Lessons from Hesselbein

Jim Collin’s Preface to Frances Hasselbein’s book is a great read.

How to think of an organisational structure and leadership?

In 1976, Hesselbein found herself at the center of an organization cascading toward irrelevance. I’m careful here not to say, atop” the organization, as Frances would never think of her role that way. When describing her organization structure to a New York Times reporter, she put a glass at the center of a lunch table and created a set of concentric circles radiating outward—plates, cups, saucers—connected by knives, forks and spoons. “I’m here,” she said, pointing to the glass in the middle. “I’m not on top of anything.”

How to bring about change?

Hesselbein grasped a central paradox of change: the organizations that best adapt to a changing world first and foremost know what should not change. They have a fixed anchor of guiding principles around which they can more easily change everything else. They know the difference between what is truly sacred and what is not, between what should never change and what should be always open for change, between what we stand for” and how we do things.”

The importance of saying No.

Equally important, she exercised the discipline to say no to changes and opportunities that did not fit the central mission.

Doing good means doing well

Hesselbein understood that to do good” does not mean doing all good. To deliver the best results—and, as she continually reminds us in these essays, it is imperative to think in terms of results—requires the discipline to focus only on those activities that meet three basic tests.

First, the opportunity must fit squarely in the middle of the mission.

Second, the enterprise must have the capability to execute on the opportunity better than any other organization. (If not, then leave the opportunity to others.)

And third, the opportunity must make sense within the context of the economic engine and resources of the institution.

Hesselbein pounded out a simple mantra: We are here for only one reason: to help a girl reach her highest potential.” She steadfastly steered the Girl Scouts into those activities—and only those activities—where it could make a unique and significant contribution of value to its members. And throughout, she bolstered the financial health of the Girl Scouts, mindful of Peter Drucker’s adage that the foundation for doing good is doing well.  

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