Why Girl Scouts should have skipped the inaugural parade

Mission Trumps Tradition

I love the Girl Scouts. For nearly 20 years, I worked for the organization, often serving as its national spokesperson, and I was always proud to do so. I was less than proud this week, though, when I heard that local Girl Scouts in Washington, D.C. had decided to march in the inaugural parade. Administrators rationalized this decision by saying that participating in the parade is a tradition and pointing out that the Girl Scout organization is not political. While it is true that the Girl Scouts does not take political stands, that is beside the point. I argue that the decision on whether or not to march should be about mission, not politics.

Marching for Trump Is counter to theGirl Scout mission

Back in the day, in my vintage Girl Scout uniform designed by Mainboucher

The mission of the Girl Scouts is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” I have trouble justifying that mission with the fact that Girl Scouts will be honoring a man who has bragged on national television about grabbing women’s genitals, an act that amounts to sexual assault. This same man talked about entering the changing rooms of an international beauty contest when the female participants were in various stages of undress. When several women, one a respected journalist, accused him of sexual assault he insisted he was innocent because they were not attractive enough to rate his attentions. Why does this man behave this way? Because he can. He has no scruples about capitalizing on the power differential between himself and his victims.

Manage for the Mission

I can’t imagine that saluting this man helps build courage, confidence, or character in a girl. If anything, it sends the message that no matter what a man in power says or does, it’s OK. But it’s not OK, at least not in the last few years. Consider what happened to other men who behaved similarly. Roger Ailes lost the chairmanship of Fox News and his colleague, Bill O’Reilly, paid millions to settle a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a woman in 2004. Just last week, Fox News paid another female employee somewhere in the high six figures to settle a similar suit against O’Reilly. And we all know about “Carlos Danger,” aka former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. Would the Girl Scouts honor them?

We used to have a saying when I worked at Girl Scout headquarters in the 80s and 90s: Manage for the mission. Coined by then-CEO Frances Hesselbein, it was a reminder to us that every decision should be based upon the values and purpose of the Girl Scout movement. I wish that today’s Girl Scout decision-makers had kept this in mind.

Saving Landmarks from Lovelocks

I’m thinking of starting a nonprofit. It will be called GOTCHA, which stands for Guardians of the City’s Historic Architecture. Its mission is for members to patrol landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, catch couples in the act of defacing these sites with one of those stupid “lovelocks” (a padlock to signify lasting love) and cheerfully throw them over the side.

Landmark Brooklyn Bridge

The beautiful Brooklyn Bridge

Really, what is the mindset of young adults (and they are almost always young) who think it’s OK to attach junk to an extraordinary public treasure in order to mark a relationship which is significant only to them? I already can’t walk the bridge without stumbling over tourists planted in the middle of the walkway, poised to stab my eye out with a selfie stick. Now I get to see scores of cheap, colored padlocks—often with accompanying graffiti—hanging from the beautiful cables of an engineering marvel, placed there by people with no respect for public heritage. I want to wring their self-centered necks.

They won’t always have Paris

Paris has several times had to remove millions of locks from its landmark Pont des Arts footbridge over the Seine. Their weight actually collapsed some of the bridge’s parapets. In the weeks following, hundreds more locks appeared, forcing Paris to add protective guards to the bridge that make defacing the structure more difficult–and also diminish its charm.  A few years ago, a group of lock pickers here in New York went up on the Brooklyn Bridge and removed many of the padlocks that were degrading both the structure and the view. Just days later, new locks appeared (although, thankfully, not as many as in Paris).

The landmark Pont les Arts bridge jammed with lovelocks

The Pont des Arts bridge in Paris jammed with lovelocks

But perhaps Gretna Green

This ridiculous phenomenon is happening to landmarks all over the world. On the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, along the Wild Pacific Trail on Canada’s Vancouver Island, on an overpass at Taiwan’s Fengyuan railway station. Sensing a commercial opportunity, a private business at Scotland’s Gretna Green (the Las Vegas of the 18th century) decided to go with the flow and sell special, lightweight padlocks to lovers so they can deface the historic place without causing too much damage. I wonder how the people who live in the village, as well as other visitors, feel about that.

So who wants to join GOTCHA? In the interest of keeping you out of prison, I promise to protect your identity—at least until the Russians hack my server.

Lessons in Leadership

Mentored by Frances

IMG_1069.JPGI am one of thousands—perhaps by now tens of thousands—who will tell you they were mentored by Frances Hesselbein, whom Forbes magazine has called “America’s greatest leader.” A few years ago, at a tribute dinner for Frances, US Army General Eric K. Shinseki joked that he and scores of other well-known public figures belonged to a club called “Mentored by Frances.” Humor aside, I have no doubt this is true. Frances is a world class master of leadership development.

I often draw on the things I learned from Frances, particularly her dictum that one should lead by example. Easier said than done, but that’s the point of much that Frances advises. She is a phrasemaker whose pithy sayings stick in one’s head like charms, urging us to aspire to greatness. At this point, I’m fortunate to have known Frances for 35 years. That’s a lot of advice and a lot of lucky charms. Here are the five I treasure most.

Manage for the Mission — I’ve spent most of my life working in and consulting with nonprofit organizations. This is the single most important thing to keep in mind if you want your nonprofit to be successful. Sometimes it means taking more time than anticipated, so you can be inclusive or build support for an idea. Sometimes it means forgoing a donation or earned income opportunity. Whenever there’s a question about what to do, this is the criterion on which you base your decision.

Leadership Is How to Be, Not How to Do — Always be aware that people look to you for signals on how to behave and what to think, especially in difficult situations. You can set a good example or a poor one. Whichever it is, how you handle yourself—not the things you say—is what people will remember.

We Do Not Learn from Our Successes — Failure provides valuable information that can contribute to a success later on. Good leaders make it safe for people to admit problems and focus on fixing things, rather than hiding mistakes out of fear or shame, only to have them grow into greater hurdles.

Challenge Up, Support Down — This may not be original to Frances, but I know that she was saying it years before 2009, which is the first reference I find for it on the Web. I love this one because it crystallizes one of the main functions of a leader or manager—to be an advocate for followers. It doesn’t mean you must support every thing a follower does, good or bad, but it does mean you provide public support and work with the person in private to correct any problems.

To Serve Is to Live — This is Frances’s Twitter handle and one of her more recent aphorisms. Lewis Howe is credited with saying “to live is to serve” and I think that Frances’s reversal means something different than what Howe had in mind. Howe is saying that service is a condition of life. Everyone has someone or something that must be served. Frances is saying that life is the result of service, that a focus on serving others gives meaning to one’s life. (Perhaps that’s contributed to her many years of productivity.)

Certainly, Frances Hesselbein’s life has meaning not only for the things she herself has accomplished, but for the things that she has inspired others to accomplish. In the end, this attention to developing leadership abilities in others will amplify Frances’s contribution and have an outsized impact on the world. And it increases the impact of each member in the Mentored by Frances club, a non-exclusive group if there ever was one—and we’re proud of it.