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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I appreciate your effort to bring such valuable discussion on board. It really inspires and influences our leadership freak community, I trust. I personally feel good, energetic, inspired and introspect to know what I have and eager to adapt what is needed. I agree and eager to accept that Frances is generous, respectful, energetic, and filled with compassionate strength and it is the biggest strength of any effective leader.
I do believe the tone, intention and approach determine your leadership effectiveness. Ego, arrogance and ignorance reflect commanding attitude and behavior and that does not sustain for long time. I believe, those who commands, crashes and those who coordinates, cooperates, co-creates.
People who believe in acquiring external power, usually command, but those who believe in internal power (Values), nurture, influence and inspire.
Ms Frances comes in second category, who believes in nurturing, caring, influencing and inspiring others.
Your assessment is right on. I am also surprised at the combination of qualities that some might think contradict each other. On one hand compassion and on the other, strength. You don’t get where Mrs. Hesselbein got by being weak.
I’m more and more convinced that successful leaders are able to hold contrasting qualities in tension where the other leaders seem to fall into one or the other side of the tension. You know, either compassionate OR strong.
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That dynamic tension is essential for cultures/organizations to thrive. It involves pace, attention to detail (your two snapshots of Frances waving to the folks leaving the office and making sure she said good night to Gloria paint her focus well) and ensuring that periodic urgency is felt by all…because there is an expiration date.
With too little tension complacency/entropy sets in, people gravitate to a comfort zone that eventually becomes unhealthy. And too much causes both the organization and the people snap.
Sounds like Ms. Hesselbein inspired you just by being who she is: compassionate and real. I think people who are comfortable with power are able to cut through a lot of the formality because they use power to make the world better instead of using power over other people. “Power to” vs “power over” is a distinction Gloria Feldt makes in her book “No excuses: 9 ways women can change how we think about power.” It is a useful, thought-provoking book (heavy on the politics, though). In my own interview with Feldt, I found her to be down to earth and interesting as well.
Thanks for adding value to the conversation. Love the “power to” idea.
Best to you,
Excellent observation. This was a powerful post today and i can’t wait to read her book. This is the type of leader that i work 70 hours a week for- you want to do your best for this type of leader. I wonder how she manages the aspect of expectations/deadlines etc with her staff? What happens when someone lets her down? What is her style?
Great question. I know when she encounters resistance or opposition her first response is “Lets talk about it.” I didn’t find any defensiveness in her.
If I recall from the book, I think those that don’t, won’t, or can’t perform end up leaving her organization. She thinks of this as good for everyone involved.
Good morning Dan,
This is a wonderful start for the day to hear about such compassionate and selfless leader. A refresfing reminder to us all that the greatess gift we own is the art of giving and doing so generously, without hesitancy, genuinely and lovingly. I was touched by her comment regarding her AA’s title as you know I totally abhor them. We all have different job descriptions and perform different duties but our purpose tends to follow suit if we all stand behind the VMV of our organizations. I look forward to learning and hearing more about this wonderful lady. T\he only titles I care about are the ones that espouse who we are such as friend, brother, father, wife, companion, colleague, co-visionary, co-worker, etc. In any organization we are all critical pieces that hinge on each other to define our purpose, our mission, and the value we bring to society. Have a great day and thank you. Regards Al
I’m delighted you found this post useful. Frankly, I was a bit hesitant to publish it because it’s so much about my own impressions and feelings. I prefer writing posts that focus more on LF readers.
Your comments encourage me.
Al is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/al-diaz
I love this post and the new dimension it shows in your writing.
Ever the encourager… thank you. Success to you in your new endeavor as CEO of AZBIO
Co-visionary…I like that Al! A shared vision…that hopefully is not double vision. 😉 I think there are quite a few co-visionaries here at LF, always stimulating! (Thanks Dan!!)
Those that have gone before me in leadership pave the way for the next generation. You keep quinching my thirst for the achievments and learning experinces of great leaders. What nugget do we have to look forward to from Frances tomorrow?
Keep ’em coming!
I have several pages of notes. Stuff is swirling all around.
I can’t wait to see myself… 🙂
Good morning Dan! Thank you for such an inspiring post. It is refreshing to read about someone that is so compassionate and genuine.
It’s a delight to be a source of encouragement… thanks for saying so.
Great manager but why call her a leader? It adds nothing – leadership is a great minefield with Bennis’s over 300 definitions.
Let’s stick to finding out what good managers do.
Individual examples are all very well but what I need to hear from her are the management principles and techniques she uses to succeed.
Then I can apply them in my job.
PS I bet that, in fact, all the things she talks about are activities of a manager and could be explained without using the word leadership at all.
Thanks so much for your comment. Many agree with your observation. Drucker prefered the term “manager.” You are in great company.
Thanks Dan! Articles like this gives us young leaders an example of what great leadership looks like. We need more model like Frances to show us the way.
I think your comment models good leadership. Keep it up.
This post definitely leaves me wanting more, so I look forward to tomorrow!
It sounds like Frances Stoppelbein is definitely on to something from the way she takes delight in the world unfolding around here AND treats those in her circle with respect even if her place on the org chart is drastically “higher” than the others.
I was thinking of an article written by our local newspaper editor. She was talking about journalism school, and how thoroughly she was ridiculed (not to mention the “F” she received) when she wrote “election poles” instead of “election polls.” She went on to say she was glad her instructor was “mean” because she has always retained the lessons from him. I’m curious to see (and perhaps this will come out in subsequent interviews) if Frances Stoppelbein has had to use “less-than-warm” guidance and if so what the circumstances were and how she made the decision. Something about that response MAY get back to our 2 year olds from yesterday!
If the pole article went to press, that might be one issue, if it did not, it is another.
Respectfully Paula, I have to wonder of the instructor ‘needed’ to ridicule (sounds like a lifelong scar from this distant view), wonder if there might have been another way and still get the message across, as if the ‘F’ didn’t get the message across already. (Humor comes to mind)
We are our own worst critics and not sure we need others to pile on, especially ‘teachers’ who already have so much societal influence and authority.
Does a carrot or a stick work better most of the time? Can one compassionately confront performance/presentation issues?
All good points, Doc. If I can find the article I will send it to you. Our newspaper has a lovely new “pay to read” system that makes it a little bit difficult to “spread the news” without “paying the dough” but I would be interested in your perspective after reading the author’s piece.
Doc, I have the article but I don’t want to dump all of it into a comment here on LF. If you could let me know to get it to you I will! In the event we don’t connect and I have piqued anyone else’s curiosity, here’s a passage that sort of sums it her point up:
My embarrassment soon turned to anger. In reality, I was angry at myself, but I directed my anger toward Dr. Turner, and I hated him in that moment for being so “mean.”
I’ve written thousands of stories since then, and my perspective on the “pole incident” is different. Today, I am thankful for a professor who embarrassed me. Was he a little harsh? Eh, maybe, but he made me a better writer, and that was his job. He wasn’t there to coddle me. He was there to ensure that when I entered the real world I would know how to do my job efficiently and accurately.
Thanks for the dialogue ..
Paula, just to chime in. I believe I understand your perspective and how different folks need different approaches to make them grow and sometimes it takes as you have suggested stern and forceful action. I would submit to you that the percentage of times I have seen that “method of encouragement” actually succeed is few and far between. The military code works well in certain organizations and I am not judging one way or the other but I know that in healthcare for one it would fare very poorly. Thanks for waking me up to another point of view. Al
I think leadership shouldn’t really change your personality. If you are a compassionate person, you will be a compassionate leader unless you let yourself be corrupted by power, so to say. Some people are like that, some manage to keep their inner core intact, and this is obviously the case with Mrs. Hesselbein.
Your observation is consistent with my conversation with Frances. I asked her how her definition of leadership had changed. She replied, “It hasn’t.”
Thank you for this posting, Dan! I checked out the leadership to leadership site, and contacted with Teresa. She is helping me connect with any of those working with Japan. Thank you so much!!!
It’s so much fun to see connections building on connections.