How to lead without trying?
“If I had to put somebody in to take Roger Smith’s place at General Motors, I would pick Frances Hesselbein…because the basic problem is in turning around a huge bureaucracy, and that is her specialty.” Peter F. Drucker
Business Week cover story, “Profiting from the Nonprofits,” March 26, 1990
Where to begin
I thought long and hard about my first question to Frances Hesselbein. What question gives her the opportunity to talk about herself? I decided to focus on her person of greatest influence, grandmother – Mama Wicks.
“When I say, ‘Mama Wicks,’ what comes to mind?”
For a moment, silence … I waited. Then Frances quietly shared emotion packed phrases.
“A soft sweet voice”
A voice saying, “Well Francie…”
“Mama Wicks made me know how loved and special I was.”
Later in our conversation we talked about her personal definition of leadership. A definition developed under a certain amount of consternation. Frances was scheduled to speak at the The Presidents Association Conference in May, 1981.
If that’s not daunting enough, she was scheduled to follow Warren Bennis and Peter Drucker.
That crucible helped her articulated a personal definition of leadership; one that both reflected her past and remains her True North.
“Leadership is a matter of how to be not how to do.”
Back to Mama Wicks
Mama Wicks didn’t set out to shape one of the world’s great leaders. She was simply being Mama Wicks. She led without trying.
Fast Forward again
Later in our conversation, I asked Frances, “If leadership is, ‘a matter of how to be…’ how are leaders developed?”
Frances said, “You develop leaders by helping people discover their values.”
Pause and reflect
You’re reading this blog because you want a life of positive influence. The secret you seek is found by honestly uncovering and then courageously living your values. Bennis put it this way, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.”
Have you seen leadership development in action? What did it look like?
Other post connected to my conversation with Frances Hesselbein:
Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership
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Aren’t these freeing thoughts. It’s not about the striving, it’s about the being.
Be true to yourself, your values, your principles, your faith, your dreams. Be real, be true, show honest vulnerability. Know that someone will be watching and remind yourself of that constantly. In demonstrating this to others, you don’t know what they will pick up, and who they will become.
Great Friday post. Thank you.
It is so amazing how many leaders have embraced the ideas in this post. My conversation with Harry Kraemer former CEO of Baxter Int. affirms these ideas.
I’m excited where these ideas can take leaders and organizations.
“The secret you seek is found by honestly uncovering and then courageously living your values.”
Nicely done, Dan.
Thanks for being an encourager..
Dan–I have used this quote by Frances:“Leadership is a matter of how to be not how to do.” Now I am using it for an article and I need to CITE it. Can you tell me how to find a printed source where she said it? I googled the quote and that led me to your blog and now I have subscribed. I also blog about leadership: http://www.JannFreed.com
Thanks for helping me find a source. Jann
Dan, thank you for writing about Frances Hesselbein. I have enjoyed reading about her. I plan to read her book; “My Life in Leadership”. Often times, I think women in leadership roles are dismissed and discounted rather than respected. Frances Hesselbein demonstrates; be yourself, you are the best person qualified for that job.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a very experienced worker when I joined my present company. I asked “where and when did you get your training on how to….”. His very polite response was “Training? I didn’t get trained unless you are counting what my Mama and Daddy taught be about how to treat people growing up.” I wonder if this is part of “helping people discover their values.”
Nice post. I want her book.
Debbie, you mentioned “what my Mama and Daddy taught me about how to treat people growing up.”
As you suggested, I think this is very much a part of “helping people discover their values.”
How I see it is re-discovering my values. I grew up in a small city and moved to Chicago in my 20s. Through the hard knocks of business (not so nice, not so authentic or compassionate people sometimes), I lived “on the defense,” ready to defend myself. I developed a hardened approach over time. Though my creativity and what people call “innocence” came through, I wasn’t living what I learned growing up. Now is the (re)discovery time. The values come through loud and strong now. The great difference looking back is that in the early years, it was nature. I had no recognition of my values.
Now that I have had to rediscover them, I can dust them off and shine them up. Thus they may be more firmly implanted and internalized. This makes it easier also to convey them in a compassionate way.
By the way, what did it take? It took a few authentic people like Frances Hesselbein who care. I am still learning and refurbishing my values every day. Just yesterday one of these wonderful people said to me, “Quit pretending. Just say simply what you do.” He added, “It’s not easy to be simple.”
This definition of leadership is the first one I read that made me feel like there is a place for all kinds of leaders – it seems like leadership is so often defined by a set of characteristics – this definition lets me, and others, that maybe don’t fit that traditional model into the conversation. And if I can bring my children to understand this, I will be a successful person 🙂
truly enjoying this series
I enjoyed this post and found it very motivational. You know, an acting coach I know is fond of pointing out things during scenework like, “If you are standing there listening to a conversation, you aren’t going to literally cock your head and stand stock still to demonstrate you’re listening” – her point is that in acting or real life, you should “be real.” I think the same is true of leadership development too. There are lots of great formal programs out there that purport to teach to lead, but it is in the moments of life, big and small, that we constantly have opportunities to lead … by doing exact what Frances recommends … being scrupulously conscious of how our actions are undergirded by our values.
I have often told people, honestly, that I don’t know how to lead; all I know how to do is be myself. Reading this series, I feel a great sense of confirmation – relief, even – that I’m on a road that makes sense. I’m going to love reading Frances’s book.
Always succinct and timely. Thank you.
Can’t you just hear a tone in the words ” Well, Francie…”
I think we see leadership development in action if we are truly looking and listening for it.
And know if you are in a leadership position (includes parenting,coaching, mentoring,etc ) that others are watching and listening and learning!
Every other year, I ask students in my graduate class, what do you think is more important — the skills you bring or who you are?
Most choose skills as the most important. Thanks, Dan, for this quote from Frances Hesselbein that I can use next semester.
I love your articles! I never read one that I don’t feel encouraged or inspired! Thank you.
I was thinking that this is a very good post. As we see our values some into play, then we will not be trying to follow someone else. Very interesting to think about.
I think this article really explains what leadership is. It doesnt begin with you telling someone else what to do, but you being able to do the right thing yourself. Leadership becomes automatic when you are aware of your own limitations and are able to rise above them. Then you will lead without even trying.