In the Presence of Remarkable Leaders

By Frances HesselbeinFall 2011 | Print
May 31, Memorial Day—I am writing this column on a day when we remember all those who have served their country, who have died for their country, and all those servicemen and -women who serve today, who in the end sustain the democracy.

I am in my Easton, Pennsylvania, home over this holiday, having visited the cemeteries and made sure our Pennsylvania graves had their flags and flowers. I am flying a large American flag from my deck for my husband, my son, my brother, my father, and all the generations of my family who served in that long line of soldiers since before the American Revolution.

The Presence of Greatness

This spring brought some of the most memorable days of my whole life. April was the last month of my two-year appointment to the Class of ’51 Chair for the Study of Leadership at West Point—the first woman and first nongraduate to serve in this role. General Eric Shinseki and Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) of Duke University were the first two appointees to serve in this position. Speaking of “presence of greatness”—they were inspiring acts to follow.

The great thought leaders who accompanied me, every other month, were as inspired as I was by our Leadership Dialogues with classes of West Point cadets. For two years, a remarkable cast of leaders joined me in the cadet classrooms:

Tom Moran—Chairman, President, & CEO, Mutual of America Life Insurance Company

General Lloyd Austin III—U.S. Army

Margot Tyler—Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

K.H. Moon—President, New Paradigm Institute, South Korea

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith—Executive Coach and Author

Alan Mulally—President & CEO, Ford Motor Company

Len Schlesinger—President, Babson College Rick Miller—President of Olin College

Ralph Sorenson—Former President of Babson College

Lynn Pike Carter—President of Capital One Bank

Nicole Moran—Executive Vice President & Chief of Staff, Capital One Bank

Jim Collins—Author and Speaker

Chairman Shao Ming Lo—Bright China Social Fund

Robert La—Bright China Social Fund

A reception was planned for April 28 to celebrate those two great years with 80 friends joining us at West Point. Then I heard from my two Bright China friends, whom I’ve written about in this column, friends and fellow travelers for more than 10 years.

Chairman Shao Ming Lo and Robert La called from Hong Kong, “We cannot be with you at West Point on April 28, therefore, we will fly from Hong Kong to New York on Thursday, April 14, spend all day April 15 at West Point with you and the cadets, then fly back to Hong Kong on Saturday, April 16.”

Our West Point faculty arranged a remarkably significant day for our two devoted Chinese friends and supporters. The day featured a Shao Ming Lo–Frances Hesselbein dialogue with a class of 22 cadets including five West Point cadets from China. At one point, I called him “a great thought leader.” He is. However, he smiled at me and said in his modest and compelling manner, “I am not a thought leader. I am an action leader.” The cadets loved it—and him.

Three Great Thought Leaders

On May 25, Elizabeth Edersheim and I flew to Los Angeles. Liz had the bright idea of our traveling to Santa Monica, where she would direct a Warren Bennis– Frances Hesselbein video on leadership, civic engagement, and much more, to be used in July at the University of Pittsburgh Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement.

Of course, Warren Bennis is one of our greatest living thought leaders—the father of modern leadership. I have had three great thought leaders supporting me from my earliest work with Girl Scouts of the USA to the Peter Drucker Foundation (now today’s Leader to Leader Institute)— Peter Drucker, John W. Gardner, and Warren Bennis. All three were with me in those earliest years, all inspiring and enormously generous with their time and wisdom. Peter Drucker and John Gardner have left us, but the power and influence of their work continue to illuminate our leadership journeys.

Warren Bennis is as alive, generous, exciting, brilliant, sensitive, and fun to work with, as I remember from every exciting intellectual encounter we’ve had since his early work with Girl Scouts of the USA in the 1980s. His new book will be in the hands of all 50 university students from all over the world who will join us at the Hesselbein Global Academy in July 2011. They will view Warren’s video on that July day, and then have the opportunity to ask him questions in an exciting live video dialogue, preparing them to make a difference in the fall of 2011.

The Only Constant Is Change

I am eager to share the significance of some news, some happenings with you. First is the news that this is the very last issue of the Leader to Leader journal edited by Alan Shrader, our managing editor since 2002 and a constant presence since we began the journal in 1996.

Now 64 issues and five Apex Awards for Publication Excellence and two Apex Grand Awards in 2011 for Best Journal or Magazine later, we say, not “Farewell,” but, “Alan, no journal ever had a greater managing editor. You will be treasured, always, by the Leader to Leader Institute and our board, staff, and readers.”

For 15 years, more than 400 remarkable friends, thought leaders, and supporters wrote articles for our journal, always as their personal contributions. This too is a tribute to Alan. Great writers do not submit complimentary articles to uninspiring editors.

When I would finish my quarterly column and send it off to Alan for editing, I did so with a great sense of security. Alan’s editing was never about him and his preferences, but always about how to make my best effort better.

We will be forever grateful to Alan for bringing us to this point. In the next issue, you will find an introduction to our new managing editor, Bruce Rosenstein, another superb editor, a worthy successor of Alan. A warm welcome to Bruce.

The fall of 2011 will be upon us as you read this. I hope you have had a summer to remember, always.

To serve is to live.

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