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Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts
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Business Insights for Women
PNC INSIGHTS Magazine Spring/Summer 2014 Issue
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In the new book Tough Cookies, the CEO of this iconic organization describes how girls build on lessons learned at a young age to change society.

If you're wondering where the next generation of women business leaders will come from, look no further than the Girl Scout selling cookies on your doorstep each year. That's the message of Tough Cookies: Leadership Lessons from 100 Years of the Girl Scouts. Written by the organization's current CEO, Kathy Cloninger, on the occasion of the 100th birthday of the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), Tough Cookies is part history lesson, part management program and an all girl-power manifesto.

Cloninger's straightforward book starts out with a clear-eyed assessment of how American society thwarts the growth of girls into leaders, and draws on extensive GSUSA membership surveys to point out ways to improve the country's performance. She doesn't point fingers or cry "victim," but instead turns her attention to her own response to the issues, including the dramatic changes she implemented in 2003 at GSUSA to ensure its relevance into the future. The book presents leadership lessons, including these:

Challenge the Status Quo. Rather than let GSUSA rest on its laurels, Cloninger led the charge to make the first update--since 1953--to the 100-year-old institution's mission statement. The new statement, to develop "girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place," repositioned GSUSA as a crucible of future leaders.

Face the Brutal Truths. By 2003, the Girl Scouts were on the verge of becoming irrelevant. Girls and their families were changing rapidly, but the organization's unwieldy structure undermined its ability to respond to their evolving needs in an efficient and consistent fashion. Cloninger made the tough and controversial decision to merge more than 300 semiautonomous local councils into just over 100, centralizing program structure and curricula in the process.

Measure Outcomes. GSUSA established a leadership model called "Discover, Connect, Take Action" to help girls build self-confidence, develop healthy relationships and bring plans and ideas to fruition. The organization then challenged itself by measuring behaviors that reflect these ideals. These measurements, drawn from surveys of the organization's membership, closed the feedback loop between leadership and constituency, ensuring that top-down decisions don't go unchallenged.

Tough Cookies, as its title suggests, is not a touchy-feely approach to female empowerment. Rather, it offers a concrete set of solutions designed to raise the leadership bar for men and women alike.

 


 

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