Last updated June 17, 2015
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Sustaining Our Spirits

Women Leaders Thriving for Today and Tomorrow

Sustaining Our Spirits provides an authentic, real-life experience, rooted in research, with perspectives rarely examined in depth. This is a handbook for life’s journey for leaders who are women.

The significance of this new book can be celebrated by women everywhere, as they test, absorb, and make the lessons learned their own. This resource is not about theory but about lives fully lived and examined by eminently successful leaders—the great days, the tough days, the lessons applied and generously shared.

I found support for my view, a variation of Peter Drucker’s advice to concentrate on the tasks, rather than the gender. We are not a category. We are leaders who are women, and we are in the leadership positions we hold because of what we bring to the job, not because of our gender. Yet, you and I know our gender adds a very special dimension to our work and to the positions we hold.

And therein lies the delicate balance. We need to see ourselves life-size in these positions, these organizations, these communities and to help others see us life-size in our contributions, our examples—not through “I am woman,” but through our presence, our performance, our results. At the same time, we need to appreciate that one of our leadership imperatives is to recognize the context, the backdrop of our times, against which we measure the present opportunities and the doors that are open to women who lead at every level, even as we recognize those barriers that still exist. These barriers provide an opportunity for us to take the lead, find the partners, forge the alliances and collaborations to open doors, and bring new understanding of the power of the richly diverse, richly inclusive enterprise. As women who can lead at every level and with the significance our society requires and deserves, we ask ourselves, “Beyond my present leadership position, am I communicating the values, the quality, the generous spirit—am I helping others and building the leaders of the future for the organization of the future?”

Here is where the spirit within, the leader within, move us beyond where we are to where we are called to be. When we listen to the whispers of our lives (and something in our genes gives us the ability to listen to that quiet voice within), we rise and move far beyond the old expectations.

It has never been more difficult for girls and young women growing up in the world. There are massive negative forces against their healthy growing up; yet, in our age, as these remarkable authors in this book communicate in word and example, new opportunities are far greater than the obstacles when women help, support, serve as role models, and mentor other women, communicating the remarkable possibilities that lie ahead. So, we discard old preconceptions of gender barriers, recognize those that do still exist, and pour our energy into building and sustaining an inclusive, diverse enterprise that provides rich and equal access to all of its people.

We recognize the remarkable spirits, examples, caring, and sharing of the leaders who have written this journey for the journey; all of them demonstrating that leadership is a journey—not a destination. We take their example, make it our own, and marvel at their present success as women of spirit and leaders of significance and achievement who know they are called to shine a light in the darkness of our times.

When we recognize the power of values lived, of our goals defined, of helping others along the way, we illuminate the lives of others, the spirit within; life shines ever more brightly, and all of it is circular and connected.

When we quietly think back upon all of the people, men and women, who encouraged us, helped us along the way, we realize that it was often not an action but the spirit within that communicated faith, courage, strength—an appreciation of who we are as women, as leaders, and who we could be. Called to lead, called to serve, called to change lives.

When we change lives, we find that we, ourselves, our own lives, are changed as women, as leaders, and as fellow travelers on the journey to significance, “sustaining our spirits.”

Frances Hesselbein
Founding President and Chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute (Formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management)
Former CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA
New York, NY