Choose the one that fits best for you, but they all reflect the message and legacy of John McCain.

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Dr. Mike Patterson is a principal at Core Strengths and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He is also the co-author of Core Strengths: Results through Relationships training and the highly acclaimed book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Unlikely Places. Contact him at

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