Image via Wikipedia
Recently I had the chance to listen to Frances Hesselbein live via a webinar. Hesselbein is the former CEO of Girl Scouts of America, the current President of the Leader to Leader Institute (formerly the Peter Drucker Foundation of Nonprofit Management) and its founding President. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Leader to Leader. Hesselbein was one of Peter Drucker’s best friends and they often used each other as examples of effective leaders.
I tried several times to interview Hesselbein so that I could include her in my study of leadership sages. Finally it was explained to me that since she is over 90 years, she is extremely selective in how and with whom she spends her time which I totally respect and understood. So having the chance to hear her live was an opportunity.
Since it is Women’s History Month, Hesselbein was the featured speaker on an international webinar. Women from all over the world were calling in to ask her questions. For me, it was fun to hear her voice which was hard to hear, but still powerful. She spoke with intention as if she were choosing each word purposefully. I could hear the wisdom in her words and I could sense that listeners were on the edge of their seats waiting for what she was going to share with us.
She talked about how the world has become less civil and this has destroyed our ability to converse with one another. In fact, she said this has become her focus for her current work. I was amazed that even at her age, she has the courage, energy, and determination to tackle this issue. Hesselbein said, “It is discouraging because we have the lowest level of trust and the highest level of cynicism in organizations today. Conversations have been negative and unacceptable.” She reminded us that Peter Drucker used to say that “good manners are the lubricating oil of effective organizations.”
“Leaders will fail if they focus on themselves. If we focus on the people we serve, it is not about me—it’s about them. That was Drucker’s philosophy.”
Hesselbein said that the leader of the future asks. The leader of the past tells.
Then she told us about her tattoos—invisible tattoos. Hesselbein explained how she imagines that she has two tattoos—one on each shoulder. One shoulder says:
Think first. Speak last.
And the other shoulder says: Ask—don’t tell.
She said these were constant reminders of what she needed to do as a leader. I found it interesting to listen to a sage over the age of 90 talk about tattoos! But I liked the image.
Then the facilitator asked Hesselbein for her closing comments. She spoke softly and slowly, but this is what she said:
"This is a call for action. We need to stay connected. We need to learn, to grow, and to serve. My motto is “to serve is to live.” While we need to acknowledge the darkness of our times, we need to be determined to be part of the bright future that we will help to define. We have so much to learn from each other. I call this circular learning. We need to love and to be grateful."
In my opinion, this is sage advice.
Now, what tattoos—related to leadership– would you select for each shoulder?
I will share my two invisible tattoos if you share yours.