Recently, I had the honor to interview one of the greatest leaders of our time, Frances Hesselbein. Frances is the former executive director of the Girl Scouts of America and is currently the chairman of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. She is also one of my best friends.
Not only do I think Frances is an extraordinary leader, the great management thinker Peter Drucker once noted that she was perhaps the most effective executive he had ever met. As a tribute to her leadership skills, President Clinton awarded Frances with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a U.S. civilian.
Following is a short excerpt from our interview. In this brief discussion, Frances and I discuss our hopes for the future and she gives us her thoughts on what is really important in life and what makes her love her work so much.
MG: What are some of your hopes for the future? What opportunities do you see for leaders in the future?
FRANCES: I see a bright future. Leaders of the future are not content with repeating the past, so we must ask ourselves: How can we make a greater difference in the future? How can we support one another more? We do not want to repeat the past, so I want us to work very hard individually at describing the future that we desire.
MG: Frances, we’re in your office and the walls are lined with your amazing achievements. For instance, 23 honorary PhDs, many books and awards and pictures of you with presidents you’ve met. After all of these achievements you still come into work every day. Why is it that, after all you’ve done, you’re still working every day, doing your best?
FRANCES: Marshall, work is love made visible. I can’t wait to get to work every day. I’m here in the New York Office Monday through Thursday. Thursdays I often leave in the afternoon and go to my home in Easton where I spend Friday and Saturday, and Sunday morning come back. It is a wonderful balance for me.
You see, to me, work is love made visible. I can’t wait to get to work every day I am here. It seems impossible, but for either years our journal, the Leader to Leader Journal, has been the number one journal in the US and that is out of 1500 journals!
We give away as much as we can. For instance, we do global webinars. The other day we spoke to 400 women in 40 countries, leaders of the future, women in action. During the webinar, I had a message from six men who were leaders in one of the poorest African countries, one of the smallest countries. It said, “Dear Lady Hesselbein, may we register for your webinar for women? We are men who are leaders but we are hungry for your message. Please may we register?” Three minutes later, they had my reply: “Gentlemen, please know how welcome you are. Please register. There is no fee. And if you know any other men who are leaders in Africa who would like to register, please tell them how welcome they are.” Marshall, it’s such fun to give it all away.
MG: You know, Frances, one thing you said that really struck me–work is love made visible. Can you talk about your inner drive–the reason that you come to work every day, the reason that you want that love to be visible?
FRANCES: To serve is to live, Marshall. Just think how long that we have been battle-buddies. Just think when that cute little blond kid walked into my Girl Scout office with his plan for organizations. That was the beginning of our great adventure. I rarely worked abroad without my friend Marshall finding a way to move things around so that we could see each other. We are partners. Your family is as close to me as my own family. It is a beautiful life because we work together – that is “work is love made visible”.
If all we ever had together were lovely social occasions, it would have been very nice and lots of fun. But Marshall, you and I have worked together for…I can’t even count how many years, maybe 25 with this organization, and probably ten with the Girl Scouts. (I hasten to mention we were both 12 at the time began.) For us to be able to work together, for me to see the way you change lives, and the spiritual depth you bring to your work as well as your great intellectual gift. Our work together Marshall is love made visible.