Lessons in Leadership from Frances Hesselbein -- Part 1

This 99-year-old woman taught me some great lessons—many just from simple, effective behaviors she probably didn’t realize I could learn from ...


Joshua Spodek
03/16/2018

“To serve is to live.”

Frances Hesselbein had the fastest, clearest, most direct, and most meaningful answer of anyone I remember asking her passion. Five minutes into our pre-lunch conversation and she went right to the point.

Experience and, I believe, only experience enables people to encapsulate great meaning in a minimum of words. I was immediately struck by the power and meaning in these few short words: “To serve is to live.”

If you read her writings, you see these five words a lot, but they carry more meaning when she says them directly after you ask her passion. Most of the next couple hours’ conversation was reviewing and approaching the words from different perspectives.

I knew many people call her the best leader they’ve met, in particular my mentor, Marshall Goldsmith, and his client, Alan Mulaly.

She worked with Peter Drucker. She was CEO of the Girl Scouts in the 70s and 80s and, I understand, turned the organization around and was a major figure in increasing minorities and moving from home economics to including things like science, math, and professional matters.

President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her office walls are packed with her publications, pictures with Presidents (I noticed pictures with Reagan, Clinton, and Obama. There may have been others I missed), dignitaries, Generals, and more.

I first met Frances about a decade ago, when she spoke to one of my classes at Columbia Business School. In January I was pleasantly surprised to see she favorited one of my tweets. I ran into her at Marshall’s release party for his book Triggers, where she invited me to visit.

This 99-year-old woman taught me some great lessons—many just from simple, effective behaviors she probably didn’t realize I could learn from—and I’ll explore them over the next few posts.

Joshua Spodek PhD MBA, bestselling author of Leadership Step by Step and host of the Leadership and the Environment podcast, is an Adjunct Professor at NYU, leadership coach and workshop leader for Columbia Business School, columnist for Inc., and founder of SpodekAcademy.com.