Peter Drucker’s Kind of Leader

I don’t normally post on Sundays, but today I’m making an exception.  Today is Frances Hesselbein’s birthday and in her honor I’m posting a chapter I wrote about her from my book Fired Up or Burned Out.  Mrs. Hesselbein is the chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute.  Recently, she was appointed a Chair for the Study of Leadership at West Point.

Mrs. Hesselbein, thank you for your tireless efforts to advance leadership, your passion for inclusiveness, for kids, and for leaders in the social sector.  And thank you for the personal encouragement you’ve given me over the years.

Happy birthday Mrs. Hesselbein!

With respect and admiration,


Peter Drucker’s Kind of Leader

The preeminent management sage, the late Peter Drucker, knew some of the greatest leaders of our times in business and government. If he had been asked to name who he thought was a model leader, would he have chosen President Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George C. Marshall, the legendary Alfred P. Sloan Jr. of General Motors, or one of the many other heads of major companies throughout the world he came to know during his distinguished career? It’s an interesting question, given the reach and influence of Drucker. Periodically in his interviews and writings you will encounter what may be his highest praise for a person who, he once said “could manage any company in America.” Who is she? Business Week featured her on its cover surrounded by…Girl Scouts. Her name is Frances Hesselbein.

Although she had no daughters, Frances Hesselbein began her association with the Girl Scouts when she agreed to help with a troop of thirty Girl Scouts in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, that had lost its leader. It wasn’t long before Hesselbein’s experience with Troop 17 developed into a lifelong commitment t0 Girl Scouting. Years later she would become CEO of the national organization, Girl Scouts of the USA.

Hesselbein increased the Girl Scouts’ inspiring identity by showing women how important it was to reach out to girls, given the threats they face such as drugs and teen pregnancy. She helped women to envision the Girl Scout organization as a professional, well-managed organization.

Hesselbein’s leadership style, in fact, it seems her purpose in life, is to bring out the best in the people she meets. Her words and actions embody human value. She has a high regard for people that shows she values them. She has written that good leaders have an “appreciation of their colleagues individually and the dignity of the work their colleagues do.” Her actions show that she “walks the talk.” She keeps up with what’s going on in the lives of the people around her and personally reaches out to them when congratulations or consolation is in order. She invested in improving Girl Scout leaders’ people skills. On her watch she built a conference center to train Girl Scout staff. Frances Hesselbein, as a role model for other leaders across the organization, effectively increased human value in the Girl Scout culture, and her actions were multiplied when other leaders adopted her leadership style.

The energetic leader increased knowledge flow by approaching communication in an inclusive way, expanding information in ever-larger circles across the organization. Rather than lecturing, her style is to ask insightful questions to draw out relevant issues. In planning and allocating the Girl Scout organization’s resources, she introduced a circular management process that involved virtually everyone across the organization.

With Hesselbein as its leader, the Girl Scout organization thrived. When she assumed the CEO position in 1976, the Girl Scouts’ membership was falling, and the organization was in a state of serious decline. She 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 Drucker called “the bestmanaged organization around.” Hesselbein accomplished the amazing turnaround with a paid staff of 6,000 and 730,000 volunteers.

By the time she resigned from the Girl Scouts in 1990, the organization’s future was bright. Frances Hesselbein was paid the ultimate compliment by Drucker when he recruited her to be the head of the Drucker Foundation (renamed the Leader to Leader Institute), which is dedicated to carrying out their mutual passion for strengthening leadership in the social sector. It should be no surprise that the foundation’s influence is rapidly growing worldwide with Hesselbein leading the effort. After all, the extraordinary Drucker, who lived to the age of nine-five, knew a great leader when he saw one.

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