Scouting Out Great Leadership Lessons
Frances Hesselbein has written a rare book. An intimate memoir that moves the reader with the stories of Hesselbein's life experiences, My Life in Leadership: The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way also conveys the core principles and beliefs that have made her one of America's most respected leaders. Hesselbein is known as the Girl Scout troop leader and local council director who took the helm of the floundering Girl Scouts of America and created a thriving and relevant organization. Hesselbein is a lifelong follower of Peter Drucker. On her first day as executive director of the Talus Rock Girl Scout council, she arrived with six copies of Drucker's The Effective Executive under her arm. After leaving the Girl Scouts, Hesselbein became CEO of Drucker's new Foundation for Non-Profit Management, now known as the Leader to Leader Institute. Hesselbein travels all over the world speaking on leadership, and in 1998 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Long before she stood before President Bill Clinton to receive the Medal of Freedom, Frances Hesselbein was a little girl growing up in the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, best known for the three devastating floods that occurred in the town's history. Surrounded by her extended family, Hesselbein learned early the lessons that would guide the transformative leader she would later become. The story of her grandmother, who Hesselbein called Mama Wicks, and her fancy vases is a poignant example.
A Gift of Kindness
According to Hesselbein, Wicks was the person who had the greatest influence on her life and work. Wicks had two beautiful Chinese vases with which little Frances wanted to play. One day when the little girl was very insistent, Wicks told the story of a Chinese man named Mr. Yee, who lived alone above his laundry in town. Mr. Yee suffered many indignities for being Chinese. One day, there was knock on Wicks' door, and there was Mr. Yee holding two beautiful vases. Mr. Yee told Wicks that in his ten years of living in Johnstown, she was the only person who had ever called him Mr. Yee. He was returning to China to reunite with his beloved wife and child, but he wanted Wicks to have the vases in appreciation of her kindness.
Diversity and inclusion would be one of Hesselbein's core principles as a leader. On becoming National Executive Director (CEO) of the Girl Scouts of America in 1976, Hesselbein immediately set out to make an organization that, despite an ethnically diverse board of directors, was 95 percent white. Within one year, the Girl Scouts had new a handbook that featured diversity in its illustrations, and new posters designed specifically to attract girls from the major racial and ethnic groups in America. The Girl Scouts quickly tripled its membership from these groups.
The power of diversity and inclusion is just one of many important principles and guidelines for effective leadership that Hesselbein shares in her book. But perhaps the greatest lessons come from the examples and stories of the ordinary people in her life — her grandparents, her parents, her remarkable husband John, and many others — that made Frances Hesselbein what she is today.