by Deb Cummins, Vice-President, Northstar Team Development

Pioneer. American icon. Legend. This week I found myself in the presence of greatness. What follows is a glimpse of what I will remember as Ladies Lunch with Frances, an opportunity to engage with two formidable leaders committed to diversity and inclusion.

Mrs. Frances Hesselbein is one of the most highly respected experts in the field of contemporary leadership development. She 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. In 1988, Mrs. Hesselbein was awarded, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, for her leadership as CEO of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., as well as her service as “a pioneer for women, volunteerism, diversity and opportunity.” Her contributions were also recognized by the first President Bush, who appointed her to two Presidential Commissions on National and Community Service.

My colleague and mentor, Jane Wells Schooley, sat in the third seat at the table. Jane Wells Schooley has been on the full-time faculty of Penn State, served as the national vice president of the National Organization for Women, and is an owner of Keller Williams Real Estate, where she led 175 agents in that organization. Currently, she is the President of Northstar Team Development. In light of her more than 30 years as an entrepreneur, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce has recognized her with the prestigious international Athena Leadership Award for excellence in business and for helping other women reach their leadership potential.

Now in my 50’s, I consider myself an accomplished professional. This week, I looked at legacy leadership from a completely different lens. Here are a few things I took away from this incredible experience:

The power of storytelling. During our time together, I soaked in the stories that these two women shared with each other. Although she doesn’t like to discuss it, Frances celebrated her 100th birthday this year. She talked about her time as the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors for PPL. She was also the first woman to chair a United Way campaign in Johnstown, PA. Ever. But it was her story about her initial reluctance to take on the leadership role of Troop Leader in her hometown when the church based troop was to be disbanded that really got to me. We are sometimes hesitant to say yes, but this group of young girls ultimately changed the trajectory of Frances’ life. Jane shared her story about traveling across the country to have the ERA amendment ratified. When Jane speaks about her mentor, Dr. Alice Paul, and the magic of serendipitously meeting her on a fortuitous journey to Connecticut, I was captivated.  Literally, I was leaning in that afternoon trying to catch every word. The richness of storytelling is one of the most powerful gifts which leaders have.

Values are at the core of leadership. So much of what we do at Northstar Team Development is about learning leadership from the inside out. Jane is committed to ensuring that leaders have the opportunity to explore what drives them as they look into their motivating behaviors and values. Frances would concur. One of Frances’ most quoted quotes is “Leadership is how to be, not how to do it.” And here, reduced to a few key points, is what Mrs. Hesselbein believes to be true about leadership:

Be mission-focused

Begin with a short, powerful, compelling mission statement that is based solely on…Why do we do what we do?
What is our reason for being?
Distil the language until you have a powerful mission statement. (Frances states “Peter Drucker says it has to fit on a t-shirt.”)
Frances speaks passionately about dreams and hopes of a bright future. It is clear that both of these women have clear internal compasses and that their values drive their outlook on leadership.

Leadership is for Life. For many years, I taught college student leaders about my belief in the Stephen Covey model of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I love this model because it gives everyone an opportunity to use a toolbox of habits to incorporate into their leadership journey. Our work with The Leadership Challenge exemplifies a model of life-long leadership and practice. During our “Ladies Lunch”, I had an epiphany when I realized I was the emerging leader of this group. Today just represents a snapshot in time of my personal leadership journey.  At Northstar, we like to look at leadership in the context of generations and at this lunch, as a “Boomer”, I was the new kid on the block!

When you are surrounded by greatness, your perspective changes. You become the learner and you crave the wisdom of the teacher. You realize that your journey is still evolving and that your ability to make an impact and leave your own legacy is ever-present. You continue to seek mentors and role models that inspire you. You realize that you still have much to learn. And, you are grateful to the universe for giving you once in a lifetime opportunities like the Ladies Lunch with Francis.