Wednesday, October 28, 2015

To Build The Organization Your Team Deserves, Diversify

by Don Yaeger
October 28th, 2015

The Kansas City Royals celebrate defeating the New York Mets 5-4 in Game One of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 27, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

As the Kansas City Royals face off against the New York Mets in the World Series—with both teams featuring an international roster of talent—I am reminded of how diversity can be a powerful tool in building a great team. For Frances Hesselbein, diversity not only allowed her to move from volunteer to CEO of one of the biggest organizations in the world, but helped her literally build the future.  I had a unique opportunity to interview Hesselbein, whose time as leader of Girl Scouts of America single-handedly strengthened the fabric of our nation’s female leadership.

Hesselbein’s journey to CEO began in her hometown of Johnston, Pennsylvania—a place rich with racial and ethnic opportunity—where many of her neighbors had traveled from all over the world to work the regional coal mines.

“At a young age, I learned from my grandmother that I should respect all people,” Hesselbein said. “Her lessons were defining moments in my life and determined the type of leader that I would become.”

Hesselbein joined the Girl Scouts as a part-time troop leader. During her service, she noticed that the promotional materials were not only outdated, but also lacked racial diversity.
“There was an enormous opportunity to move forward with our organization,” Hesselbein said. “But it would only happen if we realized not all girls look alike…despite what the brochures showed.”

Hesselbein became a rising star within the Girl Scouts and in 1976, she was invited by an internal hiring committee to interview for national CEO. The invitation left her stunned. “I thought I’d never leave Pennsylvania,” Hesselbein admitted. “And I never imagined that I’d one day have the chance to lead the largest organization for girls and women around the world.”

On the way to the CEO’s office, Hasselbein developed deep relationships with some of America’s brightest business minds, each of whom donated their time because they believed in her vision for Girl Scouts. The most active of these was management guru Peter Drucker, who made visiting the Girl Scout offices a regular part of his time in New York. “If you look at the bookshelves of every chapter, they’re loaded with Drucker books,” she said. “He taught us to be better leaders so we could train young women to lead better.”

As her time in the corner office grew, Hesselbein had not forgotten the organization’s diversity problem. During her interview, she presented her vision for the future. “I was very honest with them and I described a massive change like a quiet revolution,” she said.
Frances Hesselbein
Frances Hesselbein, president and CEO of the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. (Photo credit Michele Mattei.)

Hesselbein suggested updating the 12-year-old handbooks to include actual opportunities for young girls—such as promoting math, science and technology fields—and also appealing to minorities. Additionally, she called for a complete overhaul in the training of Girl Scout executives with new management resources and modernizing communications and outreach.

“The entire country was in a period of great, positive change, and the committee bought into my ideas of transforming the organization,” Hesselbein said, who was hired on the spot.

When Hesselbein became CEO in 1976, she was inheriting a crisis; the Girl Scouts was failing in profitability and was in dire need of a corporate makeover. At the same time, U.S. women were redefining their place in corporate America. Hesselbein and the committee saw an opportunity to recruit and speak to that new generation of young, diverse, female leadership by making a commitment to be a part of “that very bright future.”

“The Girl Scouts quickly tripled racially and ethnically by making our message reach all girls,” Hesselbein said. “We asked ourselves, ‘When women and girls look at us, our board, staff, materials and handbooks, can they find themselves?’ So we made a passionate commitment to make that a reality and our people were ready for it.”

Hesselbein said that the “quality and character” of a leader is what determines the performance and the results.

“A single person doesn’t change an organization, but culture and good people do,” she said.  “If you are building a corporate culture of greatness, you have to define culture on your own terms and with the people you work with. For us, our mission was to manage for innovation and diversity. If we are successful at that, then we are part of the future.”

Hesselbein’s visionary leadership led to the largest growth in the history of the Girl Scouts, with a membership of 2.25 million girls and a workforce of 780,000 volunteers. In a world of instant gratification, we could all learn from Hesselbein’s keen observation of society and business.

When thinking of leadership, do you follow Hesselbein’s approach or does your vision need to be adjusted? Leave me a comment on how your leadership can “be a part of the future.”

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