SCARPINO: This one’s live and the backup is live. Today is May 24, 2011. My name is Philip Scarpino. I’m the director of Oral History for Indiana University’s Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence and today I have the privilege to be interviewing Miss Frances Hesselbein who has a long and distinguished career as a leader and in leadership development. We are in the Leader to Leader Institute offices, 320 Park Avenue, New York City, which we’ll talk about in a minute. This is the second interview with Miss Hesselbein. The first one took place in Indianapolis March 4, 2011. Highlights of her career can be found at the beginning of that first interview. So I would like to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed, and to deposit the recording and the transcription in the IUPUI Archives for the use of their patrons.
HESSELBEIN: You have it.
SCARPINO: Okay. So just as background for anybody who listens to this recording or reads the transcript, we had scheduled two sessions in Indianapolis on March 4, 2011 and you had a cold that became an awful case of laryngitis and so we cut the second interview short. But I do call people’s attention to that because there’s good information in it and I’m going to go over some of the same topics and then I’m going to add some new topics. So, first question was prompted by my sitting in your office here. This office, which looks out over the Waldorf Astoria off to my right front out the window here…
HESSELBEIN: Park Avenue. New York.
SCARPINO: Park Avenue. It’s a very, very classy address. This office is like, it’s like a museum to leadership. I mean there are dozens of awards and photographs in here that document your accomplishments as a leader and the recognition of your accomplishments, and as I sat here and tried to read the captions on all of these things I wondered is there one of these awards or photographs that is really special to you that stands out above the others?
HESSELBEIN: Probably, well I love every one of them. The 20 honorary degrees, I can remember that graduation day. As I look at all of the awards, all of the recognition, I guess as a citizen of my country, the one I would mention would be the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which I received from President Clinton January 15, 1998. I was overwhelmed that day. I am still overwhelmed. It’s our country’s highest civilian award and why I received it is as overwhelming as the gentlemen in the room. David Rockefeller, Admiral Tim Walz, James Farmer, the great civil rights leader. We were sitting there together and I kept thinking after why am I here, but why we are so different, and as the presentations went along and I received mine as a pioneer for women, volunteerism, diversity, and opportunity, and I heard the others I realized we had all done something with equal rights, human rights, and very moved, very touched and I am to this day.
SCARPINO: It was pretty heady company, wasn’t it?
HESSELBEIN: Very. The Marine band played and the Clintons took this very seriously. There were 200 guests and we all could bring 12 family members and friends, and it was so touching and something about your own country. One of my ancestors was John Adams and I remembered, he lived in that White House.
SCARPINO: You have a number of pictures of presidents, yourself with U. S. presidents up on your walls here because people who listen to this recording won’t be able to look at your walls. I will note that you have, I think I counted four pictures of George Bush the first, the father, and you have a picture of yourself with President Reagan, you have two pictures of yourself with President Clinton. Do you remember the first time that you went to the White House, and why you were there?
HESSELBEIN: Yes. A long time ago when I was CEO of the Girls Scouts of the USA and this would have been some time in the 1980s, the Girl Scouts had a very powerful program on drugs, say no to drugs, and we had a little badge, and we went to the White House to present it to Mrs. Reagan, and that was the first time I had ever been in the White House and I was so impressed.
SCARPINO: I note the number of pictures of the elder George Bush on your wall. Did you have any particularly special relationship with him?
HESSELBEIN: Yes I did, because he was very passionate about national and community service. So I was…
SCARPINO: The Points of Light Foundation and so on?
HESSELBEIN: Well, but this was a special issue of his—national and community service. Certainly the Points of Light, but there are these two certificates from him and he had Vernon Jordan, who then was head of National Urban League and…
SCARPINO: Vernon Jordan you said?
HESSELBEIN: Yeah. And there were five of us who were appointed to his National Community Service. Just this little team. We went back several times to report as we did our work. The first President Bush was very passionate about citizens engaging in work that would benefit the community, and I was always so inspired with how serious he was about it. It wasn’t just showbiz, he was very serious. So we were at the White House several times as well as Maine. A couple of summers ago he invited us back after all these years.
SCARPINO: So you held a presidential appointment then.
HESSELBEIN: Yes, mm hmm.
SCARPINO: A follow-up question to something that I asked you last time. When we talked in Indianapolis we talked about your two trips to China, rather eloquently about your two trips to China, and you mentioned something called the Bright China Social Fund.
SCARPINO: Could you explain for our listeners what that is?
HESSELBEIN: Yes. Well Shao Ming Lo, Chairman Shao is a great Chinese business leader. He builds beautiful buildings. I’ve been in five cities and seen a building in each city, and he uses the proceeds from his business—he’s one of the greatest philanthropists I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. He uses it for education. He has built hundreds of schools in the poorest villages in China. He has established a Peter Drucker School of Management, a Babson School of Entrepreneurship and he has a Peter Drucker Academy there and he decided in this country, our country, there are six institutions he would like to support. So he has founded his own 501(c)(3) Bright China Social Fund.
SCARPINO: Under the U.S. tax code.
HESSELBEIN: Yes. It’s a U. S. Foundation.
HESSELBEIN: And it will enable him to give money more easily to what he really cares about in this country, and it’s called the Bright China Social Fund because Bright China is the name of his enterprise.
SCARPINO: So the Bright China Social Fund is Shao Ming Lo’s foundation?
HESSELBEIN: Yes. His own personal foundation, and I’m on his board. Very proud to be on the board.
SCARPINO: You mentioned that you had gone back to China a second time.
HESSELBEIN: It was Peter Drucker’s 100th birthday celebration.
SCARPINO: And was that at the invitation of Shao Ming Lo?
HESSELBEIN: Of course. He is a Drucker disciple, and while Peter lived he had the privilege of visiting with him a number of times and studying with him. Yes. So both in China and in Hong Kong, Peter’s 100th birthday year, they had these beautiful celebrations. I spoke in five Chinese cities in five days and Hong Kong on the sixth, all in celebration of Peter Drucker’s life and contribution.
SCARPINO: I mean just on the surface of it, for someone who would read this transcript or listen to the recording, there doesn’t seem to be a big connection between Peter Drucker and China.
HESSELBEIN: Oh there’s an enormous connection.
SCARPINO: I was going to ask you, what do you see as the connection?
HESSELBEIN: Shao Ming Lo shares Peter Drucker’s philosophy. He shares his passion for education, and when Peter Drucker wrote “Think first, speak last,” that is the kind of philosophy that Shao Ming Lo is passionate about. He was able to take several courses at Claremont before Peter died, but spent a lot of time with him and we have worked together. He’s been a wonderful supporter of ours because we’re running on parallel tracks and moving Peter Drucker’s philosophy, his works, around the country, around the world.
SCARPINO: I saw, since I visited with you last time, I saw a video done in November 2010 called “To Serve Is To Live.” I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not, but it stars you.
HESSELBEIN: Yes I have. I have seen it.
SCARPINO: What does that title mean to you, to serve?
HESSELBEIN: Well, it’s my own. If, I have an invisible tattoo on my shoulder. You can’t read it.
SCARPINO: That’s the best kind. [laughing]
HESSELBEIN: Invisible ink, but it says “to serve is to live.” Out of my whole lifetime I’ve distilled what are the words we live by and I’ve had many of them, all inspiring, but to serve is to live is what expresses my own passions for service and when you’re called to serve, you’ve given the energy. Something wonderful about it.
SCARPINO: Is that how you’ve managed to sustain your passion all these years?
HESSELBEIN: I think so. That and the wonderful people I work with, I serve. No, I think when we’re supposed to be doing what we’re doing, called to serve, we’re given the energy. Something incredible about it.
SCARPINO: Do you think that that expression of your philosophy, “to serve is to live,” is representative of the way other leaders think about leadership?
HESSELBEIN: Many. Especially young people. When I’m on college university campuses and I’ve just finished a tenure, two-year, serving in a chair at West Point. It’s amazing how that generation right now on campuses—if I use that, and I always do at some point, use the words I live by or whatever I call it—how many emails I get back, and either they mention it or before they sign their names they say “to serve is to live, Charlotte.” They don’t have to ask what does it mean.
SCARPINO: In that video one section of it shows you at West Point with the Chief Executive Officer of the Ford Motor Company.
HESSELBEIN: Alan Mulally, yes.
SCARPINO: Mulally, yeah. What did you want the cadets to learn from Alan Mulally?
HESSELBEIN: Well, when I accepted the chair, two-year appointment, every other month for two years working with classes of cadets, speaking to groups, I asked my planning team, which calls itself Team Service, I said instead of coming alone I’d like to bring a great (word inaudible) leader with me. We’d just sit and have a dialogue with cadets. I think it would be a lot more exciting than just me alone. Well they were marvelous. They said, “Anything you want.”
So Alan went with me. In fact, he volunteered to go before I could invite him. He said you’re not going without me. But what they got from him, was what they’re learning, which is why they were so inspired, for example, we’re sitting there having a dialogue in a circle with 25 cadets. One of them said, “Mr. Mulally, what were the two actions you took in the transformation of Ford Motor Company that were most significant?” He answered “No. You see I did not transform Ford Motor Company. It was the people of Ford who have transformed Ford.” Now that’s what they’re learning in a different language, and you can imagine how it connected with them. He talked a lot about values, a lot about teamwork, a lot about communications. It was totally relevant and it was so skillfully done you weren’t aware of the skill, you were aware of the openness, how welcoming he was. It was beautiful.
SCARPINO: Another person featured in that video is General William “Kip” Ward.
SCARPINO: Who at the time it was filmed was Commander of the U.S. Africa Command. I assume he still is.
SCARPINO: He’s not?
HESSELBEIN: He just retired. He’s back in this country.
SCARPINO: Are there common leadership qualities that would work for a general and a CEO of a large company?
HESSELBEIN: Well, you mentioned Kip Ward. He and I have done two leadership dialogues sitting knee-to-knee and talking to 1800 people or so in military child education coalition annual meetings, conferences, and after last year’s conference, Kip and I had done this since we were a small group and a woman, when they opened it to questions, she said, “I don’t understand how you are so different in every way yet have the same philosophy and you respond the same way. How can that be?” So it’s interesting how, when it’s genuine, people are touched by it.
SCARPINO: There was one other thing that stood out for me when I watched that video “To Serve Is To Live” and it was you talking about society in 2010, saying that our society had the highest level of cynicism and the lowest level of trust.
HESSELBEIN: In my lifetime.
SCARPINO: In your lifetime, yes. How do you think we got to that point?
HESSELBEIN: With our behavior. We’ve forgotten who we were. When I say the lowest level of trust, highest level of cynicism in my lifetime, it shocks people, and then you can see a kind of recognition. I think we got there by not being true to our values, forgetting the thousands of our young people who died for our country in the past, focusing on self. There are many ways we got there. Leaders not leading, and that’s why I’m so inspired to be there.
SCARPINO: At West Point.
HESSELBEIN: At West Point it’s hallowed grounds for anyone. First classes were in 1802. There’s a little 18-seat chapel near an old, old burial ground deep in West Point. To go there and see students, graduates in every class going back to those first ones they’re buried there and duty, honor, country is as alive today and even more essential than it was when it was developed.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the highest level of cynicism and the lowest level of trust in your lifetime poses challenges for people who want to be leaders? How is that a leadership issue?
HESSELBEIN: Well, if you have leaders you don’t trust, and you don’t trust your leaders, the democracy cannot be sustained. You have to have a passion for your own country, its values, its principles. Today you listen to people from all three sectors. The cynics are alive and well. We no longer have that wonderful trust.
SCARPINO: So how does a leader overcome cynicism and mistrust?
HESSELBEIN: Through the gift of example. I’m a leader of a group, of a company. We don’t have a name. I think at West Point where is this focus on the leaders who were before them, and it’s very different when you read something from a graduate of West Point when he is there, and you meet him in Europe. I misspoke there. When you have cadets at West Point and do your duty, honor, country, it’s part of a very pervasive culture, when they leave they carry the values with them. When they leave the Army, and perhaps move in the presence of a university, they carry those values with them.
SCARPINO: So what do you think happened that caused so many Americans to become cynical?
HESSELBEIN: I think because too many of our leaders in all three sectors spoke one way and behaved another. We had too many heads of companies, organizations who said, “My people are my greatest asset,” and treated them solely as costs. I think it was purely the behavior that did not even resemble the language.
SCARPINO: I want to just spend some time talking to you about the Girl Scouts. We did quite a bit of that last time but there are some things I wanted to follow up on, and you of course became the leader of Girl Scout Troop 17 even though you were the mother of a young boy.
SCARPINO: We talked about that and you ultimately ended up staying there for eight years with those girls. The question I didn’t ask you last time was what do you think you gained? How did staying with those girls for eight years move you along your journey to leadership?
HESSELBEIN: It was the greatest leadership training I ever had. You can’t work with a group of 30 little girls, ten years old, and talk about the values and have them respond, and not live them. So I think the power of the Girl Scout promise, values, and I think the whole philosophy of helping each girl reach her own highest potential. When I was with the Girl Scouts we neatly filed away the mission of the past because it was a past, and we decided we had to have a mission that was short, powerful, compelling, and Peter would add it has to fit on a T-shirt.
SCARPINO: Mm hmm. Had to fit on a T-shirt, yes.
HESSELBEIN: Yeah. I would quote this first. A mission statement must, but if you forgot you added 20 more words they might be impressed as you began, but you’ve lost them by the time you’re halfway there. So Peter made it simple for us. Now, our mission then, to help each girl reach her own highest level of, of leaders who help each girl reach her own highest potential. Now we could have added live by the mission, live the goals, all kinds of stuff. But to help each girl reach her own highest potential to us said it all.
SCARPINO: And that’s when you were CEO of the Girl Scouts.
SCARPINO: You mentioned the Girl Scout promise. For the benefit of people who might not know it that is, could you?
HESSELBEIN: “On my honor I will try to serve God and my country, to help other people, obey the Girl Scout law.” Now it’s simple, but that’s all you need. On my honor I will try to serve God and my country, help other people all the time, and live by the Girl Scout law, and I think by having that and whether you’re five years old or 95, knowing you’re all living it is a very powerful message that moves across the organization.
SCARPINO: Was part of your role as a Girl Scout leader to make that promise real? To give it life?
HESSELBEIN: As a Girl Scout leader?
HESSELBEIN: My job was, of course the wording was different then, to help each girl reach her own highest potential, but if we didn’t have that language it was what our behavior was.
SCARPINO: While you were the head of this Girl Scout troop you also served as a member of the National Girl Scout Board. How did you end up on…
SCARPINO: No, you did not, okay.
HESSELBEIN: No, it was a sequence. No, I’ve had four professional jobs. I never applied for one of them, and they were all CEO jobs. I never had a job that wasn’t a CEO. I had a Girl Scout Troop 17, badgered into taking this troop, explained I didn’t know anything about little girls, I had a little boy, and I would do it for six weeks. We would find a real leader. We stayed together eight years. While I was there I was the chairman of the board and as I was just about leaving I chaired the United Way Campaign in that city, Johnstown, Pennsylvania. First woman in 40 years. You see, I spent my lifetime being the first woman who ____, but I agreed to chair the United Way Campaign. They had never had a woman chair it before.
Three gentleman invited me to have lunch and I said, well why these three? I know them, but why. One was president of the United Way, one was chairman, and one was the president of a bank, a major donor. So he sits down and they say, I think you will be happy to know that you have been—what did they call it—you’re about to be appointed the honorary awardee for our Girl Scout campaign, and I said thank you very much, but I couldn’t do that because I’ve just agreed to take the CEO job of the Girl Scouts, and you could never have a professional worker in an agency doing the, chairing the United Way Campaign. He said, no, on you it’s different. So he convinced me I needed to chair the United Way Campaign. Think about that. Forty years, never a woman. And there were some people who said, “Oh my goodness. Can women raise money?” It was very interesting to be the first ever and I wanted it to be the best ever and include everyone. So I invited the president of the United Steel Workers to be my vice chairman and the next year he would be the chairman. Well people were very shocked at that. That year little Johnstown, Pennsylvania had the highest per capita giving because of the whole community. Bethlehem Steel had a gorgeous luncheon to launch it. That night, United Steel Workers, United Coal Miners, they had an organized labor dinner and it was the most beautiful example of how the whole community came together.
SCARPINO: What did you learn about leadership from doing that?
HESSELBEIN: Power of mission, power of inclusion, power of a vision that includes everyone, power of inclusion, engagement, and the power of respect can bring everyone together. They’re not in this corner we have business, this corner we have, whatever. No. We don’t divide people.
SCARPINO: You mentioned when you took over the Girl Scout troop that you’d do it for a while until they found a real leader.
HESSELBEIN: Six weeks.
SCARPINO: What did you think a real leader was at that point?
HESSELBEIN: Well I had no idea. It never related to anything. I bought a Girl Scout handbook. There was not time for training and I realized after a few days this is where I belonged. It was the perfect job and what I learned was the power of mission, knowing why we do what we do. But how you have the courage to go out in the community and tell your story. Make it everybody’s story and respect for all people. And you have to gather people around you. I had Bethlehem Steel, U.S. Steel, United Steel Workers and the Better Business Bureau. Everyone just came together and that year we not only exceeded the (words inaudible).
SCARPINO: Would I be correct in concluding that that seems like a collection of strange bedfellows that you managed to pull together—labor and management.
HESSELBEIN: You have to. You see you just don’t focus on, well these are the leaders of the community and we all belong to the country club, etc., etc. Very important part of it, but only a part.
SCARPINO: Do you remember the point in your life when you actually realized that you were a leader? When you looked in the mirror one morning and said, there I am. I am a leader. People listen to me.
HESSELBEIN: Because when you’re called to do something, the call is so powerful you just move ahead. I was there four years in Johnstown, that six-county area, and we developed the most radical, exciting corporate management system throughout the old hierarchy circular management. Four years later when we had developed a beautiful planning, commenting, mentoring monograph, I was called to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. I never wanted to leave Johnstown, but the next day the governor of Pennsylvania called my husband who was a filmmaker and a writer and an editor. John, we have a big grant here for artisan school, seven million dollars. We don’t know how to talk to artists and poets and people like you. Do you think you could come and help us?
Well, we decided providence was calling. The two jobs were a 30-minute drive apart. So we sold the business, rented the house and went. It was the most glorious 18 months, and New York calls. We want you to come talk to us about the job. Well, I said to John, I’m writing them a sweet letter because I know you’re not serious. They’re just proving they’re casting the widest net. For 67 years they have never had anyone from within. They’re not going to now. He said, I’m driving you to New York. It’s the perfect job for you. So we drive to New York and when they say if you had this job what would you do? Well because I knew they weren’t serious, I guess I was very free to speak and not be intimidated. I said, well the first thing I would do would be to throw out that old hierarchy of people in boxes and I would institute circular management. We would all work with a flat circular cabinet, and it was lots of fun. But that really worked.
SCARPINO: But you didn’t really think they were going to offer you that job.
HESSELBEIN: Oh, I just, I came out and I said, John said, how did it go? Oh and I talked, I said the program hasn’t been changed in 12 years. We would bring in four great educators and have four new handbooks heavy on math, science, technology and we would use the greatest management authors and we would have corporate management monographs that would be a model and we would have an organization whose membership reflects its country heavy. It would be wonderfully balanced. If we manage the mission, manage renovation, manage for diversity. Well it was fun and they were appreciative and I knew nothing would come of it.
Two days later I got a phone call. We want you to come. John gets his call and off we go. Eighteen months later I go to New York for that. When you think that four years in Johnstown, 18 months near Harrisburg, the center of the state, I had six years of working on the ground with the people developing innovative plans, tools, projects. So when I came to New York and I thought I would be there three years. It would take three years to totally transform the organization. I stayed 13 years. They called. We want you to come in because I had discussed what I called to myself, or to myself I would call it the quiet revolution.
SCARPINO: Quiet revolution.
HESSELBEIN: Everything’s changed but the values, the principles, the passion and why we do what we do.
SCARPINO: The Girl Scouts were on pretty shaky ground when you took it over, weren’t they?
HESSELBEIN: Yes. All big organizations had lived through this trauma of the sixties and early seventies. It was a very difficult time.
SCARPINO: Just for the record I want to ask you what were you doing for the 18 months that you lived near Harrisburg?
HESSELBEIN: Near Harrisburg? Built wonderful cohesion. Brought everyone together in a very exciting way. Had a wonderful time working with United Way telling them that in Johnstown United Way my invitation has paid for Peter Drucker tapes and if we, I facilitated, we opened it up to every organization, and I said we could do that here. So we worked on some collaborative things and moved circular managements around the council.
SCARPINO: So that’s when you were with the Talus Rock?
HESSELBEIN: Yeah, Talus Rock was first, Penn Laurel was second. But always there was this heavy focus on diversity because at that time it wasn’t a very popular subject and most people were waiting for the future to think about it. And I said if we don’t study it now, build a richly diverse organization today, we will be the organization of the past, and because I had talked about my passion for this before I ever took the job, people expected it. So the time to resist change and diversity was before I ever came. No, it was marvelous.
SCARPINO: You have a, I guess a poster on your wall. I’m looking at it, it’s on my right front next to the window. It says Peter Drucker on top and there are hands going in different directions and it says underneath, what is our business, who is our customer, what does the customer consider value.
HESSELBEIN: And those were Peter Drucker’s three questions I had used all my life and if you don’t answer those your mission is solely why do we do what we do, then who is the customer? When you really study it you might be surprised to find it no longer is your primary customer because you have a primary customer and then a number of others. So you ask that question and then what was shocking to people, you have to say, well what does the customer value? And they would say well, why would we ever ask them? Well, you’re already part of the past if you even question it.
So the first time I left the Girl Scouts, January 31st, 1990, and by that fall we were organized, and Peter and I were speaking at a big national conference and when it was over, the speeches were over, this room was jammed with reporters because of Peter. I remember Reuters was there. All kinds of people. And one man said, Mr. Drucker, tell us—he had been explaining all about the Drucker Foundation—and they said describe what your first project will be. Now he and I had never talked about this, and I heard Peter Drucker standing there totally at ease saying it will be an organizational self-assessment tool for organizations to use. It will have five questions. My little ears are perking up. What is their mission? Who is their customer? What does the customer value? What have been our results? And what is our plan? I’m hearing this for the first time and he describes how it will be used, and a reporter said, Mr. Drucker, when will it be ready? And he looked over at me with a little twinkle and he says Frances, when do you think you’ll have this ready? Two years? I said oh no, we’ll have it in 18 months. What did I know about anything? Eighteen months later we published the Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions. All over the world people grabbed it. I can remember at one point in our own country 60,000 people were in groups using it, and we now have a new third edition. But I always thought that was so cute. We never had a chance to discuss. We were just beginning and we hadn’t sat down and said this is what we’ll do first and Peter, in a wonderful press conference, launched it. I’ve always loved that. Two years? No, no. Eighteen months.
SCARPINO: Of course by that time you and Peter Drucker had worked together quite a bit. You were used to each other?
HESSELBEIN: I had been with the Girl Scouts five years when quite by accident I met Peter Drucker. I had every book, every film, video, anything he had ever done, and my whole plan, the whole planning philosophy was influenced by Peter Drucker, but I had never met him or thought I would ever meet him. So I had been in New York five years of my 13, and the chancellor of New York University invited me to a dinner—fifty heads of foundations and the largest organizations—to have dinner with Peter Drucker and hear him speak. Well I was thrilled to actually hear him speak.
SCARPINO: So you thought you were going to see him in a big room.
HESSELBEIN: Yes. So I walked—if you grow up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania 5:30 is 5:30—so I arrived promptly on time. I’m alone at the university club in this beautiful big reception room and I’m alone with two bartenders. I turn around and there is a man behind me. Obviously if you grew up in Vienna, 5:30 is 5:30, and he said, I am Peter Drucker. I was so struck I forgot to say how do you do. I said oh, do you realize how important you are to the Girl Scouts and he said no, tell me. I said you go to any one of our 335 Councils you will find every book you’ve ever written, any film you’ve ever done right there. Come to New York to our headquarters. Pick up our corporate management’s monographs. There are 13 of them. You’ll see your philosophy running through.
He said, you are very daring. I would be afraid to do that. Tell me, does it work? I said, sir, it works so superbly that I have been trying for months to gain up enough courage to gain enough courage to call you and say Peter Drucker we have in place at this moment everything you say the effective organization must have in place to be part of the future, we do, and I’ve been trying to get up enough courage to ask you, may I come to Claremont to have one hour of your time, lay before you everything that we have in place and then talk with you about how the Girl Scouts takes the lead in this society and blasts into the future. And he said but why should both of us travel? I’m going to be in New York. He gave me the day. He said, I’ll give you a day of my time.
So the great day came and Peter Drucker arrived. I knew I couldn’t keep him to myself all day as much as I would want to, so he met with the board and the staff together, the board and about a hundred members of the staff, for the whole morning and you have never had such an exciting dynamic engagement. Then he and I had the afternoon together. We laid out everything and it was, the advice he gave and the appreciation. We went downstairs in the Girl Scouts, in their own building, 8 33rd Avenue, 14 stories, went down and we stood in the lobby and he looked up at the ceiling, looked around in the lobby. He said, I can tell a great deal about an organization from its building. In this Girl Scout building the culture is pervasive. There is very little tension and no meanness. I’d never heard meanness used in this form, and I’ve never forgotten that.
SCARPINO: I know you need to take a call in a few minutes. So I want to ask you a question related to Peter Drucker’s first visit to the Girl Scouts.
SCARPINO: And then I’ll turn these things off. So when I talked to you last time, when you weren’t feeling well, you mentioned that when Peter Drucker came to New York for the first time to meet with you and with the Girl Scout staff and so forth, that one of the things that he said was, he said—and I’m quoting you now—you said Peter Drucker said you do not appreciate the significance of the work you do for we live in a society that pretends to care about its children but does not.
HESSELBEIN: Care about its children and it does not.
SCARPINO: Right. And so you were taken back by that.
SCARPINO: And then a number of years later you called him up and asked him did he still feel that way, and he said yes.
HESSELBEIN: No, he said in a very sad voice, Frances has anything changed? No, of course not.
SCARPINO: So, do you agree?
SCARPINO: That ours is a society that pretends to care for children but does not?
SCARPINO: And how, as somebody who has spent her entire life learning to be a leader and training other people to be leaders, how do you see that happening? How is it that we say we care about our children but we don’t? What evidence do you have for that?
HESSELBEIN: We will go to 10 cities, visit the schools, how many children receive a high school diploma. You have some cities where half of people sent do not. I think New York has improved. I think now 70, we graduate 70, but a few years ago when I was speaking we were one out of two. When we look at the percentage of children in our country, find the newest percentages and the millions and millions and millions of children and the high percentages of black and Hispanic and poor children who do not get a high school diploma, no diploma, no hope, no job, no future, and you look at the youth prisons and the teenagers incarcerated and the situations there, if we really cared, if we really cared about all of our children, education would be available and we would see that the poorest child had that opportunity.
SCARPINO: How do you think that our society reached a point where we tell each other we care about our children but in your opinion we do not?
HESSELBEIN: Because these are our invisible children. Do you—how many children do you know who sleep in homeless shelters get up in the morning and go to high school?
SCARPINO: I’m the wrong person to ask because some of my students do service learning projects and work with those children, so I know there are a lot in Indianapolis who live like that.
HESSELBEIN: All right. But you know, but you know how it is. They are. Tell Doug to come in.
SCARPINO: Do you want me to hit pause and shut this off?
HESSELBEIN: Yes, and this will just be a few minutes then you can come.
SCARPINO: All right, let’s make sure that we have these things turned off and I’ll get out of here.
SCARPINO: All right, it should be back on again. Let me get myself re-oriented here. Okay, we were, when we took a break we were talking about the first time that Peter Drucker came to the Girl Scouts and he, among a number of things, mentioned that a society that pretends to care for children but does not.
SCARPINO: And we, I was asking you, your point of view on that, and asked you how do you think we got to the point where we say we care but we don’t.
HESSELBEIN: I think we forgot who we were. I look at small countries in other parts of the world and they’re number one in something that’s important, and we’re 28. I don’t know. We focused elsewhere and somehow the education of all of our children has to become a passionate focus of the whole country. I believe that since the beginning of our country there have been two institutions that have sustained a democracy. One is the United States Army and the other is public education. Today the Army is stretched but strong. For public education the house is on fire. You cannot have a schoolhouse where the children do not have books, where they do not have a library. We’re now cutting teacher salary, raising class sizes, when we know what size class is best for children. There’s a long list. I don’t know how we got there. but being there is not good enough for most of us and we need to all battle to get us back to the point where the education of all of our children is a priority.
SCARPINO: How do you think we ended up as a society in a place where we spend money on one of the institutions that you value, that is the military, and we cut the budget of the other institution that you value, which is public education.
HESSELBEIN: I don’t see it that way at all because we are not overspending on the military, but if you look at everything else we spend money for and where we are not investing, we need to take a tough look at what’s our priorities in spending and projects and focus. And we focus on what builds strong families, strong communities, with civil discourse and civil society. How did we ever get to this point where we speak to one another in such a shocking way? Civil discourse, civil society.
SCARPINO: In addition to civil discourse and civil society, if you could pick one or two things to work on, what would you pick?
HESSELBEIN: Strengthening the public schools of our country. I would pick one.
SCARPINO: One school.
HESSELBEIN: One sector, one issue. I think that’s where the house is on fire.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the situation with America’s children represents a crisis of leadership or a failure of leadership?
HESSELBEIN: Both. Both, and the lack of caring. If we really cared about our children would we have schools without libraries or textbooks? Of course not.
SCARPINO: You have a picture on your wall of some young high school-age looking children that I believe went to a high school in the Bronx, and were in a situation where they didn’t have books or a library.
HESSELBEIN: South Bronx, an alternative high school for young people at risk where I was principal for a day and worked with them for the next eight years. The student council, when I met with them after that first day, principal for a day, just observing, met with 10 members of the student council, and I said when we meet at three o’clock, you will tell me your greatest needs.
We met at three and a young president, Joe, stood up and said Mrs. Hesselbein, our greatest need is a library. We don’t have one and wouldn’t it be wonderful for all the kids if we could have a library? Number two greatest need: textbooks. They had seven subjects. And he said, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the kids could have a textbook. Number three, I’d been talking with the whole student body and teachers about it and he got the message. He said could you find—it was about all of us working to make it a better place—he said could you find a mentor who would help us move beyond the walls, go out into South Bronx with a project that would make it a better place for everyone? Now, those young people, 90% poverty level, 90% black, or Hispanic had this beautiful vision of what it could be. They had never graduated a class from that high school. The next June we graduated nine members of student council in the 52 group of graduates. Number 10 went to the Air Force. Loads more, college scholarships. All they needed was a library and textbooks.
SCARPINO: Are you still in touch with that school?
HESSELBEIN: It has now closed.
SCARPINO: If the situation with the children is a crisis or a failure of leadership what does the Leader to Leader Institute do to address that crisis or that failure?
HESSELBEIN: Well, I travel every week speaking somewhere, and it’s always in my speeches. In leadership dialogues I talk about it because I really believe that the two institutions that are to save the democracy have been public education and United States Army, and I keep testing my thesis and I believe it more passionately every day. So wherever I go I talk about it.
Shortly after that, after the opening of the library, two young men took me aside—they were young African-American students—and they, very quietly away from everyone, they said Mrs. Hesselbein do you think we could have a couple of books written by people who look like us, you know, people who look us like write books too. And I said, some of the greatest, of course. A friend gave me the definitive list of books by African-American authors but said if you buy all of them it would be $6000. So I talked to a friend and I said I’d like to just buy all of them, and he said absolutely and I said well if you could find half of it, I’ll find half. He called me back and he said forget about your half, our company is buying all of them. So we had a party and those young men who came every day to the library after school to help as library helpers, they had the books on the shelves. Most of them, the cover had the photograph. They had the cover out. You’ve never seen such a beautiful prize. It doesn’t take much. We’re not talking about billions. But where we are, on the ground, where the kids are, what can we do?
SCARPINO: When you founded the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for…
SCARPINO: I’m sorry, go ahead.
HESSELBEIN: We did. Not I.
SCARPINO: We, you and Peter founded that, yes.
HESSELBEIN: And Bob Buford and Dick Schubert and a wonderful small board founded.
SCARPINO: Why did you elect to focus on non-profit management?
HESSELBEIN: Because this, because we believed that social sector—Peter Drucker stopped calling it non-profit after a while, he said non-profit simply says what it is not. It is now the social sector because it is in this sector we find the greatest success in meeting human needs. So we now call it the social sector. We focused on that because Peter for a long time had been saying it was the social sector that may yet save the society, and his passion was to see that people saw the social sector as the equal partner of business and government and so that’s why the focus. Now I still quietly know that our materials are as helpful to business and government as they are to the social sector. But Peter wanted this to happen. He said it is the social sector because it is in this sector we find the greatest success in meeting human needs.
SCARPINO: How do you think, looking back on the Drucker Foundation and now Leader to Leader, which is just a change of name, where do you think you’ve really made a difference? I mean the organization, not necessarily you personally.
HESSELBEIN: I think first, Peter says after 10 years I think we’ve reached our goal. The social sector is seen as the equal partner of business and government. So I would quote Peter Drucker. I think the other way we’ve made a contribution is bringing all three sectors together in conferences and leadership dialogues and books where they’re writing chapters. Moving beyond the old walls and having the three sectors take the responsibility for community, the country, and then I think in 28 books in 30 languages—today we just learned that my book is now, Serbia has now purchased the publishing rights—but we’re all over the world, and we are as, our materials, our resources, which are made up of contributions from all of these friends who write for us, speak for us, travel with us, I think we’ve made a contribution in having an intellectual gathering place where we all come together and there’s an enormous respect for all three sectors and leaders everywhere, and I think giving it away, these three recent global webinars where I said, we’re not going to charge eight or 10 dollars a head. The poorest countries have to be able to come in. So I think in bringing people together and finding ways to publish and then webinars and using all the ways there are to communicate and having a few messages, not thousands.
SCARPINO: When you stepped down as CEO of the Girl Scouts, you left an organization with considerable staff, quite a bit of money, and…
HESSELBEIN: Very successful.
SCARPINO: …to head up an organization that had almost no staff and almost no money.
HESSELBEIN: It had no staff and no money.
SCARPINO: I was trying to be nice. [laughing]
HESSELBEIN: Just Peter, no, Peter and his passionate vision of the two guys and Frances who had this vision of moving Peter around the world.
SCARPINO: So now that you look back on what this organization has accomplished, do you ever catch your breath and say, how did it happen?
HESSELBEIN: I look back and I see hundreds and thousands of faces of people who cared about Peter and cared about the community and cared about mission innovation and diversity, and they’re all part of the most wonderful past.
SCARPINO: What do you think are the greatest or the most important challenges that face leaders today?
HESSELBEIN: I think the greatest challenge is to heal and unify the country, the community, the organization, and as we heal and unify we contribute whatever our skill is, whatever our gift, whatever our work, we contribute in a mighty way, but we realize there’s no way to contribute if we do not heal and unify the community.
SCARPINO: How do we do that? What is the first step that has to happen to heal and unify the community?
HESSELBEIN: Trust and respect.
SCARPINO: How do we find trust or build respect?
HESSELBEIN: In every encounter. Your university, our organization, and we scrutinize ourselves first. How do I speak to you with respect? If not, go in a corner somewhere. We have to somehow bring back that vibrant democracy where there was trust and respect. It’s at every job every day of our lives but in whatever we do, we have little tests for ourselves when it was over. Did I follow my own beliefs, my own direction, what I hope for?
SCARPINO: Where do you think the leaders will come from that will earn trust and respect and heal the community?
HESSELBEIN: From the generation now, on college university campuses, on the, from the academies. The Pew Center and a lot of other scientific research simply verifies what I’ve been experiencing for some time on college campuses, and this new report by Pew says the generation now that we’re speaking—18 to 28—is more like the 1930s and the 1940s than any cohort since and that generation we called the greatest generation. That’s where I spend much of my time and that’s where I get my hope and my energy. When I say to them at the end of a speech, to serve is to live, no one comes up and says could you explain that please. They sort of nod their heads, of course.
SCARPINO: Is there anything that you’d like to add or anything that I should have asked you and didn’t before we turn off the recorders?
HESSELBEIN: No. It’s a great honor to be interviewed by someone from your great university and I’m honored to be part of this program, and I hope somewhere there has been a truth that will touch someone.
SCARPINO: Well, Frances, on behalf of the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence and the International Leadership Association, I thank you very much for giving me two opportunities to interview you. We really appreciate it.
HESSELBEIN: Thank you.