Being a leader, whether in your career or your personal life, is something that most people would say they aspire to. What is an indispensable part of every great leader’s development? Frances Hesselbein, president and CEO of The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute (formerly The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management), former CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, dear friend of Bob Buford, and featured content partner of the 4word: Membership Program, would argue that that vital part is mentorship. Discover why she believes this in the interview below.
4word: What makes a person a great leader?
Frances: To answer that, I will first share with you my definition of leadership. “Leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do. It is the quality and character of the leader that determines the performance results.” If you are negative or focused in the wrong direction, it is difficult to be a great leader.
Great leaders are mission-focused, values-based, and demographics-driven. The focus is never on us; it’s about them, the people we serve.
4word: Diane Paddison considers you one of her most influential mentors. In your opinion, how important is mentorship in the development of leaders?
Frances: When we look at highly effective leaders, great leaders, the people we most admire, I believe that mentorship is something we would consider an indispensable part of that person’s development. A mentor is someone who is focused on you, not on themselves, someone who wants to help you in your development, and who appreciates the sound and the thought of, “I am your mentor.”
Mentoring is very important in the development of leaders, and if you don’t have a mentor, someone you can turn to, someone you trust, someone you admire … something is missing. Mentoring, for both mentor and mentee, can be one of the most rewarding and exciting endeavors in your entire leadership life. Something great happens when both of you are learning and growing and being.
I have had mentors who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves my mentor. They would more likely say that they’re my friend! Not everyone agrees with, “I am your mentor,” but sometimes we see someone as a mentor, even if they don’t see themselves in that role.
4word: What are some qualities or character traits one should look for in a mentor, especially if they aspire to be in a leadership position in the future?
Frances: I would tell anyone looking for a mentor to ask themselves if a potential mentor:
- Respects all people?
- Are they living the values they talk about?
If you’re looking for a mentor, you really want someone who will inspire you to move beyond where you are. There are two Peter Drucker pieces of advice that I would keep in mind when looking for a mentor:
- “Ask, don’t tell.”
- “Think first, speak last.”
If you’re sitting at a table discussion and someone jumps into the conversation first, and always wants to be the person who speaks first, Peter would remind us that a wise leader “thinks first and speaks last."
What a difference when someone says, “Now, this is what we’re going to do. We are going do this,” versus “What do you think about this?” Asking, not telling, gives you the opportunity to learn and grow together. A mentor who does this has your best intentions in mind.
4word: Tell us about your upcoming book "Five Most Important Questions." (See the end of the interview for a chance to win an autographed copy!) What enticed you to be part of that project? What do you hope to see accomplished through the book?
Frances: I spend 1/3 of my time with college students on campuses and military academies. It is interaction and engagement with Millennials who give me my Bright Future outlook. According to the recent report by Barnes & Noble College, “The College Student Mindset for Career Preparation & Success,” Millennials will be 50 percent of the US workforce by 2020, and 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.
The study reports that 90% of this cohort considers “communication skills” as “most important” to their career. When I read this, I had to smile, because, as Peter Drucker taught us, “Communication is not saying something; communication is being heard.”
It brings to mind another “Drucker-ism” that I have experienced in my engagement of Millennials: “Ask, don’t tell.” When we ask Millennials, “What would you think if we did this?” more than telling them, “Now hear this!” they're eager to engage, because we are speaking their language. Joan Snyder Kuhl, founder of Why Millennials Matter, and a board member at the Hesselbein Institute, and I were talking, and we thought - wouldn't it be wonderful to showcase how Millennials are using The Five Questions? (Our Institute was founded as The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, and we continue to spread his management philosophy around the world.)
Millennials have a very positive view of the future and of contributing to the future, and so we convened Millennial leaders, among others, to contribute to this enhanced version of Drucker's timeless classic, The Five Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization. Our hope is to create a new generation of leaders who appreciate and utilize the powerful leadership lessons of Peter Drucker.
4word: What advice would you share with someone who wants to be a leader but is not sure how to get to that position?
Frances: I would look to role models, great leaders, mentors. I would look at every video, read every book I could find by a leader that I admire. Be on the lookout for your defining moment, as I talked about in my TEDxMidAtlantic talk. Read Jim Collins. There are practical videos, leadership books, and journals that allow anyone - at any level - in any country, to learn from great leaders of our time. Become a wildly excited learner. Meet people at gatherings. Listen to a leader that you want to emulate, someone that you makes you think, “Oh, I’d like to be a leader just like that!” or “He/she really has some of the qualities that I would like to develop.”
If you want to be a leader, and you’re not sure how to get there, be a passionate learner. Listen to the language that attracts you and walk away from outdated concepts and language of the past. A true leader manages for the mission, manages for innovation, and manages for diversity. Describe yourself as mission-focused, values-based, and demographics-driven and then live those words. Manage for the mission, manage for innovation, and manage for diversity.
4word: Anything else you’d like to add?
Frances: Leadership has no gender. It’s the quality and character of the leader that determines their performance. That’s why, if you’re a man, you never describe a female colleague as a “woman leader.” No, no, there isn’t such a category. We are all leaders. Some of us are men, and some of us are women. Gender does not determine a leader; quality and performance determine the leader.
Do you want to be a leader? After reading Frances’ interview, we hope that you have a clear path in mind as you start your journey towards this ultimate goal for yourself.
Do you feel called to be a mentor? Are you looking for a mentor? The 4word Mentor Program is currently accepting applications for the upcoming fall session. Visit the Mentor Program website today and submit your online application by September 2, 2016!
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One of the most highly respected experts in the field of contemporary leadership development, Frances Hesselbein is the President and CEO of The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute, founded as The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management and renamed in 2012 to honor Hesselbein’s legacy and ongoing contributions. Mrs. Hesselbein was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, by President Clinton in 1998 for her leadership as CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. from 1976–1990, as well as her service as “a pioneer for women, volunteerism, diversity and opportunity.”
From 2009–2011, Mrs. Hesselbein served as the Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point, in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. She is the first woman, and the first non-graduate to serve in this chair.
Also in 2009, the University of Pittsburgh introduced The Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. The Academy’s aim is to produce experienced and ethical leaders who will address critical national and international issues and advance positive social and economic initiatives throughout the world.
Mrs. Hesselbein is the recipient of twenty-three honorary doctoral degrees. She is editor- in-chief of the award-winning quarterly journal Leader to Leader and is the coeditor of twenty-seven books in twenty- nine languages. Mrs. Hesselbein has traveled to sixty- eight countries representing the United States. She is the author of Hesselbein on Leadership, My Life in Leadership, More Hesselbein on Leadership and most recently, co-author of The Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders. You can follow Mrs. Hesselbein on twitter at www.twitter.com/ToServeIsToLive.