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Hesselbein on Leadership

Amazon link: Hesselbein on Leadership (J-B Leader to Leader Institute/PF Drucker Foundation)

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From chapter 22 (Manage Yourself and Then Your Company) of The Drucker Lectures: "But you cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first.

The most crucial and vital resource you have as an executive and as a manager is yourself; your organization is not going to do better than you do yourself.

So the first thing to say about a country like yours or companies like those represented in this room today is: development.

That is a very general term.

Development is, foremost, dependent on how much you get out of the one resource that is truly under your own command and control—namely, yourself."

Frances Hesselbein's views on leadership have attracted fans since the one-time Johnstown, Pennsylvania, troop leader became CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA in 1976 and turned that venerable but struggling organization around.

Now in "Hesselbein on Leadership" the current chairman and founding president of the Drucker Foundation has compiled 19 essays that lay out the philosophy she honed during those experiences and in years since—a philosophy that today draws more admirers than ever, such as Jim Collins, who wrote the book's foreword.

In a disarmingly simple manner, Hesselbein offers her underlying definition of the topic at hand ("leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do it") and spells out nuances and specifics that those atop any private, public or nonprofit organization would do well to absorb.

Throughout the book she shows how character determines performance, how a willingness to innovate and a desire to make a difference regularly bring results, and how the best leaders actually turn a vision into the spark needed to ignite their enterprise.

There is plenty of pragmatic advice here amidst the theoretical, and in light of Hesselbein's wealth of provocative yet practical insights, the only complaint may be that this collection is a little on the slim side.

— Howard Rothman

  • Origins of Hesselbein on Leadership
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Hesselbein on Leadership
  • Note to the Reader
  • Part I: Leadership a Matter of How to Be, Not How to Do It
    • The "How to Be" Leader
    • A Reason to Believe
    • Carry a Big Basket
    • Focus on the Task
    • The Power of Civility
      • Using the Tools of Leadership
      • How to Show Respect
        • Knowing What's Important
        • Making Time Count
    • Barriers to Leadership
      • Self-Imposed Barriers
      • Institutional Barriers
    • The Challenge of Leadership Transition
      • Board Partnership
      • A Four-Step Process
        • Phase I: Defining a Vision
        • Phase II: Building a Search Infrastructure
        • Phase III: Delegating Authority
        • Phase IV: Conducting the Search
        • These four steps are not a blueprint for the success of all searches
      • An Essential Time Investment
  • Part II: Leading the Organization of the Future
    • Managing in a World That Is Round
      • Managing for the mission
      • Managing for innovation
      • Managing for diversity
      • The needs of the world and the leader's job
    • A Traveler Along the Road
      • A Mission of Care
      • Learning to Lead
      • The Ultimate Discipline
    • Journey to Transformation
      • Milestones on the way to an effective organization
        • 1. Scan the environment
        • 2. Revisit the mission
        • 3. Ban the hierarchy
        • 4. Challenge the gospel
        • 5. Employ the power of language
        • 6. Disperse leadership across the organization
        • 7. Lead from the front, don't push from the rear
        • 8. Assess performance
    • Putting One's House in Order
      • Three Dimensions of Change
        • Organizational coherence
        • Plan for the leadership of the organizaton
        • Getting our personal house in order
      • Bringing the Search Home
    • The One Big Question
      • Leaders Develop Leaders
      • Five Questions for the Future
    • When the Roll Is Called in 2010
      • My checklist — not for survival but for a successful journey
      • This checklist for viability is only a beginning
  • Part III: Leading in a New Century, a New World
    • A World of Ideas
    • Speaking a Common Language
    • Seeing Your Contribution Life Size
      • Lessons from Nonprofits
      • Satisfaction Beyond Salary
    • When They Look at Us, Can They Find Themselves?
      • Understanding Diversity
      • Steps Toward the Future
        • A vision of a diverse future
        • The annual plan of work and its supporting budget
        • All policies, practices, and procedures are examined
        • When our potential customers look at us, can they find themselves?
          • If no then > mobilize around the shared vision
      • Building Commitment and Accountability
    • A Call to Leaders
      • Making a Difference Today
      • Looking Beyond the Walls
      • A Society That Cares Not
    • The Dream That Lies Before Us
  • The Author


HARRY TRUMAN once defined leadership as the art of getting people to do what they might not otherwise do, and to like it.

That quotation comes to mind whenever I get a call from Frances Hesselbein.

The phone rings, I pick up, and I hear Frances on the other end of the line.

"Jim, I was hoping that you might consider … " Or, "The foundation would so value … " Or, "It would be wonderful if you would think about … " And before I even hear the end of the sentence, I know that I will very likely say yes.

I also know that I'm going to like it.

I'm not the only person who has this experience.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to present at the Drucker Foundation annual conference, held in Los Angeles.

The evening before the main event, I attended a reception.

As I moved around the room full of remarkable people—thinkers, authors, corporate executives, directors of nonprofits, government leaders—I asked, "What brings you here?"

The answers invariably circled back to Frances Hesselbein.

Later, at the reception dinner, Peter Drucker quipped that he made a practice of doing pretty much whatever Frances asks.

Like Drucker, nearly all those in the room had reached a point of being masters of their own lives.

Yet when Frances calls, they all have a great propensity to say yes, and to like it.

In this delightful collection of essays, Hesselbein shares her own perspectives on the art of leadership.

Like many highly effective leaders, she has so much to teach us from her own example, but she is reticent to talk much about herself—a trait you will notice in these pages.

So, allow me to paint a picture of her achievements, to set the context for what you will read in this book.

She is a person of substantial accomplishment from whom we can all learn, all the more so because she would never say so herself.

In 1976, Hesselbein found herself at the center of an organization cascading toward irrelevance.

I'm careful here not to say "atop" the organization, as Frances would never think of her role that way.

When describing her organization structure to a New York Times reporter, she put a glass at the center of a lunch table and created a set of concentric circles radiating outward—plates, cups, saucers—connected by knives, forks, and spoons.

"I'm here," she said, pointing to the glass in the middle.

"I'm not on top of anything."

But however you think of the structure, Hesselbein became CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA at the most perilous time in its then sixty-four-year history.

As John Byrne described in a BusinessWeek feature (from which I have drawn extensively for this foreword), Hesselbein faced challenges at least as difficult as those faced by CEOs of decaying old-line corporations: declining market share, dissatisfied customers, economic weakness, and even hostile takeover threats.

"Lurking in the background like a corporate raider," wrote Byrne, "was the Boy Scouts of America [which] had launched a feasibility study of extending its membership to girls."

With eight straight years of declining membership, the Girl Scouts were in danger of going the way of the Howard Johnson motor restaurants—a classic American icon of a bygone age, increasingly passed by as people's needs and tastes changed.

The Girl Scouts organization of 1976 was predominately white yet eager to serve all girls.

The girls of America were fast becoming aware of their diversity, their talents, and their ambitions.

They worried less about preparing for marriage and more about preparing for college and work, less about household skills and more about how to respond to increasing peer pressure to have sex or take drugs.

They wanted—needed—a highly contemporary organization that could help them become leaders in the world and responsible for their own lives.

Hesselbein came into her responsibility as a consummate insider.

With twenty-five years of experience, first as a volunteer troop leader and later as a local council executive director and national board member, she disproves the myth that change leaders must be larger-than-life heroes who ride in from the outside on a white horse.

Dyed in green (the color of the Girl Scouts), Hesselbein vowed to defend the timeless core values of the Girl Scouts and recommitted the organization to its enduring mission of helping girls reach their highest potential.

Beyond that, however, everything else would be open for change.

And change she wrought.

Hesselbein believed that any girl in America—be she low-income or wealthy, urban or rural, black, white, Latina, or whatever—should be able to picture herself in the Girl Scouts.

"If I'm a Navajo child on a reservation, a newly arrived Vietnamese child, or a young girl in rural Appalachia, I have to be able to open [the Girl Scout handbook] and find myself there," she said.

"That's a very powerful message that 'I'm not an outsider.

I'm part of something big."

The Girl Scouts not only changed materials like the Girl Scout handbooks (even translating them into multiple languages) but also initiated a slew of new offerings.

Proficiency badges sprouted up in topics like math, technology, and computer science, to reinforce the fact that girls are—and should think of themselves as—smart, capable individuals.

The organization artfully moved people to confront the brutal facts facing girls in modern America, such as teen pregnancy and alcohol use among minors, by creating materials on sensitive issues.

The parent organization did not force these materials down people's throats, but simply gave the interdependent councils the opportunity to use the materials at their discretion.

Most did.

Hesselbein grasped a central paradox of change: the organizations that best adapt to a changing world first and foremost know what should not change.

They have a fixed anchor of guiding principles around which they can more easily change everything else.

They know the difference between what is truly sacred and what is not, between what should never change and what should be always open for change, between "what we stand for" and "how we do things."

Had she marched in with a big "change program," full of herself as the great change leader, her efforts likely would have failed.

Instead, she began with a rededication to the guiding values and enduring mission of the Girl Scouts as the framework for change, giving people an anchor point of stability.

Yes, there would be change, but it would all be done in the spirit of reinvigorating the soul of the institution, not destroying it.

Equally important, she exercised the discipline to say no to changes and opportunities that did not fit the central mission.

When a charity organization sought to partner with the Girl Scouts, envisioning an army of smiling girls going door to door to canvass for the greater good, Hesselbein commended the desire to make a difference, but gave a polite and firm no.

Hesselbein understood that to "do good" does not mean doing all good.

To deliver the best results—and, as she continually reminds us in these essays, it is imperative to think in terms of results—requires the discipline to focus only on those activities that meet three basic tests.

First, the opportunity must fit squarely in the middle of the mission.

Second, the enterprise must have the capability to execute on the opportunity better than any other organization.

(If not, then leave the opportunity to others.)

And third, the opportunity must make sense within the context of the economic engine and resources of the institution.

Hesselbein pounded out a simple mantra: "We are here for only one reason: to help a girl reach her highest potential."

She steadfastly steered the Girl Scouts into those activities—and only those activities—where it could make a unique and significant contribution of value to its members.

And throughout, she bolstered the financial health of the Girl Scouts, mindful of Peter Drucker's adage that the foundation for doing good is doing well.

And, indeed, the results came.

Not just financial—for that is not the point in a mission-driven enterprise—but equally in terms of membership, volunteer dedication, and the enduring impact on the lives of girls.

Under her leadership, the Girl Scouts regained its preeminent position, with a girl membership of 2.25 million and a workforce (mainly volunteers) of 780,000.

Equally important, the organization had attained greater diversity and cohesion than at any time in its history each side of the coin reinforcing the other, in a powerful yin and yang combination.

Finally, she set up the organization to be successful long into the future, beyond her tenure.

Today, in 2002, the Girl Scouts of the USA has grown to nearly four million members, including nearly one million adult member volunteers.

When I think of what makes the Girl Scouts and, later, the Drucker Foundation tick at their best, I think first of the people that freely give of themselves to the mission of each organization.

The theme of relationships runs as a common thread through nearly every page of these essays.

For in the end, commitment to mission ultimately means commitment to other people who share the mission with you.

To fail the mission is one thing, to fail other people is entirely another.

And it is this magical combination of the right people engaged in common cause that Frances orchestrates as well as anyone—a fact that is borne out in her remarkable record of results.

Which brings me to the final and most important point about Hesselbein on Leadership.

Like all of the very best executives, her ambition is first and foremost for the organization, the cause, the work—not herself.

This is the central reason why she is able to get so many people to do what they might not otherwise do, and to like it.

After all, in a world where the very best people are ultimately volunteer, why on earth should they give over their creative energies to advance the greater glory of a leader whose ambition is first and foremost self-centric?

They shouldn't, and they don't.

Early in this book, Frances tells the story of a young person who approaches her after a presentation to ask, "Why should I not be cynical?"

The answer to that question comes in Hesselbein's cardinal rule: leadership is much less about what you do, and much more about who you are.

If you view leadership as a bag of manipulative tricks or charismatic behaviors to advance your own personal interests, then people have every right to be cynical.

But if your leadership flows first and foremost from inner character and integrity of ambition, then you can justly ask people to lend themselves to your organization and its mission.

As one of those rare individuals who displays consistency between her teachings and her own practice, there is perhaps no better answer to the question "Why should I not be cynical?" than the example of Frances Hesselbein herself.

Jim Collins
Boulder, Colorado

Focus on the Task

When the great Duke Ellington wanted to describe a remarkable artist or an extraordinary work, he would say, "Beyond category."

The phrase describes his own work as well—and offers a fitting definition of success in today's world.

Ellington's words came to mind recently when a group of visiting management graduate students and faculty from Vienna asked my view of gender and organizational leadership.

Over luncheon, several graduate students who were women challenged: "Why are you the chairman of the Board of Governors of the Drucker Foundation—not the chairperson or chair?"

I replied that this was simply a personal preference, that I consider the word chairman a title derived from human, not man.

On any board I chair, I am the chairman.

I use this rationale: Suppose there is a successful, well-led corporation, and I am chosen to follow its successful chairman who is a man.

The first change I make is not going to be changing my title to chair or chairperson.

If I assume the position, I assume the title.

I acknowledged to the visitors that this is a view not commonly held—but that my preference is right for me and for my philosophy and leadership style.

As leaders who are women, we begin by acknowledging that we bring a special dimension to the work of our organization.

Our contribution to furthering the mission is enhanced by our gender—any effective leader brings her life experience and point of view to bear.

Diversity of gender, race, culture, and background in our leadership teams strengthens and enriches our organizations.

But that is not the reason we, as leaders who are women, do what we do.

The mission that defines why we do what we do has no gender.

Peter Drucker urges leaders to "focus on task, not gender."

That advice serves us well.

A focus on task is an imperative for all leaders who are working to build the richly diverse, inclusive, effective organization.

Our increasingly diverse business, government, and social sector institutions reflect a sea change in American society, and our leaders' task is to make these institutions effective.

For seven years I served on the board of a large electric utility with eleven directors who were men.

I served as this company was building two nuclear power plants.

There is nothing more macho than a nuclear power plant.

Yet in all of those meetings—ten times a year for seven years—I never walked into the boardroom thinking, "I Am Woman."

I participated because I had something to contribute beyond gender.

I never thought of myself as the woman on the board (though indeed I was); rather, I knew I brought a special perspective to the deliberations and the decisions.

Sometimes when I am being interviewed, a writer will say something such as, "We have read that yours is the ultimate in feminine management.

Please describe your feminine management style."

I reply that of course the observer observes what the observer observes, but that for me management is like money—it has no gender.

The management qualities that might be labeled feminine are embraced by remarkably effective women and men:

leading with the power of language

cultivating relationships

building teams and structures that release the energy and potential of others

developing flexible and fluid management systems

building an inclusive organization that in the words of Peter Drucker "makes the strengths of their people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant."

Some might call this feminine management, others would call it the enlightened way that we must, as Drucker says, "lead people and not contain them."

When I served a national organization designed to meet the special needs of girls and young women, I always hoped that there would come through all the work and content a consistent message.

That message was, there is something marvelous about being a girl or a young woman, with remarkable opportunities that lie ahead, and we have to be prepared for them.

I have not changed my philosophy.

When we focus on task, our gender adds a special and positive dimension to all we do.

In the new century, increasingly we will have enormous opportunities to be more significant than ever before.

We choose our battles wisely.

Ten years ago I would not have written this chapter.

It was a different world in the workplace, and the barriers to the talents of women were formidable.

In the early nineties women and the corporate, government, and nonprofit leaders who supported equal access to opportunity, position, and significance were beginning a decade of remarkable progress.

A growing number of women entered boardrooms, management teams, and key leadership positions.

Women were ever more richly represented in business schools, law schools, and medical schools—opening doors that had been closed in the past and preparing themselves for future leadership.

Many of the old issues were retired.

As we focus on task, we move beyond the old assumptions, practices, and language that can be barriers to equal access.

One barrier is placing women in a special category of gender.

If we see and describe ourselves as a "woman vice president," we may remain in a category never to be considered for the chief executive position.

The leadership challenges before us are basic, fundamental, and generic.

The future calls us to lead beyond where we are, to focus on a new level of appreciation, inclusion, and performance.

To continue to make remarkable progress, leaders who are women must focus on performance always.

We must never forget the power of mission, values, and task.

Peter Senge says that mission instills the passion and the patience for the long journey.

It is a long journey but an exuberant one, because our traveling companions are men and women sharing a new vision of the future.

We will achieve our vision only if we think and perform "beyond category."



“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker

The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told — either by the task or by the boss — to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves ↓ profoundly challenges social structure

Managing Oneself is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” … “It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …

… “Managing Oneself is based on the very opposite realities: Workers are likely to outlive organizations (and therefore, employers can’t be depended on for designing your life), and the knowledge worker has mobility.” ← in a context




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