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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”

“Reaching arms”

A voice saying, “Well Francie…”

“Family stories”

“Mama Wicks made me know how loved and special I was.”

Fast Forward

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:

Two Surprising Events

Finding Vitality

Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership


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