Nonprofit Business Advisor, Strategies to Survive and Grow in Tough Times

Strengthening Daily Life and Civil Society

By Frances Hesselbein Summer 2013

Peter Drucker’s Wisdom

In these divided and divisive times, when we are losing our “civil discourse in a civil society,” it is worth remembering the words of Peter Drucker, who a week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York, wrote to our team and urged us in vivid, still relevant terms, not “to abandon daily life and civil society”— but “to strengthen daily life and civil society.”

My message today—in the midst of a string of national tragedies, in a country still at war— on university campuses, in corporate boardrooms, across the social sector, echoes Peter’s. 

The events in Newtown, Connecticut, where teachers and students—the youngest in the school—were the victims, struck us deeply. Yet, referring to the victims of 9/11, we are reminded of Peter’s call ... “to reaffirm their communal basic values and fundamental decencies.”

“After all,” Peter wrote, “it is what the Drucker Foundation [now The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute] is all about.”

I was touched by President Obama’s remarks addressed to families from Sandy Hook  Elementary School:

"As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another."

It is in these personal stories of strength, resolve, and sacrifice that we find values-based leadership— revealed in the teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, protecting their students; the first responders who helped guide those in harm’s way to safety; and the schoolchildren, who helped one another, dutifully following instructions.

We continue to grieve for those hurt and affected in the horrors we faced in Boston, yet we are energized by the example of those who assisted others in the horrors of the blasts, by the leadership of law enforcement and police officers who lead the way to resolve the conflict at hand, and by the courage of the Boston community members.

Quality, character, courage, and “beyond the call” describe those who respond to these unexpected national tragedies. Dispersed leadership—spreading the responsibilities of leadership across the organization until we have not a leader or the leader but leaders at every level—was once questioned by some, but now reinforced, and dispersed leadership is no longer debatable.

Our times call us to move beyond the old walls and together find the courage to carry on as we are called to do. We do not know what lies ahead, yet whatever the challenge, leaders will rise, finding the heart, the language, the caring that embraces and sustains.

23 Years of Inspiration 

The foundation may bear my name, but the heart, mind, and soul of the organization continue to move the Peter Drucker legacy—his intellectual, spiritual, ethical models—across the sectors, around the world as we keep the faith. 2013 marks the institute’s 23rd year providing free leadership resources to leaders in all sectors.  Your stories of personal transformation have inspired us to continue our work to strengthen leadership in every sector.

In 1990, when our institute began, we were interviewed by Fred Andrews of The New York Times . The title of Mr. Andrews’ article was “IDEAS INTO ACTION: Thinking Great Thoughts Without Great Money,” and as I mentioned in the article, “We are an anomaly, we have no money. We deal only in intellectual capital. We don’t make grants. We bring great thought leaders together with the leaders of the nonprofit sector.”’

Recently, WNYC public radio hosted their pledge drive. t he host asked his listeners, “Are you the type of person who supports the causes you believe in?” It was a revealing moment—one that has been exuberantly answered by the many institute thought leaders and partners who have contributed to our publications, our programs, our mission—to this Leader to Leader journal. We are indebted to you. We thank you.

This year, we look forward to working with new great partners in all three sectors to continue to offer our leadership resources to a global audience.

Inspiring Innovation

Peter left us in 2005, and we gave the Peter Drucker name back to the family in 2002. Yet even though the name is changed, Peter’s presence, his inspiration, our shared long history is with us every day.

One prominent example is Peter’s focus on innovation. He defined innovation as change that creates a new level of performance.

Each month, our e-newsletter Profile in Innovation recognizes an innovative person, organization, service, or program, which in turn inspire and inform our network.

In 2009 we first profiled Echoing Green, an organization that provides seed funding to social entrepreneurs with new and innovative ideas for solving critical social problems. Wondering what the organization was working on in 2013, we found that by year two, the majority of Echoing Green Fellows raised three times their Echoing Green support. By year five, after the completion of their fellowship, funded organizations raise, on average, 37 times their Echoing Green seed investment.
A Shift in the Social Sector

Echoing Green also discussed a trend they continue to notice from year to year: the number of applicants launching social for-profit and hybrid organizations. a ccording to their recent calculations, this year these two business models make up 41 percent of their applicant pool—an increase of 10 percent from just two years ago.

That shift is aligned with our research as well—the number of private companies focused on social issues is rising. We have recently written about a number of them in Profile in Innovation , including Sseko Designs, Warby Parker, and Denik, an organization founded by t yler Tolson, an alumnus of our own Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement

In the late summer 2001 before our world changed forever on September 11, sometimes I quoted Peter Drucker to audiences. I would say—“Peter Drucker is not a pessimist but he is very sober about the next 10 years. He sees political turmoil in many parts of the world, including the United States.”

Across the sectors there are common questions and common challenges. Yet, we all call for principled leadership. t his is the a merican public responding to the crisis of leadership in our own country.

Leading change calls for effective, ethical leaders in our country and countries around the world, in every sector at every level of every enterprise: not a leader, not the leader, but many leaders dispersing the re- sponsibilities of leadership across the organization.

Frances Hesselbein is editor-in-chief of Leader to Leader, founding president of the Drucker Foundation, president and CEO of The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, and former chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.

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