Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Unforgettable Night

Listening to Frances Hesselbein’s keynote address was most refreshing. Frances Hesselbein, (Chairman & Founding President Leader to Leader Institute & Former CEO, and Girl Scouts of the USA) a diminutive and frail looking woman spoke gently and yet with authority at the podium. She challenged the Christian leaders of New York City who gathered at the Launch Dinner of The New York City Leadership Center to lead the city with courage, integrity and mercy. She embodies the spirit of volunteerism and summons leaders to give their time, energy, creativity and talents to be volunteers to serve society. Hesselbein was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, in 1988. She was also the Founding President of the Drucker Foundation. The audience gave a standing ovation at the end of her speech. This is the woman who walks the talk. She had led the Girl Scouts of the USA from 1976-1990. She took over the helm of the Girl Scouts movement as Chief Executive Officer when it was fast declining in numbers. She was able to bring the movement forward and did so with much courage and wisdom.

Hessebein had neither led an academia or big corporation. Leadership is, as far as she is concerned, expressing oneself through one’s character. The late Peter Drucker spoke admiringly of her: “This is one woman who knows what she is called to do and where she is going. She will not deviate from her calling.” She does her work with excellence, courage and wisdom. She was a volunteer and probably was not paid to do her job.

The moment Marie Barlow Martin stepped forward to sing a repertoire of Broadway songs; the audience was mesmerized by the beauty of her voice. You could hear a pin dropped on the floor. Marie is an international singer who has performed before hundreds of thousands in over 30 countries for theatres, orchestras and churches with a voice described as a “national treasure.” She responded to God’s call recently and left her very successful career living in Manhattan as a musical theater singer and actress in the Broadway community to begin a music ministry with her husband Gordy. She felt that she could express her faith more fully now than ever before. I was simply bowed over by her voice.

I was not supposed to be there at the dinner event. I was invited by RCPC as a guest and it came as a surprise. Listening to these two outstanding women, one through speech and the other through songs, both equally compelling and forceful, not by brute strength but by sheer elegance of their character, commitment and courage, I knew God showed up that night.

Outside the Marriot Hotel, thousands of New Yorkers have to go through nights of uncertainties. Many lost their jobs because Wall Street stock market suffered its biggest fall since 9/11. There were groans, howling, moans as many lost their lifesavings. Outside the Manhattan headquarters of Lehman Brothers Holding Inc., Geoffrey Raymond, a 54-year-old Brooklyn artist urged passers-by to sign his latest work, a painting of the bankrupt investment bank’s chief executive, Richard Fuld. New Yorkers filled the canvas from edge to edge with comments about greed and comeuppance. He was paid handsomely as CEO but the lack of character led to his downfall.

It was an unforgettable night for many.

“Leadership is simply an expression of what one does through his or her character” – the wisdom of Frances Hasselbein rings loud and clear.

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