01 December 2023

In the Presence of Greatness

"Because everything we say and do is the length and shadow of our own souls, our influence is determined by the quality of our being." 

--Dr. Dale E. Turner

Frances Hesselbein, Dr. Edgar Schein, and Harvy Thomas distinguished themselves and were genuinely eminent. It's a privilege to have known and worked with each one. These short tributes pay homage to their character, humility, and wisdom.

Frances Hesselbein
November 1, 1915 - December 11, 2022 (aged 107)

In looking for a speaker to address the topic of "mission," the obvious choice was Frances Hesselbein. Ms. Hesselbein came to our attention from her turnaround of Girl Scouts USA and work with the Peter Drucker Foundation. 

"She was incredibly focused on the Girl Scouts' mission," said Marshall Goldsmith, a prominent leadership coach and a friend of Ms. Hesselbein's. "She came up with a model called 'Tradition With a Future,'" Goldsmith added. 

Ms. Hesselbein set out to diversify the membership. She added management training for its volunteers and paid staff. She hired Halston and Bill Blass to design new uniforms. She added activities for the girls steeped in math, science, and technology.

The overhaul worked. 

Membership rose to 2.3 million in 1990, according to Businessweek. Recruitment efforts increased minority membership to 15.5 percent. Ms. Hesselbein launched a project to help scouts learn about as many as 95 career opportunities and started programs in telecommunications and marine biology designed to be done at home or at troop meetings.

In 1998, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. The citation read in part, "With skill and sensitivity, Frances Hesselbein has shown us how to summon the best from ourselves and our fellow citizens."

Her message about the mission was clear--know what it is, live it, repeat it often, and include everyone in its knowledge. 

Across eight decades of service, Frances Hesselbein was inspiring to children, youth, and adults. And paved the way for more women (though still not enough) in leadership.

Edgar Schein, Ph.D.
March 5, 1928 - January 26, 2023 (aged 94) 

It was a long shot, but in 2007 we called Dr. Edgar Schein, the Society of Sloan Fellows professor of management emeritus at MIT and the recognized "father" of organizational culture, inviting him to join a restructuring project with our consulting firm.

Dr. Schein, who has written over three dozen management books, including the best-selling Organizational Culture & Leadership, took a week to consider the request. He called back, agreeing to consult if it could be done by phone.  

Originally from Zurich, Switzerland, Dr. Schein brought common sense and experience to the three-year assignment, always with a sense of realism and encouragement. 

Early on, he focused on getting a client to state the problem broadly since the exact problem may be obscure. As a process consultant, Dr. Schein said that our understanding of the matters in question improves with new insights, different perspectives, and time. 

A trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to wrap up our work with Dr. Schein was memorable, exhausting various topics while enjoying homemade brownies. 

After the engagement, Dr. Schein would write occasionally. He is missed, as are his short notes. However, those personally signed books in our library are frequently referenced for his thoughts.

Harvey Thomas, CBE
April 10, 1930 - March 13, 2022 (aged 82)

I met Harvey Thomas at a conference in London. Harvey knew how to capture an audience's attention through his many gifts--humor among them. I recommended him to a client who used Harvey's talents in their leadership circles. 

His teaching centered on this principle--"If they didn't hear it, you didn't say it." Responsibility for communication rests with the leader. 

Between 1960 and 1975, Harvey worked for the Rev. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. During that time, he organized Graham's world tours and massive rallies, including one in Wembley Stadium in 1965 that attracted over 100,000 worshipers. 

Using the skills and experiences he honed under Graham, Harvey first became an international public affairs consultant. He then worked for the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's leadership, helping the party transform its communications strategy and win three general election campaigns. 

It was during this role that Harvey was caught up in the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton by the IRA in October 1984. The huge bomb exploded in the room below Harvey's, resulting in Harvey being blown one floor up before crashing three floors down. He became trapped on a steel girder, topped by tons of debris and with water from burst pipes gushing past him in total darkness. 

According to doctors, Harvey's bulk saved him; a smaller and thinner person would not have survived the impact. The press reported that it was his "irrepressible nature" that a major bomb blast couldn't stop him from leaving the hospital only hours after he was rescued to continue with the party conference he had helped to organize. 

Many years after the bombing, Harvey contacted the bomber, Patrick Magee, and over time, the two became unlikely friends, with Harvey forgiving Magee, as required by his Christian faith.

In 1990, Thomas, who became a favorite with my client, was awarded the CBE--Order of the British Empire, by Prime Minister Thatcher for his distinguished service to the head of government of the United Kingdom.


© Bredholt & Co.