Life and Leadership Masterclass

What I learned having dinner with Ms Frances Hesselbein

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Frances Hesselbein

There are few women in history, with a life rooted in leadership like Ms Hesselbein. When I got the email invitation to meet with Ms Frances Hesselbein, I really thought I was dreaming.  Former Girl Scout CEO and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Frances Hesselbein has been defining leadership in America for over 50 years. 

What is more important to me personally, is that Ms Frances is one of the few women I have met in my life who is at the same time, both friendly and fierce. Women often suffer from being told they are too abrasive and it’s perhaps a paradox of true power which I can only strive to maintain within my own life. 

Hesselbein’s belief is that leadership is question of character, a question of how to be, not how to do. There are 6 things I would like to share as standout lessons and reminders of “how to be”.

1. Always be grateful and gracious. I packed some items as gifts to give Ms Frances. None of these gifts were of significant monetary value. However Ms Frances was so excited to open each and everyone of them. She literally walked around her office to find a place for each item and was so very happy. 

2. Make acts of love personal. Ms Frances’ favorite gift was a cheese board I had personalized. As a poet myself and wanting to share as much as I could, I had the following poem lasered on it;

 “To say cheese, with a smile, there must be “we” on your dial, to truly lead not defile, you must carry the biggest basket of all, love for the human trial”.

 In Ms Frances’ book “My Life in Leadership” she talks about her Aunt Rose who used to speak of carrying big baskets in order to bring things home and this struck a chord with me personally.

 3. Make time to give compliments and praise your team at every chance for no apparent reason. When we were walking down a corridor with Ms Frances’ Executive Assistant, Ms Frances referred to Yvette, as “The Vice President of Everything”. I can tell you in over 15 years of hiring and countless assistants, this was the first time, I had ever heard anyone referring to their “assistant” in this way. Not only was comment endearing, it made Yvette smile from ear to ear and showed the bond and respect Ms Frances and Yvette had for one another.

 4. Slow down, make strong eye contact and communicate with intent and extra clarity on the important topics. We spoke about many things and for the very important topics, each and every time Ms Frances did the same thing. She slowed down and made it very clear to me that what she was about to say was important and was clear I needed to listen very carefully. 

5. Always be responsive and respectful, to everyone. It didn’t matter who we met and how small the interaction was. Everyone we met had Ms Frances full attention. She listened and responded warmly and with kindness each and every time.

 6. Influence indirectly. One can always influence a decision much more if you choose your words very carefully, without directly suggesting to them what they should to do. This was perhaps my biggest and favorite lesson of the evening. It was a simple as choosing menu options from a restaurant or choosing a coat jacket to wear.

Jamie is the Founder and Chief Dream Officer at Reaptimistic.

Reaptimistic offers realistically optimistic coaching on leadership and HR services based in Los Angeles, with a twist, our leadership theories are based on the humble dog, love and the code of care, to T – H – I – N – K. Is True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, Is it Necessary and is it Kind?

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