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March 03, 2005

Frances Hesselbein, Girl Scouts CEO, Drucker Foundation and Presidential Medal of Freedom

The first speaker at the YPO Inventing Your Future Markets event today was Frances Hesselbein.  She is the Chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute, (Formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management)  Yes, THAT Peter Drucker.  She was CEO of the Girl Scouts from 1976 to 1990 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, the nation's highest civilian honor.  If you think you've done a lot, read her bio and then set your sights higher.  I believe that even if I had not known her accomplishments, I would have still felt like I was in the room with a great person.  There was something about her that is hard to describe and I wasn't the only one to feel it.

She opened with a quote:


Be careful of your thoughts
for your thoughts become your word.
Be careful of your words
for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions
for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits
for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character
for your character becomes your destiny.


Her message was one of hope and our ability to make the world a better place for all people, but she quoted John W. Gardner as a caution: "This nation could die of comfortable indifference."  She challenged this room full of CEOs to serve other people and to shine a light in the darkest corners.  She said that Peter Drucker is "not a pessimist, but he is very sober about the future."

Ms. Hesselbein is known for flattening organizations and driving decision making down into the organization.  She called it circular management and it is flat, flexible and fluid.  At the Girl Scouts she did away with the typical org chart.  She mentioned several times that she believes the power of language is indispensable.  Regarding the org chart, if you are truly going to be flat, flexible and fluid, you can not use words like subordinate, boss, and even up or down in the organization.  That doesn't mean there isn't clear accountability however, but it is more to the team than to a boss.

She quoted George Bernard Shaw as saying he wanted to be "thoroughly used up when I die."  Ms. Hesselbein has had a long distinguished career, but I would bet that she accomplishes more in the next 20 years than most of us will in our entire lives.

She is very concerned, but also optimistic about the youth of the world and their future.  It costs $80,000 a year to incarcerate a 16 year old boy, and we're going to pay for it one way or the other if they don't see a future.  She wrapped up by quoting Peter Drucker who would say at the end of an event like this, "What are you going to do on Monday?"  Her challenge was to "Do something about the education of children."

I wish my writing ability was up to the task of conveying her message.  The leadertoleader.org website is a great place to go for more of her vision and some great writing on making your company and the world a better place.  Her latest book is Hesselbein on Leadership and her co-author is Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great.  That Jim Collins is her co-author should tell you something about this amazing person too.

March 3, 2005 in YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005 | Permalink


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I was reading the forward to Good to Great and noticed your name as one of the reviewers! That's awesome. Hope you and your family are doing great!

Posted by: Brandon Tyler | Jun 24, 2008 6:21:50 AM