Frances Hesselbein: Meet a GUTSY woman who, like Queen Elizabeth II, underlines duty and legacy

Summary: In today’s world, women empowerment training is trending. Yet, it’s not so much about the number of women in leadership positions (however, that is good); it’s more about what these women stand for and how they bring their values to their organizations. We can all learn deeply from women like the late Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Frances Hesselbein, C.E.O. of The Leadership Forum. There is less focus less on celebrity and more on duty and legacy.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I was excited to finally work in an organization with a female president.

Most importantly, I work in an esteemed biotech company. The science is advanced, and everyone is very competitive.

That part is good.

In addition, it keeps the energy up, and working here can be magnetic.

Women empowerment training help females release self-doubt and overwhelm.

However, this is what has me wondering.

The excitement I felt when I was first here has dimmed.

For instance, the president always talks about commitment, vision, and integrity.

In our women empowerment training, she often starts the meetings with words of encouragement.

Then this happened!

In a private meeting, she told me she intended to become an influencer and asked for an introduction to some “famous” people in my family.

Yes, I have some celebrities in my family, and I am cautious about introductions.

Rarely will people come out and boldly ask. I am usually the one to consider an introduction if there is good reason.

Her overtness was a surprise. In addition, it made me very uncomfortable. I just nodded and smiled while inside, I felt used.

I would introduce her to my relatives if it were for more than just her self-interest.

Her “ask” reminded me of Megan Markel, who is often called “Megain.”

She sounded very different from her team’s “pep talks.” This sounded selfish and cold.

In short, should I say something? Or keep my mouth shut?”


In a Dilemma

Self-growth is key to women empowerment training success.

Dear, In a Dilemma,

What you expressed is very disheartening. I think you will have to say something to your boss.

In any case, I suggest we set up a time to talk.

How you discuss this very dicey situation is essential.

However, here I want to stay with the larger vision and introduce you to a woman, a trailblazer.

She sees age as merely a number, yet she will be 107 (you heard me right) on November 1, 2022, which indicates that she has been through many iterations of how women view leadership.

As an illustration, I was honored to interview her. And want to share her perspective on leadership and what belongs in women empowerment training programs.

For women empowerment training to succeed, it must include self-awareness and group awareness.

Meet Frances Hesselbein.

“The woman was sitting across from me had the aura of a pioneer. In my mind’s eye, I saw her chopping wood, tending fires, and hauling water from a nearby stream.

Yet here she was in a tailored suit handing me a cup of green tea and answering my questions about the photographs on the wall of her tasteful Park Avenue office.

She talked about being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House without false humility or blinding ego. She also discussed the encounters she had with many of the presidents who lived there.

The medal, America’s highest civilian honor, was awarded in 1998, recognizing her leadership as Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts from 1976 to 1990 and as Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the Peter Drucker Foundation in 1990.

Talking with her was like having a special lunch with a favorite teacher. Her conversation was direct and profound—no evasion, no chest-thumping, and, what a relief, no platitudes.

Quality leaders, male and female, require training in both the vision and legacy aspects of leading.

Frances Hesselbein is a national treasure (although I’m sure her eyebrows would raise at such a thought). Her diminutive frame belies the power punch behind her genteel manner. We did not spend much time talking about awards and recognition. They were what appeared while she was busy doing her daily work.

After that, we went to the subject’s core, “How do we develop quality leaders in an era so lacking in role models?”

In her no-nonsense manner, she hit the nail on the head with one sharp hammer swing.

Leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do it.

“We are too busy teaching a cookbook “how to” version with limited emphasis on the quality and character of the leader- for that is what truly determines lasting results.”

Furthermore, Frances looks through a long lens. She is legacy based rather than drawn to the glitter of short-term results. Just as the acorn holds the knowledge of the oak tree, Frances, at the helm of the Girl Scouts, held the vision of little girls growing into competent, compassionate women. That vision turned the Girl Scouts from a declining organization (with the Boy Scouts of America eager to take the reins and offer membership to girls) into a strong organization creating an environment for girls to explore their uniqueness.

A compass rather than a map is needed for all successful women empowerment training.

By all means, an atmosphere of fun and camaraderie is essential for skill development.

After that, the deeper requirement is to give the girls a compass to stay on a life course, clearly seeing what matters.

“Each girl can be helped to reach her own highest potential and needs role models to help guide the way. Most leaders we learn about are men; we need a safe place to discuss and explore women’s special attributes to the modern world.”

There is sadness coupled with anger when she states the discomforting truths about our society that forces little girls to grow up all too soon, where the pressure of image is causing girls as young as nine to become anorexic or bulimic.

For example, teen pregnancies are accepted without a deeper discussion about long-term implications.

In other words, she touched an open nerve so often denied or ignored; Peter Drucker said,

“We live in a society that pretends to care about its children and does not.”

Strong women leaders look at problems as possibilities.

That pioneer spirit so strong when she speaks is not just about problems and difficulties; she also has in her tool bag options and possibilities.

She helped expand volunteerism so that young businesswomen and older women who have developed excellent skills over a lifetime can mentor “our girls.”

Her dedication to core values of truth, integrity, and facing what is uncomfortable is now embedded in the Girl Scout culture.

All this is interesting for a woman born into a generation trained to stay home as wives and mother. Even more interesting is that Frances is the mother of one son and no daughters, and her career plan was to be available at home and write especially poetry.

Her love of language is evident in her quotes that appear as headers for websites and book chapters.

Your mind can be a direct connection to the heart of your destiny.

She has an uncanny way of using the mind to get to the heart as she quotes, “Be careful of your deeds, for your deeds become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character; Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

Pay attention to the difference between “hard work” and “superficial work.”

She briefly describes the world of work: “It’s not hard work, which is dreary, it is superficial work.” And she cuts through a barrage of superficialities to the essence leading, “Listening… it’s called respect, it’s called appreciation, it’s called anticipation, and it’s called leadership.”

Her most essential stepping- stones seemed to come from continuous synchronicities. Frances said, “I call this providence. You end up where you are supposed to be. When I resisted, someone would be there to open the door and push me in.”

For example, her work career began without a resume or job interview. “When thirty ten-year-old girls were left without a troop leader, I said I would “help out” for six weeks. That became ten years.” and when she agreed to be Executive Director of the local council to “help out” for six months, well, there was another warp in time. And six years later, before she knew it, she was the C.E.O. of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. for 13 years.

Being punctual is a sign of respect.

Her initial meeting with Peter Drucker could be titled “It Pays To Be Punctual.”

She was the first attendee at the reception; the only other person to arrive early was Peter Drucker. And in that instant, a friendship began that for 24 years continued.

Ultimately, Frances became the Founding President of the Peter Drucker Foundation in 1990 (now the Leader to Leader Institute), and in 2000 she became Chairman of the Board. “All because,” she said with a chuckle, “I was taught it is polite to be on time.”

When Frances talked about Peter Drucker, who died in November 2005 at age 95, it was with deep caring and appreciation. “He was a man who exemplified the essence of leadership. It is up to us to carry on his legacy, to speak and act from the universal truths.”

As I sat listening to the adventures of how she is choosing to live her life, I was keenly aware of the honor of being in the presence of an authentic human being.”

Successful women empowerment training programs address core human values.

There you have it. Much of women empowerment training is evergreen and does not change from season to season. It is about the core values that are centuries old that endure making culture thrive.

In conclusion, please let me know who you would add to this list, including Queen Elizabeth II and Frances Hesselbein.

Here’s to your success,


P.S. Please read Dr. Hesselbein’s endorsement of my book, “Don’t Bring It To Work.”

P.S.S. Learn about and get a FREE copy of my eBook Gutsy: How Women Leaders Make Change, available September 14 through 17, 2022, on Amazon.

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Sylvia Lafair

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