My Life in Leadership: The journey and lessons learned along the way

• By Frances Hesselbein
• Jossey Bass/John Wiley
• RRP$34.50

There is something engaging about Frances Hesselbein – even in print. I met her once, in Auckland, and she was an engaging, compelling, petite and wise woman with disarming ability to quietly spellbind her audience – large or small.
I struggled with the introduction and first two chapters of this book. It was, I felt, much too home-spun, gosh darn and naked American emotion for my taste. But it crept up on me. The homilies seemed suddenly more insightful. By chapter six I was taking notes for future reference and reflection.
Hasselbein is the reluctant leader, plucked from small Johnstown, western Pennsylvania obscurity, who transformed America’s Girl Scouts organisation. In the process she became the president and CEO of the late management guru Peter Drucker’s Leader to Leader Institute, Fortune magazine’s “Best Nonprofit Manager in America” and received America’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Some Kiwi readers will, as I did, struggle with some of the language and sentiment expressed. It is personal tale told in very personal way. But it is also glory box of experiences, observations and thoughtfully expressed conclusions about who and what shaped her life and sharpened her undoubted leadership skills.
Management was Frances Hasselbein’s “great adventure” and, the way she tells it, she enjoyed every step of the journey. For her, “to serve is to live” and to be effective she recalls some southern mountain wisdom which states: “You have to carry big basket to bring something home.”
Leadership, she writes, is “matter of how to be, not how to do”. We spend most of our lives learning and teaching others how to do, she argues, “but it is the quality and character of the leader that determines performance”.
My Life in Leadership is both very human and humane account of an important woman’s journey through difficult times. Her inexhaustible appetite for living life to serve others is both inspirational and practical. It illustrates perfectly the power of story telling to get points across.
More importantly, Hasselbein’s reflections are as relevant to managers and leaders in today’s dramatically changing world as her actions obviously were when she carried them out.
This is nine out of 10 on my Richter scale of reading. – Reg Birchfield

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