Confidence in Leadership

By Frances HesselbeinFall 2013 | Print

A resource I have long found valuable is “A National Study of Confidence in Leadership,” from the Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. On page 4 is the National Leadership Index 2012, which poses the question, “How much confidence do you have in the leadership of the following sectors?”

For the second consecutive year, only two sectors measured in this year’s report—military and medical leadership—received above-average confidence scores.

These are the five sectors with the highest level of confidence:

1. Military

2. Medical

3. Nonprofit and charitable

4. Local government

5. Religious

For the eighth year in a row, military leadership inspired the most confidence out of thirteen sectors. In 2007, nonprofit and charitable ranked fifth. Today, the sector ranks third. It was Peter Drucker who stated, “It is not business, it is not government, it is the social sector that may yet save the society.”

We can all serve the common good in our ways, by making our own contributions to a new, vibrant, and caring society that only we as citizens can restore.

It will take all of us to build healthy communities. It was a disappointing moment to learn that educational leadership, so important to the country’s future competitive strength, continues to languish in fifth place from the bottom, among the sectors for whom Americans have “not much” confidence. Will we heed the call to help make America’s leadership more effective?

“Comfortable Indifference” Is Not for Us

The same national study cites that 88 percent of those surveyed feel a personal responsibility to help make America’s leadership more effective, and 61 percent feel they have a great deal or a moderate amount of power to do so.

When I look out the window I see a bright future. The nation’s high school graduation rate is the highest since 1976. In New York City, where our offices are located, the graduation rate has risen by 40.9 percent since 2005, and the dropout rate has fallen nearly 10 points, from 22 percent to 12.1 percent. At the same time critical skills needs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are escalating, and we are challenged to contribute and collaborate in our own communities.

As an illustration, a survey by the Lemelson-MIT Program found that a majority of teenagers don’t know anyone working in STEM fields. They also do not understand the work involved in those fields.

In response to the heightened need for STEM skills and the lack of awareness of STEM as a career option for our next generation of leaders, the administration of President Barack Obama, corporations, and social sector organizations have created a new consortium, US2020, which aims to attract one million volunteers to mentor students in STEM disciplines.

Eric Schwarz, Citizen Schools’ Co-Founder and CEO and executive chairman of US2020, is leading this effort. We first highlighted the innovative work of Citizen Schools in our institute’s Profile in Innovation e-newsletter in 2009. Schwarz and his co-founder, Ned Rimer, learned that afterschool programs for the students they served were a resource equivalent to the extracurricular clubs or tutoring sessions their peers in middle- and upper-class families were privileged to have in their lives.

Citizen Schools now operates in middle schools in eight states, serving approximately 5,200 students and engaging 4,000 volunteers—an inspiring example for US2020, which hopes to convince companies to allow 20 percent or more of their employees to spend at least twenty hours a year as STEM mentors.

Such initiatives demonstrate that many of us know how to lead, to mobilize, to contribute our own unique share to changing lives. All of us can say, “These are our children.” It comes down to our responsibility for leadership, and knowing that “to serve is to live.”

When I look out the window, I see a bright future.

Leaders of the Future

On Monday, October 21, 2013, the institute will present our annual Leader of the Future Award to Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of GE.

The Leader of the Future Award annually honors extraordinary leaders from the public, private, and/or social sectors who have distinguished themselves as ethical leaders of integrity and character while serving the common good.

We are enthusiastic and privileged to have the opportunity to honor Beth, an effective leader who leads from the heart, has a clear mission and vision for the future, and has a deep respect for all people. Beth leads GE’s growth and market innovation initiatives, including three company-wide platforms: GE Ventures, which partners start-ups with GE capabilities, and ecomagination and healthymagination, which harness innovation for better environmental and health outcomes.

Beth’s accomplishments in personal development, leadership, driving innovation at scale, and mentoring others are just a few of the reasons she exemplifies a Leader of the Future.

This annual fundraiser—a public celebration of values-based leaders—is one of the most prestigious and broadly attended events in the cross-sector community. The Institute will also honor five NEXT Leaders of the Future—leaders ages thirty and under—who will be invited to New York City to attend the award dinner and will be recognized for their community contributions. This special recognition was made possible by the generosity of Ginger and William C. Conway.

We are grateful for the privilege to gather on the thirty-fifth floor of the Mutual of America Life Insurance building and tell the story of exemplary Leaders of the Future, to share their commitment to an ethos of core values, and to this year, honor Beth Comstock. We hope you will join us.

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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