A Life-Changing Experience for Students and Mentors

By Frances HesselbeinDecember 15, 2012 | Print

It is the end of summer as I write my quarterly column, and I hope your summer has been as busy and as blessed as mine.

I am writing this in my home in Easton, Pennsylvania, with a view of the woods and our occasional wild turkey—I always marvel at the precise formation wild turkeys have as they march from one area of the woods down to another, before they disappear. Have I mentioned that it is always the male turkeys who lead the processional? Male turkeys first, females second, baby turkeys bringing up the rear. I guess nature hasn’t heard about equal opportunity.

“Not one down moment. The most energetic, beautiful global participants, who helped one another every day.” This is how I would summarize the fourth annual Leadership Summit at the University of Pittsburgh, July 21–24.

Four years ago, the faculty of a great university came to me with a dream we shared—a Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. Dr. Mark Nordenberg, Dr. Kathy Humphrey, Dr. Lee Patouillet, and Dr. James Maher had a vision of global student leadership.

Dialogue for Civic Engagement

But for them, global student leadership was not enough—civic engagement had to be part of the dream. We asked ourselves: “What would happen if every year 25 university students would be chosen from all over our country, along with 25 university students from all over the world, and come to the University of Pittsburgh?” And from remarkable, distinguished leaders in all three sectors, mentors would be chosen—one for every four or five students—and these student-mentor teams would live together, work together, dream together for four days, engaging in leadership dialogue and providing community service that would change their lives, and ours.

The dream was relived for the fourth time this July as thirteen mentors—including CEOs, nonprofit founders, executive coaches, and a wounded warrior—and our group of global student leaders convened.

Through mentoring relationships, social interaction, and instructional and interactive presentations, 2012 Academy students:     

Used critical thinking skills to address challenges offered by civic engagement sites throughout Pittsburgh     
Developed personal action plans to improve their community or campus, or both     
Developed a collaborative network of great thought leaders

The compelling author Simon Sinek spoke to us. We learned from him that leadership is not a position or role but a responsibility and a process.

The relationships we built in four days will last a lifetime. I am grateful to the mentors who volunteered their time. I am grateful to the global student leaders who gave us great inspiration and energy. Our hope and intention is to meet again, in 2013—this time, in a gathering of all 250 Summit participants, class of 2009 to 2013. Can you imagine these young global leaders—from Albania to Venezuela—coming together in this global summit? The 2012 group reminded me that I promised to raise the funds for this gathering and I will keep my promise.

Profound Leadership Development

From the exuberant four days in Pittsburgh, I flew to Washington, D.C., where I had the opportunity to join our country’s greatest executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, along with the remarkable thought leaders he works with. We discussed profound leadership development questions that Marshall raised, and that I will pose to you now, with his permission:         

Do I have a structure to improve?      
How happy was I yesterday? (Because happiness is part of effectiveness.)
How many times did I try to prove I was right?
Did my day have meaning?
Was I building relationships?

I will keep these questions close to my heart, as I hope you will, as we approach the winter season.

Our Extraordinary Leaders of the Future

On October 16, 2012, the Hesselbein Institute presented the Leader of the Future Award—which annually honors extraordinary leaders from the public, private, and social sector who have distinguished themselves as ethical leaders of integrity and character while serving the common good. This year, we honored a group of distinctive recipients: General Peter W. Chiarelli (U.S. Army, Ret.), CEO of One Mind for Research, Michael and Kass Lazerow, founders of Buddy Media, and Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, of the Philadelphia Police Department.

We are enthusiastic and privileged to have the opportunity to honor these effective leaders—who lead from the heart with humility, have a clear mission and vision for the future, and have a deep respect for all people.

It is also the inaugural year of honoring five NEXT Leaders of the Future. These are leaders age 30 and under who will be invited to New York City to attend the award dinner and will be recognized for their community contributions. I look forward to sharing more about this event, and the work, careers, and examples of our 2012 leaders of the future.

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 Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, and former chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.

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