I first became aware of Frances Hesselbein a few months ago when she spoke at a leadership dinner sponsored by the West Point Society of
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch in
Not long after my conversation with Lisa, I was introduced to Alex, a very successful businessman based in
And so it was that Lisa and I found ourselves being ushered into Frances Hesselbein’s office on
Three things stand out in my mind from the hour that Lisa and I were privileged to sit at the feet of this great leader. The first would be her personal warmth and graciousness. She made it clear that this was one of the busiest times of the year for her and her organization, but that because her friend Alex had made the request for the meeting, she was pleased to squeeze us in. I told her that we were delighted “to be squoze!”
My second strong impression is of how often in the course of our conversation she returned to the theme of the absolute and supreme importance of distilling the vision of the organization into a concise Mission Statement. She gave examples from her own work and suggested how it might work for Lisa’s organization.
Finally, I was awe-struck by the wisdom that she demonstrated when she responded to my question about how she had been able to achieve diversity within a tradition-bound organization like the Girl Scouts of America when she served as their CEO. She talked about the importance of her learning to really listen to each of the communities they were trying to reach out to – and how important it was to tailor the message to fit the sensitivities of each community. She talked in detail about how they reached out to make Black Americans and Hispanic Americans feel truly welcome – as scouts, as volunteers and as leaders. Then she spoke of her special desire to make sure that the organization effectively was able to reach out to the Native American community. She quoted the poster that was developed for use in reaching Native Americans and making them feel truly welcome in the Girl Scouts: “Your names are on our rivers”! What a brilliantly poetic way to build a bridge to a community that is often left out of the main stream of American society.
As we prepared to leave, Frances made Lisa a gift of a book that she had written and then she gave me a copy of a recently published book that she has edited: “Leader to Leader – 2” In an upcoming posting, I will review that book, which I am finding to be as full of nuggets of wisdom as was the hour that Lisa and I spent with Frances - in the presence of greatness. It was an hour than neither one of us will ever forget.