Two surprising events

This post was written after spending more than 45 minutes on the phone with Frances Hesselbein, president and CEO of the Leader to Leader Institute (formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management). Peter Drucker told the New York Times, “Frances Hesselbein could manage any company in the country.” Speaking of the country, Mrs. Hesselbein is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.


Our call was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. However it was pushed back to 4:00. Upon calling back I was put on hold for a few minutes while Mrs. Hesselbein bid farewell to visitors in her office.

I was glad to wait.

Two surprising events

When Frances said hello, she immediately apologized for the delay and began explaining, with child-like enthusiasm, that her guests were three children of Vietnamese Boat People (Children in their 30’s).

While explaining the reason for her Vietnamese visitors and without shifting gears, I heard her call out, “Take good care of them.” I imagined her waving and smiling as she spoke to the escort of her departing guests.

Her tone wasn’t commanding it was generous and compassionate; a tone she maintained throughout our conversation.

The second event happened toward the end of our call, around 4:50 p.m. when she excused herself to say good night to her Executive Assistant, Gloria. Upon returning, Frances told me she didn’t care much for the title, Executive Assistant. It is completely inadequate.

Frances explained that she was in the habit of saying yes too frequently but Gloria seemed to make it all happen. I’m sure our conversation fit that description perfectly.


I’m thinking of all the leaders, over all the years I’ve known. Some of them are intolerant, arrogant, and full of their own self-importance. I’m also thinking of the woman I just spoke with; world traveler, companion of Presidents and foreign dignitaries; admired by leaders of the world’s greatest companies.

More than any other leader I’ve known, she has the “right” to be full of herself. Yet, I found her generous, respectful, energetic, and filled with compassionate strength.

Without suggesting it, Frances refreshes my energy to generously serve others.

More to come …


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