3 Practices CEOs Can Learn from the Girl Scouts

Girl Scout Cookie BoxesIn most communities, January through April is the time of year when the girls in green are out in full force selling Girl Scout cookies. Can you imagine a world without Thin Mints®, Tagalongs® and Do-si-dos®?  Sadly, they were once at risk.

There was a time in the mid-1970s when the Girl Scouts were struggling and their future looked uncertain. Fortunately, Frances Hesselbein came to the rescue. Although she had no daughters, Mrs. Hesselbein had begun her association with the Girl Scouts when she agreed to help with a troop of 30 girls in Johnstown, Pennsylvania that had lost its leader. It wasn’t long before Hesselbein’s experience with Troop 17 developed into a lifelong commitment to Girl Scouting. In 1976 she became CEO of the national organization, Girl Scouts of the USA.

With membership falling, and the organization in a state of serious decline, Mrs. Hesselbein put sound management practices in place. During her twenty-four-year tenure, Girl Scout membership quadrupled to nearly three and a half million, diversity more than tripled, and the organization was transformed into what Peter Drucker described as “the best-managed organization around.” Hesselbein accomplished the amazing turnaround with a paid staff of 6,000 and 730,000 volunteers.

Here are three practices that helped Frances Hesselbein put the Girls Scouts on a track for success.

Listen Actively

Jane Dutton of the University of Michigan recommends four ways to listen actively.

First, paraphrase by expressing what you heard in your own words.  For example you might say, “Let me make sure I’m hearing you correctly.  You are saying that you need more financial resources to meet this month’s objectives.”

Second, summarize what you heard.  For example, you could say, “if I boil down your points I hear you saying that we have an opportunity to expand our business if we open stores in the Midwestern U.S. over the next year.”

Third, clarify by asking questions.  For example, you might say “correct me if I’m not hearing you right but I think you are saying …”

Finally, solicit feedback by asking how you are doing as a listener.  For example, you could say, “do you get the sense that I’m listening to you and hearing what you have to say.” (These practices reflect the connection culture elements of Value and Voice.)

This is the third post in our series entitled “100 Ways to Connect.” The series highlights attitudes and behaviors that help you connect with others.  Although the attitudes and behaviors focus on application in the workplace, you will see that they also apply to your relationships at home and in the community.

Former Cab Driver Helps Liberate WWII France

After American and British troops took control of the beaches on D-Day, they got stuck in France’s hedgerow country. Sergeant Curtis Cullen, a former cab driver from Chicago, came up with an innovation that General Omar Bradley, commander of America’s First Army, credited with helping to liberate France.  Watch the video to learn about this extraordinary story of innovation and the leaders and culture that made it all possible.

Your Leadership is Killing Me!

Why do people react so strongly when they don’t have a voice in decision-making? Research suggests there is a rational biological basis for this reaction.  It comes down to this: feeling that we have little or no control is detrimental to our health.

The famous Whitehall studies in the U.K. established that there was an inverse relationship between level of hierarchy, power, control, status and cardiorespiratory disease/mortality rates in members of the British Civil Service.  More recently, a group of researchers found that participants in a Harvard Business School program for leaders had lower stress (as measured by cortisol levels and self-reported anxiety levels) versus people in the local community who didn’t manage others.  The researchers also found that leaders with more powerful positions had even lower cortisol and self-reported anxiety.  Here is a link to the published research and to a New York Times article about it entitled “It’s Easy Being King.” 

Leader, Beware of Failing to Give People a Voice

John Sexton, the president of New York University, is been aggressively expanding NYU at home and abroad.  Now the faculty of NYU’s largest school, Arts and Sciences, have scheduled a no-confidence vote on Sexton.  An article in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “A Test of Leadership at NYU,” described the no-confidence vote as coming about because dissident faculty felt Sexton was acting like a maverick CEO.  How did this happen?  It appears that Sexton’s mistake was failing to give faculty a voice in major decision-making and failing to address their legitimate concerns such as increased teaching loads that require travel abroad and the impact of the expansion on student-teacher ratios. “Voice” is one of the three elements in a Connection Culture (the others are Vision and Value).  When a leader fails to give people a voice in decisions that affect them, he or she runs the risk that some people will organize and seek to have the leader replaced.  This article describes that scenario.  Note in the article that one astute observer comments: “had more faculty been involved in the process…few if any professors [would be actively opposing Sexton].”

Feel Lonely and Left Out at Work?

Recently, I’ve sensed more people feel lonely and left out at work.  With years of layoffs, those who remain carry greater workloads.  This crowds out time to connect with colleagues.  Managers are also stretched and have less time to connect with the people they are responsible for leading.  When I ask people at the seminars I teach which element of a Connection Culture — Vision, Value or Voice — they would like to increase in their workplace culture, it’s nearly always Voice.   One result of this is that there has been a decline of connection, community and the spirit of unity in organizations.

Wisdom in Seeking and Considering Opinions of Others

Seeking and considering the opinions and ideas of others reflects the character strengths of wisdom and humility. Today’s world is complex and rapidly changing so that we need to hear the perspectives of people who have had different experiences and who possess different thinking styles.  Doing so helps improve the likelihood we will make optimal decisions. 

Recent Media Appearances

Here is a link to the article I wrote about Starbucks. The article is entitled “Have a Heart.”  It was published in Outlook Business for Decision Makers, a leading business magazine in India. In addition, below are links to three segments of a radio interview I did yesterday morning with Jim Blasingame, host of the nationally syndicated Small Business Advocate program.





The Heart of Starbucks’ CEO

A leader I know and much admire is Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks North America and Starbucks International. Howard tells about the time 14 years ago this month when he received a call in the middle of the night at his home in Seattle alerting him that three Starbucks employees at the Georgetown store in Washington, D.C. had been shot and killed, including an 18-year who had just recently begun at Starbucks, his first job.   Behar immediately called Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, who was in New York on vacation at the time.

What Schultz didn’t do, says a lot about his character.  He didn’t call Starbucks’ public relations people or lawyers.  Instead, Schultz chartered a plane and headed straight to Washington, D.C.  When he arrived, he spoke with the police then proceeded to the store to get the addresses of the three murdered Starbucks employees. He went to each of their homes, told their families he was sorry and shared in their tears.

Employee Engagement Network Webinar and Slides

Employee Engagement and Connection from David Zinger on Vimeo.

Yesterday David Zinger and I held a webinar on Employee Engagement and Connection.  You can see a recording of the webinar above and here is a link to the slides used during the webinar.

The webinar was hosted by the Employee Engagement Network, a 3,500 member online community founded by David.  It was my good fortune to be the first speaker for the Employee Engagement Network’s inaugural webinar! If you are not a member of the Employee Engagement network already, I want to encourage you to join.  David will be the host for future webinars on employee engagement-related topics that you will not want to miss.