The Seasons and Generations of Leadership

By Frances HesselbeinWinter 2012 | Print
For the Leader to Leader Institute, July 2011 was far more than heat waves and 100° moments. It was filled with exciting encounters, beginning with the first Saturday when I spoke to 500 leaders at the first Vietnamese-American Boat People Summit, held in Washington, D.C. As I gave the opening speech, “A Call to Service and Leadership,” to a room of first- and second-generation Vietnamese-American boat people—all about how they can play an even more significant role in building a healthy, inclusive country—I remembered the history of that period. So it was inspiring to meet today’s Vietnamese-American families and share their response to the needs of today’s communities. Dr. Robert Ivany, president of the University of St. Thomas and a retired U.S. Army general, then spoke. He inspired and motivated that audience in a very special way, because he had served in that part of the world.

A few weeks later, in one day I met with two groups that have the same focus. In the morning, I met with the president of the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, whose mission is finding homes for veterans. That afternoon, a team from another organization, Volunteers of America, discussed building homes for returning veterans. The focus of both organizations inspired me. And meeting them on the same day, as they delivered a message of how critical it is for them and all of us to see that no military veteran home from war is sleeping on the streets or is homeless, added to the impact. The Future Generation of Leaders A few days later, for the third year, the University of Pittsburgh Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement brought 46 university students—half from all over the United States and half from other parts of the world, to the University of Pittsburgh for four days of an incredible Hesselbein Global Summit. An inspirational example of student engagement happened at the end of my opening remarks, when I shared with them what I described as “the defining moment that determined the person I am, the leader I have become.” I prefaced it with the suggestion that as I was sharing my defining moment, they think of theirs. When my speech was over, there were no questions about my defining moment. Instead, a number of students rose and, one by one, shared their own defining moment with the group. Part of the opening session included an inspiring video, “Leadership Dialogue with Warren Bennis,” an amazing contribution directed and provided by Dr. Liz Edersheim. Recently, some remarkable leaders decided that if Peter Drucker is “the father of modern management,” Warren Bennis is indeed “the father of modern leadership.” All four days at the University of Pittsburgh, I kept remembering a Pew Center report, “Millennials—A Portrait of Generation Next. Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” Or as Warren Bennis describes them, the “Crucible Generation.” Both believe this current generation is more like the generation of the 1930s and 1940s that we now call “the greatest generation” than any cohort since. As I left my two-year appointment to the Class of ’51 West Point Chair for the Study of Leadership on April 28, every moment on that hallowed ground at West Point simply underscored the current findings on “the Millennials.” May I add that my two years of visiting almost monthly at West Point, and my frequent speeches on college campuses, simply underscore and strengthen my belief “that indeed, this is the generation that will sustain the democracy.” New Callings On August 3, we held our 28th Generals in Transition Dinner at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Every quarter, in partnership with the office of the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, we bring together generals who will be leaving the Army sometime in the future, and their spouses, to share with them the leadership positions in the social sector that need exactly the kind of training, experience, and values they could bring to these positions. Always, there is a panel that includes a retired general who is now the president of a social sector organization or a university, a superintendent of schools, or the president of a non–defense industry company. I often open my remarks to the generals with, “No one in this room has ever had a job. You were called to do what you do. And now, as you are leaving the U.S. Army, there is a new calling.” And then I describe the remarkable opportunities to serve that lie ahead in the social sector. Our three Global Webinars in 2011, all now archived on our website, were very successful, with demands from all over the world for more. These are free so that the poorest leaders, the poorest countries, can participate. And they do. The next one will be on December 8. Debbe Kennedy, founder, president, and CEO of Global Dialogue Center, develops and presents our Leader to Leader Global Webinars as her own contribution—a very major contribution to our Institute and leaders all over the world. Usually, 39 or 40 countries participate, as well as major corporations and organizations, representing all three sectors in the United States. For our initial webinar, the first two countries to sign on were Kenya and Pakistan. Recently, I have been making some speeches to groups by live interactive video, with opportunity for questions. These have worked so well that perhaps some of my travel abroad can now take place virtually. A recent invitation from Malaysia was the first to receive this suggestion. So far, I have worked in 68 countries.On November 1st, the Leader to Leader Institute held our sixth Leader of the Future Award dinner. Our honoree, Mrs. Eric Shinseki—Patty—inspired us all with her lifetime of service, her love of our children, families, country. An Army spouse for 38 years, Mrs. Shinseki has devoted herself to volunteer work in the schools and community, the American Red Cross, Family Readiness Groups, the Arlington Ladies, and spouse development initiatives, among other military family programs and priorities. Mrs. Shinseki currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Military Child Education Coalition, and is the chair of its Living in the New Normal: Helping Children Thrive During Good and Challenging Times initiative.Patty Shinseki was appointed by First Lady Michelle Obama to serve on the White House Joining Forces: Taking Action to Serve America’s Military Families initiative, with Dr. Joe Biden, General Stanley McChrystal, and Richard Parsons, chairman of Citigroup. According to the White House, the “initiative aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society—citizens, communities, businesses, non-profits, faith based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government—to ensure military families have the support they have earned.”November was a very fortunate month indeed. The November 11 issue of Fortune Magazine carried an interview they titled “Learning from Drucker, and the Scouts” and included a photograph. It was fun to do. On November 18, University of Michigan Ross Graduate School of Business professor, Noel Tichy, introduced us to Geoffry Colvin, Senior Editor-at-Large at Fortune. Life is circular indeed. An exuberant 2012 to you. And it is from leaders, friends like you that I have learned, “to serve is to live.”Frances Hesselbein is editor-in-chief of Leader to Leader, founding president of the Drucker Foundation, president and CEO of the Leader to Leader Institute, and former chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.


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