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Energy for a Life of Service

By Frances HesselbeinSeptember 13, 2012 | Print
My years of service at West Point always involved Colonel Thomas Kolditz, head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, the department where I had the honor of serving in the Class of ’51 Chair for the Study of Leadership for 2009–2011.

On May 18, I attended his farewell ceremony in the beautiful Herbert Hall at West Point. It will be difficult to imagine West Point without our now General Kolditz. I smile when I realize the meaning of “retirement” in his case. General Kolditz will be teaching at Yale in the fall, and continue jumping out of airplanes with people who were inspired by his book, In Extremis Leadership. The book (with its wildly adventurous cover) is on a bookshelf facing me as I write my column.

I was back at West Point for the Class of 2012 graduation, a rare and inspiring experience, with 1,046 graduates, 4,560 in the United States Corps of Cadets, and parents and friends filling the stands. Proud to be an American! The day has a deep and moving meaning for me. The first classes at West Point took place while my ancestor John Adams was president of the United States.

My new book, More Hesselbein on Leadership, came out in late summer. It is in paperback—with photographs for the first time. They come from different periods in my life, including several in my Girl Scout uniforms, of course.

Confidence in Our New Graduates

This year, speaking at Lafayette College, Virginia Tech, and last week presenting the commencement address at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, some of the most inspiring moments came beyond the actual inspiration on campus. They came in the messages, in the letters inviting me to speak, and the latter ones expressing appreciation, such as this from Matthew Brandon, the student at Lafayette College who wrote, “Thank you once again for coming to Lafayette and delivering such a poignant and inspirational message to my fellow peers. I know that every student who was present was impacted in significant ways by your address. Additionally, I know that their future success will be in part due to your positivity and demonstration of confidence in them and their abilities. You are always welcome at Lafayette.”

This is where I get my energy—from the students and cadets, now on college and university and military academy campuses. I leave these campuses filled with hope. Bright future is the message I take home with me.

Message of a Bright Future

On June 5 we will be delivering our fifth Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute Global Webinar. Already 340 participants have signed on. By the time we go on, we’ll have more than 35 countries participating. As I write, this Global Webinar has not yet taken place, yet leaders from all over the world have already sent in four pages of questions, single spaced. If I were to try to write responses to all the questions, we would have a new book.

For the entire hour, we will respond to the questions participants submitted. Please join us for our next online Global Webinar events, October 18 and December 5. Leaders worldwide have already begun to register for future webinars. We have five new countries to welcome—South Africa, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, and Jamaica to add to our first list.

New Technology, New Possibilities

Isn’t it amazing how easily we change our ways as the technology is changing? No more do I have to struggle with my calendar and 15-hour flights to Asia and elsewhere. Malaysia calls, “We want you to come to Kuala Lumpur to speak to 900 businessmen.” My immediate response: “Thank you. I will be there.” And then I describe the exciting live global webinar. I am live, there, even though I’m on camera in New York and the 900 leaders are in Malaysia for our dialogue.

Before the fall push begins, I will have several weeks at my home in eastern Pennsylvania, and hours every day in my neighbors’ swimming pool. Rocks all around the pool, tall oak trees and ivy, and I’m the only one in the pool for lap after lap.

I smile as I remember where it all began: two blue ribbons, one for swimming, one for diving, 7th grade Cochran Junior High School, long ago in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The mountains of western Pennsylvania prepared me for the journey I’ve been taking.

In 7th grade, I knew exactly what my life would be in the future: I would be a poet, writing poetry for the rest of my life. By the time I was a freshman in junior college, in the same wonderful community, I knew I would write for the theater for the rest of my life. Not too far off. Dr. Regina Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School professor friend, often says to me, “Every time you say ‘I came from the mountains of western Pennsylvania,’ you sound more barefoot.” My reply: “That’s the whole idea.” As I finish this column, I have just returned from three days in Washington. Each day was inspiring and fulfilling in its own way.

On August 15th, at ten o’clock that morning there was a moving celebration on the parade ground of Fort Myer– the celebration of General Ann Dunwoody’s retirement from the U.S. Army. A four star General with a long and distinguished career was much to celebrate. Her last position – 17th Commanding General, Army Materiel Command.

General Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, chaired and hosted the ceremony and his tribute to General Dunwoody was as moving and inspiring as Ann Dunwoody’s response. Her speech made all of us proud to be American. A touching note for me: On the podium at the edge of the parade ground were three chairs – one for General Odierno, one for General Dunwoody, and one for her husband, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. When General Dunwoody gave her beautiful farewell address, her husband stood beside her during her speech.

A reception followed, where Army colleagues and civilian friends could personally express their love and gratitude to a great American leader.

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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