Work is Love Made Visible is Eminently Practical
[The following is a post included in a compilation of blog posts about Frances Hesselbein. I wrote these posts over a period of time as she and I got to know one another, as I wanted to honor Frances and recognize her superior work in and her commitment to leadership development. This post is the final post in the collection.]
Frances Hesselbein died in December, and while all of us who knew her are sad that she is gone, we are 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. I’m sure – although I have no specific note about this – that Work is Love Made Visible 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 now forced to live.
The book was published in 2019 and I meant to read it right away. 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 and to be helped along by 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.
In my opinion, Work is Love Made Visible is a splendid book. As I say, it focuses on purpose, about what I like to think of as – as I note in the title here – the power of purpose. Or, as the authors, editors, and designers 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 include “leaders of the future,” a feature always and continually at the top of Frances’s list of purposes. 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. 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 in any case, I 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.”
If I may be permitted to do so, I will simply turn around what she wrote, and I will write here:
To Frances – a friend of the heart, forever – Guy.