We talk about great leaders all the time. What makes a great leader? What characteristics and actions raise someone to the status of great in our minds and hearts? I share my thoughts with one of the most influential voices in leadership and culture today, best-selling author Chester Elton.
How Should You Treat Volunteers?
By Marshall Goldsmith
We talk about great leaders all the time. What makes a great leader? What characteristics and actions raise someone to the status of great in our minds and hearts? Chester Elton asks me what I think this week.
Chester is one of the most influential voices in our field today. He is the #1 bestselling author of the books, All In, The Carrot Principle, and The Best Team Wins. He’s a member of our 100 Coaches organization, and an expert on the topics of culture and the multigenerational workplace.
Below is an excerpt from our interview.
Chester: We talk about great leaders all the time. You often say how much you agree with Peter Drucker (founding father of management) when he said that Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the greatest leaders he ever met. tell me a little bit about how you met and why she is such a remarkable leader.
Marshall: Frances was the CEO of the Girl Scouts for 14 years. It is a phenomenal turnaround story. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest award a civilian can get in the US), and I had the privilege to go to the White House and watch the president give her this award. She has 23 honorary PhDs, has written and edited countless books and articles, and is the editor in chief of Leader to Leader journal.
She’s just an amazing woman. I’ll tell you one small story about her leadership, which to me is so illustrative of why she’s such a great leader. Years ago, I was a volunteer for the Girl Scouts. Frances call me and said, “We’d like you to give this talk for the Girl Scout leaders of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. These are very distinguished women. Can you help us?”
I said, “Frances, I’m sorry to say the only day I can work is a Saturday.” She said, “Well, you work Saturday, we work Saturday. You’re the volunteer here not us.” I said, “I’m embarrassed to say, Frances, I’ve got to get my laundry done. I’m in a different city every day and I’m out of clothes – can you help me get my laundry done? She said, “Not at all a problem. We have laundry facilities at the Girl Scout Edith Macy Center. We’d be happy to get your laundry done.”
I asked, “What do I do?” She just said, “Simple. Take your laundry, put it in a pile on the floor, and then I’ll have some pick up your laundry, and when you finish working, it’ll be all nicely done.” “Thank you,” I say, and I do what she says. I put my dirty underwear and socks and clothes in a pile on the floor, and the next morning, while I’m having breakfast with the CEOs of the Girl Scouts of Chicago and New York, and I look walking across the hall and who is walking by carrying my laundry but Frances.
What a message. Everyone saw her. She didn’t have to say anything. It was such a powerful message about servant leadership and how you treat volunteers. It was just amazing to see the humility exhibited by this wonderful leader. I learned more about leadership watching her do that than I can express. That’s why she is such a great leader. It is who she is.
Chester: Thank you so much Marshall.
Our book,Work Is Love Made Visible: A Collection of Essays about the Power of Finding Your Purpose from the World’s Greatest Thought Leaders, edited by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Sarah McArthur is available now on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com and wherever books are sold!