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Women in the Lead: Our Journey to Significance

September 14, 2011

By Frances Hesselbein, President and CEO, Leader to Leader Institute

When I speak to women who are leaders, they tell me, “I have a husband and children and a wonderful job,” and then they ask, “How do I find the balance I need in my life?”

My answer has remained the same over the years: I encourage women to take time, whether you call it meditation, or whether you call it finding quiet moments and just thinking. We remove ourselves from the noise. We find a quiet corner and we think. It is amazing how the answers or maybe questions will come. It is very important; otherwise we skim along the surface of life.

As women, we have a unique role to balance career and family, we are challenged to be productive during the day, but we must take time for our family. If we don’t give this a lot of thought, or plan family time, we can get whipped up into a hectic schedule where we become frustrated with the work-life balance challenge.

As leaders at work, we can practice dispersed leadership, which is dispersing the responsibilities of leadership across the organization. This means throwing out old hierarchical structure and systems where you have people in little boxes, and you talk about up and down and top and bottom. We need a flat management system where the structure is circular, flexible and fluid. Leaders need to be passionate about the mission, and mobilize their people around mission and values.

In March, more than 500 people from 37 countries representing over 400 organizations participated in our “Leadership by Example: Women in the Lead” global webinar. Participants asked questions, shared thoughts on our virtual walls, and reflected on their experiences in real time. The “Leadership by Example” webinar was designed and produced by Debbe Kennedy, the founder of the Global Dialogue Center, as her contribution to moving our work around the world, a great gift to leaders everywhere. I found it intriguing that the first three countries to sign on were Pakistan, Kenya and Uganda; 34 others followed. Debbe and I decided that rather than charging the usual $8 or $10 per person, there would be no charge, so that money would not limit participation by leaders in some countries and some groups. To have so many organizations sign on was gratifying, and equally gratifying were the contributions, by women and men, during the webinar and in the half-hour “open conversation” that followed. It was so successful that now leaders are asking, “What’s next?”

Global webinars are only the beginning of broadening our reach and impact and leaders who are women are some of the most innovative leaders we have. If we focus on taking the time to quietly reflect on our mission and our values, and challenge ourselves to redefine how to maximize our contributions at work and in our home life, women in leadership will continue to have a lasting impact on the strength of their organizations and their families. Together we will chart our new journey to significance.

What ideas, collaborations, events or programs are you involved with that distinguish you and your organization from others that may have been a result of thoughtful reflection, or dispersed leadership, sharing the opportunities of organizational leadership?

Frances Hesselbein is the President and CEO of the Leader to Leader Institute (formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management) and its Founding President. Linkage established the Frances Hesselbein Excellence in Leadership Award in 2006 to honor women who have ignited real change through their leadership. The award is presented each year at Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute. This year’s winner is Keiko Fujimori, 2011 Peruvian Presidential candidate, and one of the keynote speakers.


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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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