Frances Hesselbein’s Seven Tips for Nonprofit Leaders

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November 9, 2011; Source: FortuneWith a career that spans seventy years in the nonprofit sector and includes positions as a troop leader, state leader, and, ultimately, CEO of the Girl Scouts and CEO of the Leader to Leader Institute (formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management), which she still holds at 96, it is no surprise that Frances Hesselbein has some clear thoughts on leadership. In a recent interview with Fortune she recalled how her incorporation of Drucker’s management principles drew the attention not only of the leadership of the Girl Scouts but also of Drucker himself, who later asked her to lead his own organization. Reflecting on her own career, Hesselbein emphasized the underlying importance of focus and vision, and shared seven additional lessons she figured out along the way. 

          #1 If a door is open, walk through it

          Hesselbein noted that in 1976, when she was invited to interview for the position of CEO of the Girl Scouts, there was no precedent for a local leader moving to the top job, but she still went in and shared her thoughts on how the organization could transform itself. 

          #2 Have a clear mission

          With help from her colleagues,Hesselbein overhauled the organization’s mission and values statements and incorporated research on what troop leaders and scouts wanted. “Because we included everyone, it became theirs, not ours,” she recalled. 

          #3 Be inclusive      

          She emphasized that diversity for the staff and the board was a priority.

          #4 Accept only the best 

          Hesselbein thinks big. Not only did she get Harvard Business School professors to develop management seminars for her staff, she had Independent Sector founder John W. Gardner train her board. Dissatisfied with the “dowdy polyester uniforms” that Girl Scout leaders had been wearing, she asked designers Halston and Bill Blass to create new looks for the organization—and they did. 

          #5 Be on time 

          As she said, “5:30 means 5:30.” 

          #6 See yourself “life-size”

          Appreciate the value of the work that you do.         

          #7Look to the future 

          “I found myself CEO [of the Drucker Foundation] with no money, no staff, and just a powerful vision,” she recalled. “Peter encouraged us to focus on the type of change that will determine whether or not we are, all of us, a part of the future.”

          In 2012, in honor of Hesselbein’s contribution to the Leader to Leader Institute, it will be renamed the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.—Anne Eigeman