The following content is a compilation of blog posts about Frances Hesselbein. These were written by me to honor Mrs. Hesselbein and to share with my blog readers what I learned from her, and how she and I interacted with one another. As we got to know each other over the years, she liked that I was writing about her and sharing my thoughts about our friendship with students, professional colleagues, and others with whom I had contact. I am now happy to share these blog posts about Frances with others who knew and loved her.
The posts are compiled here in order to provide more convenient access. They will probably not be read all at once, but having them in a separate post puts them together and makes them easier to read. The sections of the posts are listed here. For easier access, readers can simply use their “Find” command and enter the number (or the title) of the post to be read.
Thank you for reading what I have written about Frances.
The ten posts are:
- A Friend of the Heart, Forever
- Strategic Knowledge – Defining Moments
- Frances Hesselbein – Knowledge Sharing at Its Best
- Management – Science or Art? What is the Purpose of Management?
- Shaping the Corporate Culture as a Knowledge Culture
- Knowledge Services – Enduring Wisdom for Knowledge Strategists
- An Important Message from a Very Special Leader
- Honoring Frances Hesselbein
- Frances Hesselbein on Leadership
- Work is Love Made Visible: The Power of Finding Your Purpose
1. A Friend of the Heart, Forever
[A shortened version of the following was published on January 23, 2023 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
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 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, I also was 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. 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 as 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 – generally defined as a methodology for converging information management, knowledge management (KM), and strategic learning into a single enterprise-wide discipline. And the “enterprise” can be any community, group, or organization (large or small) in which knowledge services is (or should be) practiced. It’s undertaken to establish a beneficial sharing of knowledge, all for the purpose of achieving successfully whatever the community, group, or organization is seeking to achieve. So knowledge services was a subject I wrote about often, taught, and one in which I was fortunate to have had a long career as a management consultant. I like to think the pleasure Frances and I took in our conversations about knowledge services was mutual.
As we got to know each other, Frances challenged herself to take a special interest in my work, and needless to say, I was naturally very pleased. Her curiosity about knowledge services seemed almost unbounded, and she would often open conversations with me with a question about one or another “piece” of knowledge services, as she knew it was a subject with which I was particularly affiliated. She made it clear that she wanted to learn more about how knowledge services could be described in terms that lined up with her own work in leadership development, and as we talked, she seemed very pleased to be able to bring our two subjects together.
So Frances 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 21st Century Knowledge Organization” was published for the award-winning journal’s readership. And with respect to that article, Frances also gave permission for it to be included as a supplementary essay in The Knowledge Services Handbook: A Guide for the Knowledge Strategist, which I wrote with my colleague (and Associate Lecturer at Columbia) 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 my and Barrie’s 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.”
Associating knowledge services with her own work – her expertise and authority in leadership development – was a natural connection for Frances. I was always honored (and delighted, of course) that she could link her work with mine, whether she was speaking about her leadership for the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., her long association with Peter Drucker, her honor as an awardee of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and – later – her duties with the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum when it became affiliated with the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and talk with me about her experiences. And she was very skilled in describing how they all related to knowledge services, the subject that she recognized – as she got to know me – as a primary focus in my own life and work.
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 by 1990 her expertise was recognized in a cover article in 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.
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. “To Guy – a friend of the heart, forever – Frances.”
I can say no less now, and I am honored to re-frame what she wrote for me and write here:
To Frances – a friend of the heart, forever – Guy.
2. Strategic Knowledge – Defining Moments
[The following is an abridged version of an essay in observance of the centenary of Peter F. Ducker’s birth, published on October 30, 2009 in SMR’s Knowledge Services Blog.]
As has been described, Frances Hesselbein and I spent many hours discussing knowledge services, professional conversations that were always rewarding. A good example took place at a meeting with Frances some years ago, written about in an essay I wrote on October 30, 2009. The longer essay was titled The Drucker Centenary Approaches: Developing, Managing, and Sharing Strategic Knowledge, and the section, which I called “Strategic Knowledge – Defining Moments” and re-published here, is an excerpt from the longer essay.
For many who work with strategic knowledge, the upcoming Drucker Centenary carries with it something akin to confirmation or affirmation. Considering Mr. Drucker’s contributions, the observances focused around November 19 acknowledge that we are ready to move to a knowledge society. For many of us, we can’t help but be grateful that – as a society – we’re getting beyond the affectation of ignorance that seemed to characterize such a large chunk of our recent past.
As we think about what is available to us as citizens, the application of knowledge services becomes something of a lightning rod for us. In today’s workplace, strategic knowledge as a construct provides us with the opportunity to clear out what no longer works (even if it worked in the past), to move forward in taking advantage of the innumerable opportunities we have for knowledge development and knowledge sharing (what some of us refer to as “KD/KS”), and to find in the effective management of strategic knowledge the bridge to our shared culture as a knowledge society.
Such are the thoughts that come to mind after an evening with The Drucker Society of New York, for meeting with us were Frances Hesselbein, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Leader to Leader Institute, and Bruce Rosenstein, author of Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life.
As might be expected from these two expert storytellers, the evening became one of shared experiences (not only from the two of them, but from audience members as well) and ideas flowed freely. Indeed, it would be extremely gratifying to capture all that was discussed but highlights must suffice. And providing highlights is not such a difficult task, since Lee Igel, the group’s leader, used the concept of “defining moments” – those times or events in our lives that guided us to our association with Peter Drucker – to help us focus our thoughts.
Mrs. Hesselbein went back to her childhood to describe her defining moment, telling about how she had determined from her grandmother’s good influence that there is no place in our society (or in the workplace) for prejudice and exclusion. Rosenstein chose as his experience the time when, as he worked toward his book about Drucker’s influence, Drucker used the phrase “living in more than one world,” providing Rosenstein the concept he knew he wanted to convey.
We all have these moments. For some, the defining moment comes when – in a secure profession or field of work, perhaps – there’s a desire to do more, to put one’s self on the line and seek work in which one either supports organizational effectiveness or finds one’s self on the street looking for a job! And, yes, I’m speaking personally here, for as a young librarian my defining moment came when I decided that I wanted to be accountable for my work. The positions in which I had been employed up to that time were not asking enough of me, and I wanted very much to be judged for my professional performance. At about the same time, something led me to specialized librarianship, where my work would either be part of organizational success or I wouldn’t have a job. It was that simple, my defining moment, and it led me down paths I never even knew existed. And, as can be inferred, that defining moment led to a focus on the role of management, on individual competencies, and, yes, to an understanding of the influence of a philosophy like Peter Drucker’s or the effectiveness of a leadership commitment like Frances Hesselbein’s, as we seek to achieve organizational effectiveness.
So what we are experiencing – as we think about what Drucker was leading us to – turns out to be something of an affirmation after all, doesn’t it? For those of us looking to understand the place of strategic knowledge in our lives – and our professional roles in developing, managing, and sharing strategic knowledge – it is something of a pleasure to be so affirmed and to learn to recognize that such defining moments lead us ever onward and upward.
3. Frances Hesselbein: Knowledge Sharing at Its Best
[The following was published on November 1, 2016 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
Readers of these posts are aware that my professional focus (and often much of my personal attention) is on knowledge services.
We define knowledge services simply: it is an approach to managing what we know by pulling together information management, knowledge management (KM), and strategic learning. It works for us as individuals, and in the larger scheme of things, knowledge services benefits any organization or group in which the discipline is practiced. As a compound noun, we describe knowledge services in the singular (“knowledge services is…”) and with the convergence of these three splendid practices — information management, KM, and strategic learning — we position ourselves for using knowledge for its best purposes, however we wish to define those purposes.
Indeed, the best way to describe knowledge services is to think about the concept as what I’ve come to call “knowledge sharing,” and it is in this frame of mind that I offer this post to honor one of the most successful practitioners of knowledge sharing I know.
She is Frances Hesselbein, President and CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute (founded in 1990 as The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management and renamed in 2012 to honor Mrs. Hesselbein).
I’ve known Frances Hesselbein for several years now, and I am impressed – as is everyone who knows her – with the many honors and awards she has received.
And who wouldn’t be? Among these have been the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Clinton in 1998 for her leadership as CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. from 1976-1990, and her distinction in 2015 by Fortune as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders.
And it is that connection with the Girl Scouts that brings us to what I’m writing here, for I want to connect the excellence of Mrs. Hesselbein’s work with girls and young women when she managed the Girl Scouts with another post I wrote on October 11, 2009 (Ada and Michelle — Let’s Focus on Girls Education).
When Mrs. Hesselbein came to the Girl Scouts in 1976, the organization was having some difficulties and when she — using her well-developed leadership skills — took over, she was able to realign the organization through a major turnaround. As described by Sally Helgesen in Strategy + Business in May, 2015, the Girl Scouts was attempting to deal with “a declining membership, a dearth of volunteers, and a growing reputation for irrelevance.”
Turnaround? A total transformation? Absolutely, for under Frances Hesselbein’s guidance the organization became — as Helgesen described Mrs. Hesselbein’s success — “a cohesive and growing enterprise, focused in helping girls from diverse backgrounds achieve their highest potential through a contemporary program that emphasized leadership, science, technology, and math.”
So for those of us who know and respect Mrs. Hesselbein, leadership is the thing, the very essence of any description of her success. In fact, there are many of us who, out of respect for her many years of success in the field, have come to think of Mrs. Hesselbein as sort of the “dean” of leadership development today. Yet there is another side to the story when we talk about her leadership success, one that matches up with that knowledge sharing I referred to earlier. As we commit to our goal for educating girls and young women and, not to put too fine a point on it, combining that goal with enabling all women to connect with leadership, it is in Mrs. Hesselbein’s outstanding talent for sharing knowledge that we realize just how important it is to link leadership and knowledge sharing.
An example? On October 13 I was fortunate to hear her opening keynote address for the Global Women’s Leadership Summit. Mrs. Hesselbein’s theme was clear from the first: leaders today – and those who aspire to leadership – understand that our modern society requires a new commitment to leadership, a framework for leadership that refutes the low level of trust and the high level of cynicism being experienced in all of society. And, not surprising to her audience, Mrs. Hesselbein recommended a solution. This pioneer in leadership (and in knowledge sharing as well, as I am characterizing her) described for conference attendees a plan, a list she referred to as her Imperatives of Leadership.
I heard five specific imperatives from Frances Hesselbein:
- Challenge the gospel of the status quo. It is her own “imperative” but Mrs. Hesselbein was generous to recognize (here and often in her address) the strong connection and friendship she had with Peter Drucker and here she shared a singularly appropriate line of thought. In any organization, those in leadership positions must keep the organization’s vision, mission, and values at the very center of the organization, enabling the leaders to build — as they move the organization forward — the organization as an organ of the future.
- Build collaborations, alliances, and partnerships. Mrs. Hesselbein has worked in 68 countries and how does she do it all? She uses technology to keep innovative dialogue alive and strong, and she makes no secret of the importance and value of education and learning. In her address, she quoted William Butler Yeats (“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”). Following this thought, she admonished all with leadership responsibility to look “beyond the walls of the organization” by simply asking: “And who does that?” Her response was clear and to the point, taking us back to strategic learning and knowledge sharing: “Learning leaders,” she said, and left no doubt in her listeners’ minds about who she expected to take charge when it is time to light the fire.
- For her third leadership direction, Mrs. Hesselbein related her comment (for those of us who know a little of her history) to all of the work she has undertaken throughout her professional career. “Build a richly diverse enterprise,” she said. If there is a single goal of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, it would be to provide equal access. It is a task that cannot be delegated, simply because — as she stated it — “civility and good manners come directly ‘from the front’ and leaders are responsible for equal access and diversity in the organizations they lead.” Or, perhaps more to the point for today’s audience: “Are we building today the richly diverse community for the future?”
- For leaders, the objective must be to manage and to understand the power of the vision, mission, and values of the organization. That’s what innovates the organization’s leaders, Mrs. Hesselbein said, reminding her listeners of Drucker’s critical dictum: we manage not only for the success of our immediate organizations but for the greater good. As leaders we are not in the role of describing for the organization’s workers “how to do.” The goal is to demonstrate for them “how to be,” a thought that led to another thought from Drucker, that innovation is the change that creates a new dimension of performance. In our current society, we look around and we see that now is the time to lead, to develop our checklist to the leaders of the future so that we enable them to establish and adhere to values-based and demographic-driven leadership principles for leading the organization and its people.
- With the last of her leadership imperatives, Frances Hesselbein brought us around to communication, that critical foundation for just about everything we do in the organizations for which we are responsible. She gave considerable attention to the idea that communication is “being heard” and she stated unapologetically that “we need leaders who practice listening.” Successful leaders, she said, are those who are listeners and unifiers, and through them “we find common ground.” Of course leaders share success but true leaders, she made clear, also accept responsibility for shortcomings and failures when they share success.
As she ended her her address, Mrs. Hesselbein turned to the subject of mentoring, to how leaders take it upon themselves to inspire fellow travelers. For this, she remembered George Bernard Shaw’s focus on mentoring:
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
– George Bernard Shaw
The destiny for her listeners, Frances Hesselbein made clear, is to hold that splendid torch high and, as leaders, “you will make it burn brightly.” And, as much as any other point she made for the listeners at the Global Women’s Leadership Summit, that future will be filled with leaders whose torches burn brightly. She was speaking to all of us, and — it seems to me — to all women listening to her. And I — because I am so optimistic about what they will do — was particularly pleased as she carefully addressed the millennials in the audience, the people who today represent our future’s brightest hope, our new — perhaps — “greatest generation.”
It was a remarkable address for that important conference, and it meant a lot to me to be able to hear what Mrs. Hesselbein had to say. And today I am very pleased to pay tribute to Frances Hesselbein with this post, to be able to express my gratitude for having her describe for us how we, as a society, can use leadership to dispel some of the distrust and cynicism that have been shoved into our societal discourse.
And for paying tribute to Frances Hesselbein, there is not a better day to do so than today. November 1 is Frances Hesselbein’s birthday and I want to go on record as presenting this remarkable woman with my very best wishes for a glorious day. From all of us — many admirers, faithful students and followers, and all of us who have come to appreciate all we have learned from you — we thank you, and we wish you the happiest of birthdays. Best wishes to you, Frances Hesselbein.
[Additional note: It meant a lot to me to be able to hear what Mrs. Hesselbein had to say. And I was even happier when she generously chose to take her (and my) focus on today’s millennials even further. Thanks to her kindness, a few weeks later Mrs. Hesselbein hosted my students from Columbia University in the City of New York for a conference on “Leadership Imperatives for Millennials.” For our students she took those imperatives developed for the Global Women’s Leadership Summit and built an entire conference program around them, describing specifically how these leadership directions will guide today’s graduate students in their work as knowledge strategists in the future. The reactions from the students were nothing short of phenomenal (in fact, the word “mesmerizing” came up several times when students spoke with me about the conference), for Mrs. Hesselbein graciously and frequently turned the floor over to the students and — even when they were asking questions — invited them to connect their understanding of their future work as knowledge strategists to the positive qualities she identifies in the workplace aptitudes demonstrated by today’s millennials.]
4. Management: Science or Art? What’s the Purpose of Management?
[The following was published on July 12, 2017 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
Since the publication of Duff McDonald’s The Golden Passport in April, we’ve had an array of opinion articles about what I tend to refer to as “the purpose of management.” It’s a topic I take up with students, professional colleagues, and, yes, even friends as we try to figure out just what our role is. I have a pretty strong feeling about the topic, obviously influenced (very seriously influenced) by those management leaders who came along some years ago. I’m attracted to the whole idea of what has become known — in recent years — as “CSR” (corporate social responsibility) and I suppose I was first caught up in the idea of the contribution of organizational management to the social good from my early years of study of Peter F. Drucker, and his many commentaries about how management should work, and the effect of management on the organization being managed and, not to put too fine a point on it, on the effect of management on society at large.
Indeed, one of Drucker’s earliest concepts resonated with me (and matched my thinking even more once I became serious about knowledge services and the management of intellectual capital within the organization). It was his attention to the organization’s contribution to the common good, stated in his Introduction to Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. While he made it clear that management’s obligation is to manage the organization, the organization itself “exists only to contribute a needed result to society, the economy, and the individual.” He went on to state that “if the managers of our major institutions, and especially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will.”
That was in 1973. And just six years earlier, David E. Lilienthal, in a series of lectures that were published under the title Management: A Humanist Art, provided his own definition of management (“…simply stated, the ability to get things done”) and then described his own version of management’s “larger” — we might call it — role in society:
The heart of the modern managerial task is to close the gap between man’s goals and the fulfillment of those goals; to make practical in man’s daily lives the discoveries of the scientist and the techniques of the engineer; to translate into reality the visions and dreams of poets and artists; to bring to actual fruition in men’s lives the aspirations of social reformers, the theories and concepts of scholars and economists, the stirrings in the hearts of the compassionate, the desperate need of the hungry, the shelterless, the sick and the heavy laden.
That was then. Reading Drucker and Lilienthal in light of what we now have in our “larger society,” what they felt so strongly about certainly is not where we are today. We’re a far cry from asking management to take responsibility for contributing to the common good. And with the publication of McDonald’s book and the many responses to what he had to say about the current role of management and, especially, of the role of graduate MBA programs, the point is now being very clearly made. [And by the way, if you don’t plan to buy McDonald’s book or read it from your favorite library, take a look at the excerpt (which he prepared) in Newsweek, the April 14, 2017, issue. The Newsweek title says it all: “How Harvard Flunked Economics: If You Want to Know Why the U.S. Economy is a Mess, Look to the Business School and Its Army of Craven MBAs.”]
And less than two months later an even more disheartening message came to us when two of the president’s important advisors — H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn— wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the president’s recent journey: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
And just a day or two later, I heard David Miliband speak at a luncheon. Miliband is in New York now, as the President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Himself from a refugee background, Miliband came to the job after his work in Parliament, first as Environment Secretary, during which short term climate change became a priority for policymakers. He was then promoted to Foreign Secretary, a position he held until April 2013 when he resigned to come to New York to lead the IRC. In his talk with us, Miliband reminded us about the importance of the meeting between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt in Newfoundland in August of 1941, a meeting which led to what soon became known as the Atlantic Charter. It was a critically important policy statement, and particularly at that time, for it defined (even though the United States was not even in the war yet) the Allied goals for life after the war. Ultimately, once all the Allies had signed on — which happened very quickly, on January 1, 1942 — the Atlantic Charter became the foundation of the modern United Nations.
On top of all that, throughout the last several months I’ve been focusing on the work Professor Jeffrey Sachs and his team are doing. At the Center for Sustainable Development at the Earth Institute at Columbia University they are seriously pushing us forward — as a society — with much good attention to our need for looking at sustainable development. Like everyone else, I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to get beyond where we are now (and if you haven’t yet had a look at Professor Sachs’ book Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, get a copy and read it — the book is short — a good evening’s read — and you will find it extremely stimulating).
So how does this all come together, and how does what I’m sharing here connect with knowledge services, knowledge strategy, and knowledge sharing? Well, that’s a question probably best answered by my students this term, for not only do they have my book on knowledge services as their text, they have Sachs’ book, Elizabeth Edersheim’s The Definitive Drucker, and much more. And so far (it’s early days yet) the discussions have been terrific. These students are committed to bringing together the principles relating to knowledge sharing; they are thinking already about how their generation will be able to make our society a better society, to figure out how we can use what we learn and what we know, sharing with one other, to see that the things that need fixing get fixed.
Am I suggesting that we’re in a spot where we have to do some serious thinking? Definitely! We’re having articles in a wide range of magazines (including my favorite, The New Yorker) asking if the organization’s obligation is only to the shareholders. And while it’s not possible for me to read (and digest) all that’s being written, I’m sure there are arguments being made on both sides of the debate. Naturally, with the way I feel about knowledge services and the societal rewards of knowledge sharing (to say nothing about the benefits to the organization in which the knowledge is shared for the organization’s advantage), I’m drawn to those who recognize with Drucker and Lilienthal that the primary object of management is not exclusively the return to the shareholders. Milton Friedman might have had his moment of fame but I prefer to hear what people like Suhas Apte and Jagdish Sheth have to say, as they do in “Developing the Sustainable Edge” in Issue 85 Summer 2017 of Leader to Leader, the award-winning journal of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. In their article (available in the Wiley Online Library at most research, academic, and large public libraries), Apte and Sheth describe their Sustainability Stakeholders Framework, a new way of approaching sustainability that goes far beyond the exclusive domain of the stockholders and could, it seems to me, be a logical first step toward what they refer to as a version of sustainability that is embraced “in a holistic, transformative, and balanced way.” What they are proposing — it seems to me — is an almost ideal opportunity for knowledge sharing for very tangible, measurable results.
This is a direction and an opportunity for knowledge services, knowledge strategy development, and knowledge sharing that I’m going to watch very closely.
5. Shaping the Corporate Culture as a Knowledge Culture
[The following was published on July 18, 2017 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
The concept of a “corporate culture” has been a management consideration for a long time, and it was many years ago when I first began to give attention to the connection between the already-in-place corporate culture (in the classic sense of “corporate,” as in pertaining to or related to any group) and the organization’s functioning as a “knowledge culture.”
And that distinction between “corporate” culture and “organizational” culture is important. From my point of view — especially with my focus on knowledge services and the management of intellectual capital in the larger organization — it doesn’t matter how we designate the culture. The type of organization doesn’t matter. When we speak about knowledge services and building and implementing a knowledge strategy, our thinking has to do with any type of organization, regardless of whether the organization is part of the profit sector as a business, or if it is a non-profit, a not-for-profit, a volunteer organization, or even an NGO or government agency.
Of course “corporate culture” is defined. One of the most useful definitions I’ve found comes from the magazine Entrepreneur and the magazine’s “Small Business Encyclopedia,” a cozy reference that calls the corporate culture “a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.” The Entrepreneur definition continues:
Whether written as a mission statement, spoken, or merely understood, corporate culture describes and governs the ways a company’s owners and employees think, feel, and act. Your own business’s culture may be based on beliefs spelled out in your mission statement. It could consist in part of a corporate symbol, like the rainbow-colored apple that symbolizes Apple Computer. Whatever shape it takes, your corporate culture plays a big role in determining how well your business will do.
If you’re not happy with your current culture, there are things you can do to start changing it now. Look for a symbol, story, ritual or other tool you could use to bring out the values and practices you want for your company. Your cultural tool might be a new corporate logo symbolizing your company’s personality. Or you could choose a story to embody your approach and make it part of your culture. If you can’t find a tool, make one. For example, you can turn an admired former employee into a symbol by giving an award named after that individual, complete with ritual ceremony.
As we work with knowledge strategy development, we drill down deeper. Why? Because one of the questions most asked is “How can we change the culture here?” Or, more directly, “What can we do to make knowledge sharing better in our organization?” Many people, ordinary knowledge workers and executives alike, are frequently on the look-out for advice about how to build (or if built, how to strengthen) the management of intellectual capital and – to take the effort to its logical result – how to establish (or re-fresh) the organization as a knowledge culture.
So I take the Entrepreneur definition and I re-work it, in knowledge services terms. First of all, I try to define just what it means to tackle the development (or enhancement) of a knowledge culture within the organization. In much of my work I’ve identified a number of attributes that stand out in any organization that functions as a knowledge culture, and three seem to head the list: in a knowledge culture, the people who make up the larger body of stakeholders — the knowledge workers in Peter Drucker’s famous and now nearly ubiquitous descriptor — are committed to transparency, collaboration, and collegiality. In other words, they are committed to working with one another, recognizing that in being open and transparent with each other, in collaborating with one another, and by interacting in a collegial framework, not only will their own success come easier, their contribution to the larger organizational success will be effectively realized with less friction and a more mutually supportive way of doing things.
There are other attributes, too, that come into play. These were first published – I think – in my centenary history of the Special Libraries Association published seven years ago (SLA at 100: From “Putting Knowledge to Work”® to Building the Knowledge Culture: The Special Libraries Association 1909-2009). That book is no longer in print, so the list was re-worked in Chapter One (“Building the Knowledge Culture”) of Knowledge Services: A Strategic Framework for the 21st Century Organization, published in 2016.
Here, then, are the critical essentials of a knowledge culture, an organization that I like to think of as “knowledge-centric”:
- Strength in collaboration (with no disincentives to collaborate).
- Respect for and support of the integrity of the knowledge process, with an emphasis on transparency (except in clearly defined situations requiring proprietary discretion or security), honesty, and trust.
- Focus on the larger organizational role and the benefits for the larger organization (not on individuals or individual departments).
- Professional allegiance to the organization or enterprise; allegiance to an external influence, such as a profession or a school of thought or a political, religious, or social philosophy, is secondary.
- Enthusiasm for information technology and communication in the knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization (KD/KS/KU) process.
- Respect and enthusiasm for knowledge services as a management and service-delivery methodology.
- Respect for the intellectual foundation of the effort; the intellectual quest is not disdained.
- The recognition that intellectual capital is an essential and critical organizational asset and that KM – however defined – is a legitimate functional operation in the organization (St. Clair, 2009).”
It’s not enough, though, simply to identify and list the attributes of the knowledge culture. For those of us who work in the organization’s knowledge domain, we must also understand — and recognize — that everyone in the company doesn’t have our close-at-hand experience with knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization (that “KD/KS/KU” we speak about so often). We also have another job, and that’s to raise awareness about the value of knowledge and how knowledge is used for the benefit of the organization. That’s when we bring in our expertise for — to put it in more managerial terms — building the business case for shifting the organization to a more knowledge-centric framework.
And since we know that many senior management, c-suite types have been exposed — at least superficially — to knowledge management, having heard “about” KM and knowledge services, there might already be a sense that the company or the organization could be “doing” something with knowledge services. The only problem with that situation is that, with their larger leadership and organizational management responsibilities, these executives are not — nor should they be expected to be — particularly expert at getting the knowledge-sharing framework moving.
That’s when the knowledge strategist — as the organization’s knowledge thought leader — takes over. These organizational knowledge specialists can do it. They are the experts and they can lead the awareness-raising effort. And they begin by figuring out how to get the ear of an executive or company leader, in order to establish his or her interest in the value of knowledge and how knowledge is used in the organization and — not to be dismissed lightly — how knowledge sharing affects organization behavior and organizational effectiveness. Then, having linked the benefits of the company’s intellectual capital to the company’s success, the knowledge strategist moves forward, in effect building the business case for knowledge services.
The knowledge strategist takes four particular steps:
- Find a sponsor. The knowledge strategist figures out a way to establish a relationship with a reliable KM/knowledge services champion or advocate. Hopefully someone in or near the C-suite, the knowledge services sponsor should be a person who understands the risks of approaching KD/KS/KU too casually. Once the knowledge strategist has that person’s confidence, he or she makes it clear that they can help move a strong knowledge services framework forward. But the knowledge strategist needs the sponsor’s help.
- Talk about the company’s KD/KS/KU vision. The knowledge strategist will make special effort to speak about knowledge sharing with anyone who will listen – and if there isn’t a vision already in place, they bring the subject up.
- Identify the company’s information and knowledge gatekeepers. It’s the knowledge strategist’s job to identify who “owns” knowledge services. Regardless of what type of organization it is, someone or some group of people have responsibility for knowledge sharing (either nominally or stated specifically).
- Ask what future planning is being done with respect to such hot-button topics as information governance, privacy and security, big data (and strategies for dealing with big data), compliance and risk management, and the like. All of these issues — and many more — have to do with the company’s approach to KD/KS/KU, and it is the knowledge strategist who has the expertise management needs for ensuring the success of the KD/KS/KU process.
Finally, once the relationship with the sponsor has been established, a supplementary step can be taken, a step that — if I’ve succeeded — will strengthen the knowledge strategist/sponsor relationship and lead to a wider understanding of knowledge value in organizational behavior. I was honored to be asked to contribute an article to the Summer 2017 (Issue 85 ) of Leader to Leader, the award-winning journal published by the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. The journal is specifically designed to address challenging issues all executives face and, in particular, to “discuss new strategies for competition and cooperation across all sectors.” My task with the article, titled “Knowledge Services: Your Foundation for Building the Twenty-First Century Knowledge Organization,” was to provide organizational managers with advice about how to incorporate knowledge services into their organizations as they prepare for the future. I do this by describing how knowledge sharing is better implemented through knowledge services. I also seek to set up specific roles — with respect to knowledge services — for both the organization’s knowledge strategist and its leaders. The article is available directly from the Hesselbein Leadership Institute and in most research, academic, and large public libraries through the Wiley Online Library.
6. Knowledge Services: Enduring Wisdom for Knowledge Strategists
[The following was published on August 23, 2017 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
In using the phrase “enduring wisdom,” I am honoring two of the most important influences in my career, Peter F. Drucker and Frances Hesselbein. For many years, I’ve worked to bring knowledge services and knowledge strategy development – the management process we generally refer to as “knowledge sharing” – to everyone I’ve worked with, and Peter Drucker and Frances Hesselbein have provided me with management and leadership principles that have been the foundation of my work.
And my inspiration. For clients, students, colleagues and friends, even members of my family have come to think of me as a “knowledge services evangelist” and I long ago learned that this is not an empty honorific. I do evangelize, for I feel strongly that with the combination of strong, fairly applied management and leadership principles, those who are attempting to share knowledge as well as they can should learn to understand the value of knowledge and – equally important – to understand that sharing knowledge benefits us all, whether in the workplace or in society at large.
As for the title of this post, for the last couple of years one of the textbooks I use for my students is titled Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders. The book, from 2015, was prepared as a “special edition” of Drucker’s famous Five Most Important Questions, first published in 1993. The original book was prepared by Drucker in support of the process of self-assessment, one of the great leader’s most critical challenges for managers. Known himself as the “father of modern management,” Drucker stated on the second page of The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Non-Profit Organization (his 1993 book) that:
The self-assessment process is a method for assessing what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you must do to improve an organization’s performance. It asks five essential questions: What is Our Mission? Who is Our Customer? What Does the Customer Value? What are Our Results? And What is Our Plan? Self-assessment leads to action and lacks meaning without it. To meet growing needs and succeed in a turbulent and exacting environment, social sector organizations must focus on mission, demonstrate accountability, and achieve results.
And for those of us working with knowledge services and knowledge strategy development, that phrase in the title of the original book opens our discussion to one of the basic tenets of knowledge services, that we are dealing with all organizational knowledge, not knowledge limited specifically to business management or any other single type of management, but to the management of all organizations – including, as the title states – social sector organizations. In so doing, we are recognizing that knowledge services is subject agnostic, relating to every organization, whether the organization is for-profit, non-profit, or not-for-profit. Indeed, when Drucker’s original “Five-Questions” was written, his focus at the time was working with an organization called the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Non-profit Management (now the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute), an organization devoted to – as mentioned by Hesselbein in her Foreword to the later book – “continuing to publish the most contemporary writing on leadership and management.”
My commitment to the book and to its importance in our work is clearly established in my high interest in what might be called its foundational principle, which I have interpreted as faith in the younger members of society – the young people often called “Millennials.” In that respect, I am also – as a teacher and as a knowledge services evangelist – indebted to the third participant in the later book’s development. Joan Snyder Kuhl brings Millennials into the story – as I do – as the members of society who will be (as she puts it in the introduction to the book) our “enduring leaders” because:
Today’s younger generation – known as the Millennials or Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000 – are not only the largest generation yet but also the most educated and most diverse. The reach of technology and ease of global travel have magnified the creativity of their dreams in many ways. … they have developed a global sensibility, which is why I often refer to Millennials as the first global generation.
It all comes together, in my opinion, in a singular feature of this special edition of Drucker’s book. In this book, each of the self-assessment questions and descriptions includes a “Millennial Takeaway,” giving a current Millennial the opportunity to describe how he or she responds to the questions.
The original book had included Drucker’s own directions for dealing with the five questions he identified for the self-assessment process and an essay on transformational leadership by Frances Hesselbein.
[Additional Note (2023). A perhaps off-topic comment: It is here that we have an opportune moment to describe Hesselbein’s commitment to transformational leadership which, she was happy to assure anyone who would listen, was how her long tenure as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A represented the exact example that, for her, defined transactional leadership. She enjoyed telling me how it happened and permitted me to write about the topic and her embrace of transactional leadership in Knowledge Services: A Strategic Framework for the 21st Century Organization (Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2017):
In her contribution in the Drucker “five questions” book, Hesselbein describes how she came up with her theory of transformational leadership. Always a great story teller, Hesselbein talks about how she often saw transformational leadership in practice when she was CEO of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. Her first experience with transformational leadership in that organization actually occurred before she came to work there, for having been invited to meet with the search committee for the position, she had a good idea of what she would say when asked the inevitable interview question: “If you come to work for the Girl Scouts, what will you do?”
Hesselbein had done her homework and she was aware that the organization needed to be transformed. She told the search committee so, saying that she would bring a “total transformation” to the Girl Scouts, the largest organization for girls and young women in North America. She wanted diversity among the members, for she knew the organization was made up mostly of while, middle-class members focusing on subjects like homemaking and storytelling. She felt the girls and young women of the Girl Scouts could aspire to different roles in society, but when she asked about the demographics of the membership, when she asked for statistics about the racial and mix of social classes in the membership, she was told that information was not available. “It is discrimination to collect that kind of information,” she was told.
“No it isn’t,” she said. “It is discrimination not to collect that kind of information.” Then she went on to describe for the search committee how she would manage the organization differently, giving the girls and young women who were its members skills and learning activities to teach them how to be leaders, to be entrepreneurs, and how to contribute to society.
When the interview finished, she was politely thanked for her time and with her husband drove back to Western Pennsylvania, not expecting to hear any more from the Girl Scouts Search Committee.
She was wrong. She had a call the next day, offering her the job, and she moved to New York to take up her new work.
Transformational? Absolutely, for under Hesselbein’s leadership, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. grew to become the largest organization for girls and young women in the world. It was totally transformed into a multi-cultural organization open to all racial and societal groups, and the transformation took place not only in the membership. Transformational change came to the organization’s leadership, to its national leadership (its board of directors), and at the local levels as well, among its 335 local councils. And, not to be ignored, there was the transformational change of which Hesselbein is particularly proud, and it took place right in the offices of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. as the organization’s staff became completely diversified. (Hesselbein, 2016).]
Frances Hesselbein’s focus on transformational leadership relates to what I’ve come to think of as my own ideas about successful knowledge sharing. With these questions and the responses, as the knowledge strategist applies them to knowledge services, we see that they do indeed provide the foundation for better knowledge sharing in all organizations and all environments in which people come together to achieve whatever they have agreed to achieve.
For example, in addressing Drucker’s first question (“What is Our Mission?”), Michael Radparvar describes his company’s mission statement, noting that he and his colleagues had put together what became a sort of manifesto, “putting into words a reminder of what things exactly were most important to us.” As it happened, the manifesto became the company’s mission statement, one the Washington Post referred to as the “Just Do It” for a new generation. For Radparvar, cofounder of Holstee, a Brooklyn-based workshop creating, as he describes it, “products and experiences that help each of us remember what is important.” Thus remembering what is important became the company’s “reason to exist.”
Working with the second question (“Who is Our Customer?), Luke Owings, describes his work with the Fullbridge Program, overseeing coaching operations. Despite what the term might mean in a non-profit or not-for-profit organization, whoever the people are who benefit from the services provided, they are still “customers” from Drucker’s point of view. For Luke Owings identifying the customer takes a practical turn. He writes:
Recognizing that the independent contractors attracted to Fullbridge were both transitioning in their careers and interested in creating more value, we modified our approach to these engagements. By being clear on what had to be done – and removing all unessential tasks – we encouraged them to cultivate their own approaches and we focused our management on their professional development.
Nadira Hira, an award-winning writer, editor, speaker, and a member of Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Millennial Advisory Board, responds to the third question (“What Does the Customer Value?”) by thinking about how “organizations, brands, and leaders all have access to a constant stream of feedback,” and she advocates learning how to use that feedback effectively. “We are in a moment of unprecedented consumer engagement tools,” she writes, “but the tools themselves are nothing more and nothing less than how we use them.”
“Dedicated professionals,” Hira says, “must remind themselves that when it comes to providing the very best product or service, they should never stop at the first, simplest, or most available answer.”
Similarly, Adam Braun’s Millennial Takeaway for the fourth question (“What are Our Results?”) also suggests that we keep moving forward. Braun is the founder of Pencils of Promise, an award-winning organization that has broken ground on more than 300 schools around the world. His response is simplicity itself and, as such, incredibly powerful. Named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Braun says, “so as I stand on the frontier of a new decade, I now realize what my twenties taught me.” Braun’s advice? “Set incredibly ambitious goals. Chase them with fervor. And then move the finish line far off into the distance.”
When Caroline Ghosn tackled Drucker’s fifth question (“What is Our Plan?), she went back to one of Drucker’s primary principles for good leadership and good management. The cofounder of Levo League, a company that uses technology to mentor and arm its members with the tools needed to build excellence, Ghosn says:
“As a leader, the most important thing you can do is articulate a vision. Doing so convenes people smarter, more experienced, and better than you in every way – with gathering speed – to move your organization collectively toward that distant horizon.”
Lauren Maillian Bias, too, is interested in moving the organization collectively, and in particular Bias connects with Frances Hesselbein’s “transformational leadership.” With transformational leadership, the need Hesselbein describes states very clearly the premise of the practice:
In a world where the rules are constantly changing, millions of people in every sector of the economy are wrestling with the new demands of leadership. I hear leaders and managers everywhere discussing the same fundamental challenge: the journey to transformation, moving from where we are to where we want to be in the tenuous future that lies before us.
Bias, the founder and chief executive officer of LMB group, a strategic marketing and branding consultancy, takes a very specific look at how we implement leadership that is truly transformational. She puts it this way: “the same characteristics that are most important to me today in a personal relationship are the same characteristics that are most important to me in business relationships. Considering the quality of a leader has helped me become a better businessperson at the same time.”
“For millennials,” Bias continues, “more than any previous generation, our professional success and our personal success are interdependent. That’s why so many of the qualities and characteristics that we look for in others in our personal life can be applied to our professional life.”
So that’s where we are when we talk about enduring wisdom for today’s leaders. It’s not complicated and requires not a great deal from us at any given time. Nevertheless, when we explore these millennial takeaways and apply them to what we’re trying to achieve with knowledge sharing, with knowledge services and the perhaps more formal knowledge strategy, it makes sense to give these ideas some thought and consider how, in any knowledge-sharing situation, they can be put into practice.
So here’s our wrap-up question: Does it make sense to you, as a knowledge strategist or as someone getting started in your work as a knowledge strategist? Do you think you can put some of these ideas into practice in your work? In your life?
Questions worth pondering as we move forward with knowledge services, knowledge strategy, and knowledge sharing. Do you agree?
7. An Important Message from a Very Special Leader
[The following was published on June 4, 2020 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
“Sharing Guy’s Journey” is my personal blog, and I often refer to it that way, even when I’m writing about topics that are not particularly “personal.” In this case, that description couldn’t be more accurate.
I have often written about my friendship with and my respect for Frances Hesselbein. Today she has shared a very important message with all of us, to guide us in these troubled times. Of all the messages I’ve heard over the months of the pandemic and during the last two weeks since George Floyd’s death, this is the best. Mrs. Hesselbein is kind to share her thoughts and experiences with us.
This is a very difficult time in our society, and it’s leaders like Mrs. Hesselbein who will keep us moving forward.
Here is her message, distributed by The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum at The Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at The University of Pittsburgh:
At a young age, I learned from my grandmother that I should respect all people. Her lessons were defining moments in my life and determined the type of leader that I would become. I also learned the need for action-oriented justice through my husband, John D. Hesselbein, a journalist, photographer and filmmaker who served on the governor’s first Civil Rights Commission.
John responded to acts of discrimination in town, like a barbershop that would not cut black customers’ hair. “I don’t have the right tools,” the barber complained. John’s response: “Then you will have to buy the right tools.”
This statement, sadly, is as relevant TODAY as it was back then. My heart breaks to know that black Americans are being murdered by police officers.
We need the right tools to fight against systemic racism and support the black community in any and all ways possible.
I have worked my entire life as a passionate advocate for inclusion and diversity, and I am not giving up. At Camp Blue Knob (pictured here, circa 1952), in western Pennsylvania, in the early 50s, at a time when I could not eat with my African-American staff members at any restaurant in any nearby town, we worked to lead by example. In 1976, when I became CEO of the Girl Scouts, the organization was 95% white. We worked to bring in the best educators, designers, communicators and trainers, who could help us diversify, and five years later, we tripled racial diversity.
There are many strides we can take today. We must demand sweeping police reform; invest resources to employment services, education and health care for those who are marginalized; continue to mobilize to raise awareness, and cast our ballots to ensure we elect candidates who will reform our systems.
Today, as racial injustice continues to plague our society, I have been comforted by the words of educators across the country.
Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick, noted, “In this moment, it is necessary to grieve over another life taken unnecessarily and those who loved him who are now broken and left behind to mourn. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel numb. Stay there as long as you need to. I encourage you to take those feelings and channel them into something durable. Write about it. Sing about it. Participate in the electoral process and vote about it.“
An open statement from Spelman College Faculty and Staff instructed, “As educators, we encourage our colleagues at all levels to use intersectional lenses of analysis in teaching future leaders, and especially to learn and to teach about historic and contemporary iterations of white supremacy. We must engage in this and other work that brings forth substantive change.“
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said, “We must hold our leaders accountable by voting and pushing to reform the laws and institutions of our democracy. Working together, we have enormous power to realize change. Local efforts may seem like small acts in the face of a national civil crisis, but they can catalyze powerful change.“
Pitt’s Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd quoted educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune, who once wrote, “Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.” Provost Cudd noted, “When protests wane, it will be important to continue to intensify our critical understanding of the roots of racism, violence, and oppression.“
Together, we can and will make a change. Right now, we need to use the right tools to make it lasting.
A special thank-you to Frances Hesselbein for sharing her thoughts and for helping us get through these dark days.
8. Honoring Frances Hesselbein
[The following was published on November 23, 2020 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
A few weeks ago, I participated in a very special event. It was Frances Hesselbein’s 105th birthday celebration on November 1. In observance of the occasion, friends and colleagues gathered for a festschrift in her honor. And this was a different kind of festschrift. Instead of the usual reading of scholarly papers, for this festschrift we all came together (virtually, of course) to share our delight in being with her on this occasion, to tell her how much we love her and value what we have learned from her.
Known worldwide as probably the most influential authority in leadership studies, Frances Hesselbein is the President and CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership, which sponsored the occasion.
And we were no small number (I estimate about 140 people participated). All of us were there to show how much we love Frances and respect her work and the wealth of knowledge she has generously shared with us through the years. And, in particular, to recognize her commitment to sharing her knowledge with the next generation of leaders, a program well demonstrated with the University of Pittsburgh’s Leadership Program in International Affairs. Directed by Julia Santucci, a former senior advisor in the U.S. Department of State, the program is an extracurricular leadership development initiative for GSPIA students from all degree programs who want to pursue careers in the international arena. The need for leadership in this domain has never been greater, and GSPIA is preparing a new generation of leaders to face these challenges and opportunities.
For readers who might not know Frances, the Forum – founded as The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management – had been renamed The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute in 2012 to honor her legacy and ongoing contributions. In 1998 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, by President Clinton for her leadership as CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. from 1976-1990, as well as for her service as “a pioneer for women, volunteerism, diversity and opportunity.” Her contributions were also recognized by the first President Bush, who appointed her to two Presidential Commissions on National and Community Service. She has received 22 honorary doctoral degrees, written three autobiographies, and co-edited 30 books in 29 languages. Considered one of the country’s most respected experts and greatest leaders in the field of contemporary leadership development (at some point, referring to her role as a teacher and academic, I started calling her the “dean of leadership development studies”), she has since 1966 been the Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning journal, Leader to Leader.
So the event on November 1 was a very special time for those of us who know Frances, and I am pleased to share some of my thoughts about my friendship with her, a friendship that is both personal and professional.
For one example, one particular experience with Frances greatly pleased me. In 2016, my course on “Managing Information and Knowledge: Applied Knowledge Services” (which I teach at Columbia University) was stimulating much enthusiasm with my graduate students. When I told Frances about their enthusiasm, she invited the students to join her for a conference about how leadership and knowledge services interact. It was a very successful event, and even now former students (some of whom are probably reading this) remark about how influential the conference was as they moved into their careers.
And since I very carefully refer to this online journal as my “personal” blog (despite the fact that some professional commentary gets through from time to time, as here), I want to describe two other experiences having to do with Frances and me. These are – no question – truly personal. One was for her birthday last year, when she and I went to her favorite restaurant here in New York, Le Colonial. When the meal was finished and the maître d’ suggested taking our photograph, Frances propped the photo of my new great-grandson and the birthday card Andrew Berner had specially designed for her against our Prosecco bottle and a glass, so they would be in the photograph. That, to me, was a gracious gesture typical of Frances (and one which, in fact, I didn’t notice until I saw the photograph).
The second personal story is similar: when I had a big birthday last summer (I’m 25 years younger than Frances), the epidemic prevented any sort of celebration, so friends decided to prepare a “memory book” for me. Frances sent along a favorite photo from one of my visits to her at her office, with the following note: “Happy happy birthday! How I miss our lunches in my NYC office and the delicious, divine, chocolates you would gift me each and every time. Sending you my love and my warmest hug my dear friend.” So, yes, that is getting pretty personal, and I don’t think anyone reading this will mind.
As it turns out, there is a special opportunity to honor Frances Hesselbein’s career and legacy. At the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, the mission is to develop and inspire current and future leaders. A fundraising campaign to celebrate significant milestones of the Hesselbein Forum and of Frances herself has been established. The campaign – designed to honor the living legacy of Frances Hesselbein – is described at https://engage.pitt.edu/project/23426 and contributions are very welcome.
9. Frances Hesselbein on Leadership
[The following was published on September 12, 2022 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
Those of us practicing knowledge services have long understood the role of leadership in the success of our efforts. Whether it’s KM, knowledge strategy development and implementation, or any of the other management methodologies relating to successful knowledge sharing, we learned long ago that it’s leadership that makes knowledge services happen. If we want to achieve excellence in knowledge sharing in order to develop any workplace into a knowledge culture, the effort builds almost exclusively on leadership.
And what teachers we’ve had! The list is enormous, and obviously – for those of us with a slight “leaning” for what’s gone before, a touch of historical learning affects how we think about what we do currently. Of course we preserve (or try to preserve) what we learned from Peter Drucker, David Lilienthal, and so many others, far too many in fact to name here.
Yet standing at the top of the list continues to be Frances Hesselbein, probably the most practical among our leadership specialists. And certainly she is the person I consider the most humanistically-focused of all who’ve come before us. For many years, Mrs. Hesselbein was the President of The Drucker Foundation (succeeding Drucker himself), and in 2012, the organization was renamed The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum in her honor.
The Forum is now affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh, as part of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership. Its mission is clearly stated:
The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum at the University of Pittsburgh is a continuation of the legacy of Frances Hesselbein and reflects the vision of a university-based center for teaching, applied research, and public service where leaders and aspiring leaders from around the world can gather to advance the art and science of leadership and put these principles to practice in public service.
And I think it’s pretty evident in this journal entry that over the years not only have I become a big fan – professionally speaking – of Frances Hesselbein, we’ve become friends as well. I am greatly honored by that friendship. As for her guidance and professional example, her many books and articles (and the important – award-winning – journal Leader to Leader, for which Hesselbein is Co-Editor-in-Chief) continue to inspire me in my work and my thoughts about how leadership and knowledge services connect. Even today I delight in dipping into The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the Next Era, which Hesselbein edited with Marshall Goldsmith and Richard Beckhard and published by The Drucker Foundation in 1996.
Dated? Not at all, and even the brightest, most quick-witted, and enthusiastic of today’s young managers (and MBA students) can find much of value as they read these thirty-one short essays. And we can match what’s in that book to the latest from Hesselbein, who has just been interviewed in a podcast for Forbes. In Kathy Caprino’s Celebrated Leader Frances Hesselbein on What Great Leadership Is and Is Not (Forbes, August 25, 2022). Caprino – a career and leadership coach, writer, speaker, and educator dedicated to the advancement of women in business – includes the podcast in her series “Today’s True Leadership.” The link here (click on the title) also includes the text of the podcast.
For me, as I seek to connect how knowledge services and leadership come together for knowledge sharing success, I’m particularly taken with three points in the podcast.
First, I love Mrs. Hesselbein’s definition of leadership:
Our personal definition of leadership drives what we do and why we do it. This definition is found within us. For me, “leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do.” A great leader does not preach about their values; they live them. In the end, it is the quality and character of a leader that determines their performance and results. It is all about ethics, collaboration and transformation. Great leaders are consistent with their actions and values. We don’t voice a wonderful sentiment and then behave in an opposite way. That’s when morale, motivation and productivity go down in an organization, company or movement. A great leader is the living embodiment of their values.
My second “take-away” is even more basic: the three “elements” –
[Additional note: It meant a lot to me to be able to hear what Mrs. Hesselbein had to say. And I was even happier when she generously chose to take her (and my) focus on today’s millennials even further. Thanks to her kindness, a few weeks later Mrs. Hesselbein hosted my students from Columbia University in the City of New York in a conference on “Leadership Imperatives for Millennials.” For our students she took those imperatives developed for the Global Women’s Leadership Summit and built an entire conference program around them, describing specifically how these leadership directions will guide today’s graduate students in their work as knowledge strategists in the future. The reactions from the students were nothing short of phenomenal (in fact, the word “mesmerizing” came up several times when students spoke with me about the conference), for Mrs. Hesselbein graciously and frequently turned the floor over to the students and — even when they were asking questions — invited them to connect their understanding of their future work as knowledge strategists to the positive qualities she identifies in the workplace aptitudes demonstrated by today’s millennials.]
we might call them – of successful leadership: we must listen, we must have courage, and we must practice what Hesselbein calls “horizontal leadership”:
Listen: In addition to listening to others, I suggest to all emerging leaders to listen carefully to the voice within themselves. It tells them where they should be going and what they should be doing. When we try to push that voice down, we waste time and effort not doing what we were called to do: lead.
Courage: We have the courage to always place the mission first, to be demographics-driven and to be values-based. We don’t cut corners and do just two out of the three. The mission is our reason for being. Therefore, we don’t take a project if it doesn’t further the mission no matter how nice it is. We say “thank you” and keep moving. It takes a certain courage to close one door because it doesn’t support the mission and trust that another door will open.
Horizontal leadership: It is not one leader, but many leaders contributing to the mission and values of their organization. Leaders give other people the opportunities to learn, grow and lead and are exemplary in their leadership. Horizontal leadership is more than banning the hierarchal structure. It is about leading beyond the walls and leading together to address critical needs and issues in the community.
It is also important for emerging leaders to keep in mind what “making a greater positive impact” means. The outcome we should be striving for is changing lives. Changing lives is our bottom line, not squeezing nickels. Changing lives motivates and energizes our institutions, as we are ultimately striving for “significance, not success,” as Peter Drucker would say.
And my final lesson from Hesselbein’s podcast? Simple. It has always been my contention that generosity is one of the most critical attributes of knowledge services, and so it is with leadership. Here is how she describes the value of generosity in leadership and in knowledge services:
We all have a defining moment in our lives that helped us know what is important to us. My moment happened when I was just 8 years old. I remember I would coax my grandmother to let me play with two beautiful old Chinese vases that would sit above her pipe organ keyboard in her home, and she always said no.
Finally, on one Saturday visit, feeling very assertive, I stamped my foot at my grandmother and demanded that I be allowed to play with the vases. Instead of scolding me, my grandmother led me over to a small love seat facing the pipe organ, put her arms around me, and told me this story.
“Long ago, in this little town was a Chinese laundry man, who lived alone in his small laundry. Each week he picked up your grandfather’s shirts and brought them back in a few days, washed, starched, ironed perfectly. Mr. Yee wore traditional Chinese dress, a long tunic, a cap with his hair in a queue. When your mother was eight years old, some days she and her little sisters would come home from school crying that the bad boys were chasing Mr. Yee and calling him bad names.
“The boys would tease him, calling him, ‘Chinkey, Chinkey Chinaman,’ and other unkind names, and they would try to pull his queue. One day, there was a knock on the kitchen door. When I opened it, there stood Mr. Yee, with a large package in his arms. I said, ‘Oh, Mr. Yee, please come in. Won’t you sit down?’ but Mr. Yee just stood there and handed me the package, saying, ‘This is for you.’
“I opened the package, and in it were two beautiful old Chinese vases. I said, ‘Mr. Yee, these are too valuable. I couldn’t accept them.’ He said, ‘I want you to have them.’ I asked why. He told me, ‘Mrs. Wicks, I have been in this town for ten years and you are the only one who ever called me Mr. Yee. And now I am going back home. They won’t let me bring my wife and children here and I miss them too much, so I am going back to China. The vases are all I brought with me. I want you to have them.’ There were tears in his eyes as he said good-bye.”
In my grandmother’s arms, I cried my heart out for poor Mr. Yee. That was long ago—the defining moment when I learned respect for all people, the defining moment that would stay with me, would shape my life with passion for diversity, for inclusion.
The person who had the greatest impact upon my life, my career, and my work was my grandmother. People always expect me to talk about John W. Gardner, Peter Drucker, or Warren Bennis — all the great thought leaders who have been part of my journey. Yet from my ﬁrst consciousness of relations with other people, my grandmother has been my leadership model. She listened very carefully.
With us grandchildren at just six or seven years old, she looked into our eyes and she listened to us as though it was the most important thing she could be doing at that moment, and she never cut us off. She listened to us with total concentration and warm response and we learned to listen because we wanted to be like Mama Wicks. That kind of sensitivity and appreciation of others was a very important lesson, learned very early.
I suggest parents listen and give their children the attention they need to develop confidence. In that way, a child learns early on that what they have to say matters.
For Frances Hesselbein, her grandmother’s lesson is a lesson for us all.
10. Work is Love Made Visible: The Power of Finding Your Purpose
[A shortened version of the following was published on January 20, 2023 in Sharing Guy’s Journey.]
Frances Hesselbein’s Final Book is Eminently Practical
Frances Hesselbein died in December, and while all of us who knew her are sad that she is gone, we are joyfully grateful for all that she left us. And for what we were able to take away from our friendships and professional relationships with her.
When it came time to propose and begin work on her final book, Frances took special pains (and, as usual, aided by a devoted group of loyal colleagues) to ensure that its focus would have impact. It was intended to provide substantive advice to all of us, now matter where we live in the world, and it was planned to have lasting effect. It had purpose and that, in fact, was what it was about.
Marshall Goldsmith and Sarah McArthur are writers with whom Frances saw eye-to-eye. Working with her – and with Alan Mulally writing the book’s foreword – they created a work that is going to stand the test of time, and the fact that it addresses how one secures and lives by purpose in one’s life could not be more important, especially in the difficult times in which we are forced to live.
The book was published in 2019 and I meant to read it right away, just after she gave me a copy. But like many people who knew and respected Frances and her colleagues, I, too, was soon caught up in the pandemic and the maelstrom of new and difficult changes we all had to undergo as CoVID-19 affected us all.
So like many others, I put the book aside, expecting to read it and share my thoughts about it just as soon as things “settled down.” When life did become more manageable, in early 2021, I read the book, totally fascinated with the larger context of its primary premise (to “find purpose” in one’s own life through reading commentary from known thought leaders). Certainly I had no argument with what was being suggested by anyone who contributed to the book.
Yet I had one very personal reaction, “personal,” that is, in thinking about how some of what was offered in the book might impact readers in a way that is not necessarily connected with one’s profession, line of work, or other “official” situation.
“How can I connect what I’m reading to my own life?” I wondered. Yes, there were contributors who spoke about finding purpose via the tennis court, or in cultural situations, and so forth. Primarily, though, the advice related to how one does one’s work or interacts with others in the workplace, in order to use purpose to create a better global society.
I wanted more, and I found myself thinking about a fictional “lack of purpose” I was observing. Currently once again deep into the reading of Marcel Proust’s great masterpiece (only this time getting much more from it than I ever had before because instead of reading it to myself, the book is being read to me, opening the way to splendid new interpretations and conversation). With this different approach to Proust’s work, I realized that, after reading Work is Love Made Visible, purpose – or lack of purpose – affects all human interactions, real or fabricated.
I am using the 1981-1993 Modern Library Edition of In Search of Lost Time, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terrence Kilmartin, and Andreas Mayor, and revised by D. J. Enright. As I listen to the book (and think about what I’m hearing), I become seriously aware that in Proust’s great work, the one impediment to all success, all good works, all friendships, and everything else is that none of these characters, whether fictional or based on real people known to Proust, has any purpose. Their lives are empty and this situation, of course, makes them good characters for a story but certainly prevents any of them – even including the narrator himself – from being able to share any purpose in their lives and certainly prevents any synergy or fruitful interactions with anyone else. Often painful, sometimes rewarding, but void – it seems to me – of purpose.
So I took away a slightly broader picture of what was being offered in Frances’s final book, and I’m very pleased I had the opportunity to do so. I think she would have liked it if we could have been able to speak with her about my reaction to the book.
And in any case, I did have my copy, for Frances and I had a habit – when either of us had a new book published – of providing the other with a copy. And, as I’ve also noted elsewhere, in the copy she gave me of Work is Love Made Visible Frances wrote an inscription that was possibly the most beautiful – certainly the sweetest – thing anyone has ever said to me.
I treasure what she wrote: “To Guy – a friend of the heart, forever – Frances.”
And it was a perfect thing to say in such a splendid book. As I say, Work is Love Made Visible focuses on purpose, about what I like to think of as – I note in the title here – the power of purpose. Or, as the authors, editors, and contributors put it, in the subtitle on the book’s cover, it is “a collection of essays about the power of finding your purpose from the world’s greatest thought leaders.”
It is certainly that, and as is noted in the book, these thirty-three thought leaders are not only “the world’s greatest thought leaders.” They include “leaders of the future” as well, a feature always and continually at the top of Frances’s list of purposes. So well done, Frances and Marshall and Sarah. You’ve done the right thing by spreading the value of finding purpose not only to people who are already succeeding in their lives because they have found their purpose, but to younger people who – while working within their own purpose – are also continuing to refine and re-work what it is that shapes them and their lives.
Fittingly, Work is Love Made Visible is dedicated to the memory and the inspiration of Peter Drucker. Along with the recognition that younger generations will also benefit from the encouraging words offered, Work is Love Made Visible puts me to thinking about the previous compilation Frances undertook, the re-working she and Joan Snyder Kuhl and a host of other writers and editors did with Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders. Referenced in Section 6 above, Drucker’s book of questions was required reading (in its original edition and even later in this newer edition) for every class I taught and every workshop I led. And the later edition, like Work is Love Made Visible, was also directed not only to the typical generational coterie of current leaders but specifically to younger people. Certainly that was the case with students and colleagues who came to study with me and it only proved, once again, Frances’s special attention to society’s future and to the people who will be leading it.
I commend Frances – even if she is no longer with us – and Marshall Goldsmith and Sarah McArthur for their fine work. Work is Love Made Visible is, indeed, a powerful and valuable guidebook. And at the same time, it is a rewarding intellectual adventure, enabling us to read about the role of purpose in our lives and showing us how to put these words of advice to work.
And if I may be permitted to do so, I will end my personal history, my memoir of Frances, just as I did with the first of these posts. I’ll simply turn around what she wrote, and write:
To Frances – a friend of the heart, forever – Guy.