Like many who knew her, I was naturally grieved to learn that Frances Hesselbein had died. None of us were surprised, of course. Frances had lived a good, long life, well-loved and productive. At the same time, though, along with the natural grief for someone who was so respected and so highly thought of, as I reflected on our friendship I felt honored and pleased to have known her. She was a great friend to me, and an important influence in my life in the later years of my career, and I will never forget her.
In my case, a certain sense of excitement came with knowing someone with her background and experience, and – not to put too fine a point on it – it was clear to me that she considered me one of her friends. Additionally, and probably not simply coincidentally, our mutual admiration for the work of Peter Drucker give us yet another frame of reference for when Frances and I came together for our conversations. She had known Drucker well, and as we spoke of how Drucker’s work had itself been such a critical influence throughout my career, Frances and I were very happy to share our thoughts about him. And as I was teaching then (I was on the faculty at Columbia University), she was particularly interested when we spoke about how my students’ studies were strengthened by knowing not only about her work, but about Drucker’s as well.
Frances and I talked about my work a lot. My line of work had to do with knowledge services, and as we got to know each other, Frances challenged herself to take a special interest in my work. Needless to say, I was very pleased and she never seemed to tire of talking with me about what I did, and she was continually encouraging me to take on additional teaching, speaking engagements, or even additional writing assignments when the opportunity came up. Indeed, she even invited me to write about knowledge services for Leader to Leader, and it was thanks to her editorial skills and those of Leader to Leader‘s Managing Editor Bruce Rosenstein that “Knowledge Services: Your Foundation for Building the Twenty-First-Century Knowledge Organization” was published for the award-winning journal’s readership. And with respect to that article, Frances also gave permission for the article to be included as a supplementary essay in The Knowledge Services Handbook: A Guide for the Knowledge Strategist, which I wrote with my colleague Barrie Schessler Levy.
In doing so, it seemed to me, Frances kindly demonstrated her enthusiasm for how leadership and knowledge services are related. She even, in a published testimonial for the book, described it as “wisely optimistic, with helpful hints for the management of knowledge services.” That reference to our shared optimism surely amused her, for it linked directly to another of Frances’s much-recognized characteristics, her description of what she called her “positivism,” a trait she liked to describe as coming from her B+ blood type. And she had fun ascribing it to me, laughingly calling me one of her favorite “positivist optimists.”
Having come to know Frances Hesselbein over the past 18 or 20 years (neither of us was exactly sure of when – or how – we met), we quickly realized that we liked one another’s company and we tried to get together whenever we could. We delighted in lunching together in the dining room at 320 Park Avenue, where her office was located, and – our special treat – to get together at Le Colonial for lunch or dinner, just a short walk down 57th Street from her apartment.
And there was even a personal relationship, although neither Frances nor I knew about it until many years later. As is well known, Frances served from 1976 to 1990 as the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. One of her great successes in that role was to bring management and leadership skills (and authority) to the organization. In fact, she did it so well that her expertise was recognized in a cover article for Business Week.
And what was the personal connection between Frances and Guy? As it turned out, in the magazine’s cover image, one of the little girls pictured was the daughter of a couple who were my best friends at the time. She was Helen Lafferty (now Helen Lafferty Knudsen) and she is the little girl on the floor at the left, with her finger on her chin. I was a lucky fellow to spend lots of time with Helen and her older brother James . Needless to say, the family and I are still close friends, although little did we know that our lives would connect with Frances Hesselbein many years later.
Having known Frances as I did, it became my goal – sometime during the past few years – to write a tribute to her, simply because she was such a good friend and professional colleague. After she died, I began to think about what I would write and it suddenly came to me that I had already done so, for I had written about Frances in several blog posts. These posts – not surprisingly – were not only distributed to friends and colleagues who read my blogs but, during my years of teaching knowledge services, they became assigned readings for students; I’m very happy to say that they led to many stimulating and rewarding conversations in our classroom seminars.
So there is no need to write a separate memoir in Frances Hesselbein’s honor. The posts captured online will do the job.
And I cannot resist using the title I’ve chosen, for Frances wrote this as her inscription when she gave me a copy of Work is Love Made Visible, her last book. It will serve appropriately for this post, which I’m also using as the introduction to the memoir.
I am very happy to share this memoir about someone who was very special to me, and I hope readers enjoy learning about my and Frances’s good friendship.
I am honored to re-frame what she wrote for me and to say about our friendship:
To Frances – a friend of the heart, forever – Guy.