Name: Frances Hesselbein

Organisation: The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute


What makes a good leader: genes, context, education, values etc?

Leadership is a ‘matter of how to be, not how to do.’ It is all about character: good leaders have strong characters. It would be misleading to simply isolate actions in the evaluation of whether someone is a good leader or not. We need to look at the decision making process, the context, the conviction, the biography of the individual: everything that goes into forming leadership.


An effective leader is both mission-focused and value-based. They are results driven and prepared to innovate and embrace diversity. We manage for the mission, we manage for innovation, we manage for diversity.

Has leadership changed over the years?

Today’s best-managed organisations have thrown out the traditional leadership hierarchies, where decision making and power moves up and down through the organisation. This is an environment of leaders and subordinates. Have you ever met a young staff member who said, “I can’t wait to be a subordinate!”?

Progressive organisations understand that leadership is circular and moves across an organisation. Power is shared and devolved, with high-levels of trust invested in workers.

How important is ethical leadership in the 21st century?

It is essential and needed more than ever before! This is not specific to the business world, but also applicable to the public and social sectors. There is no place for unethical behaviour, not in word or action. The last few years have shown the damaging consequences of leading unethically, and we must be alert to any regression, whether forced or through complacency.

Leading ethically must be a permanent requisite for today’s leaders. It can’t be a tokenistic measure. It is not always easy to lead an ethical organisation, yet it is completely worthwhile. I find stories of ethical leadership to be very inspiring.


You have given – and continue to give – yourself freely to good causes, such as the pioneering of equal rights, voluntarism, and promoting diversity. Is it necessary for a good leader to carry a strong altruistic gene?

Yes, I believe it is. To live is to serve. You can focus only on yourself, your leadership, your achievements, and be a skilful leader. But it won’t make you an effective leader. To achieve this, you must first give and share in order to inspire and engender followership. Altruism is the platform for good leadership.

Are leaders ordinary people who have done extraordinary things or are they extraordinary people to begin with?

Effective leadership comes down to character and standards. It is the quality and the character that determines the results. I personally wouldn’t use the terms ‘ordinary’ or ‘extraordinary’. Good leaders perform extraordinary things everyday as part of living. It is integral to the role and should not be seen as ‘going the extra mile’ or extending oneself.

Can leaders fail?

It is not a question of whether a leader can fail. Leaders DO fail. They cant be perfect.

What is important is that leaders never blame someone else for their failure, even if they are not directly responsible.

A good leader can turn challenges into opportunities and use these opportunities to bring in team members to help drive the organisation forward. Challenges and failures should never be horded.

Who is your hero, and why?

I have two heroes.

My historical hero is Abraham Lincoln. He is someone that typified great leadership during near insurmountable crisis. At time when country was being torn apart, Abraham Lincoln found the language and character that brought a nation back together again.


My modern day hero is General Lloyd Austin III who commands all five branches of the US military. He has an extremely high-pressured role, consisting of huge moral responsibility, yet he is such a   calm, quiet and respectful leader. He favours inclusivity and provides others with an opportunity to develop and further themselves. He also embodies unwavering commitment to serving others. I find his values inspiring and more so that he chooses to live each day bringing these values into the lives of others.

General Lloyd Austin III


How do we go about developing tomorrow’s leaders?

It is important organisations provide continuing learning opportunities for their staff—future leaders. Ideally the training will take part in both group situations and one-to-one opportunities as this will broaden the candidate’s perspective. The correct learning materials are also crucial, as they help to candidate develop their contextual understanding of leadership, which is important if we are learn by mistakes as well as successes. The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute has just published its latest book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, which is intended to help both the new and experienced navigate the dilemmas of leadership in the twenty-first century.

Every day is a gift, you’re never really finished learning. Everyday I learn something new and take wonder from it. Learning is exciting, as every great leader knows. At the end of the day, I am amazed and grateful.


Leadersship institute