When Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, was asked who the greatest leader in America was, he responded, “Frances Hesselbein”. And Drucker reinforced his words with action making Hesselbein the founding CEO Peter Drucker’s leadership institute. For over 60 years, Hesselbein has been a driving force shaping leadership philosophy, including: being CEO of The Girl Scouts from 1976 – 1990, leadership appointments at West Point, author of 27 books, Editor-in-Chief of the award winning Leader to Leadermagazine, and in 1998 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in America.
While I’ve had the privilege to meet with Frances many times, each meeting has the freshness, authenticity and excitement of being a child at a candy store of wisdom. Every word holds the heavy weight of deeper meaning. Below are some of Hesselbein’s recent insights on leadership.
Talk about women in leadership
First, we never refer to ourselves as “female, or women leaders.” We are not a category. We are leaders who are women. As leaders who are women we begin by acknowledging that we bring a special dimension to the work of our organization. Our contribution to furthering the mission is enhanced by our gender – male or female – any effective leader brings his or her life experience and point of view to bear. Diversity of gender, race, culture and background in our leadership teams strengthens and enriches our organizations. But this is not the reason we, as leaders who are women, do what we do. The mission that defines why we do what we do has no gender. Peter Drucker urges leaders to “focus on task, not gender.” That advice serves us well.
Back to the original question, the management qualities that might be labeled feminine are embraced by remarkably effective men and women: leading with the power of language, cultivating relationships, building teams that release the energy and potential of others, developing flexible and fluid management systems, building an inclusive organization. Some might call this feminine management, others would call it the enlightened way that we must “lead people and not contain them.”
What habits have helped you reach your full potential?
Two habits. First, listening. It’s called respect, it’s called appreciation, it’s called anticipation — and it’s called leadership.
Second, being on time. I grew up in the mountains of western Pennsylvania, where 5:30 means 5:30. The first time I met Peter Drucker it was because I showed up to a reception at 5:30, and I was alone with a bartender. Then Peter Drucker walked in the door and said “I am Peter Drucker.” I blurted out, “Do you know how important you are to the Girl Scouts?”