Passions: Girl Scouts of the USA

connie_lindsey[1]_1.jpgby Elizabeth Harrin (London)

Connie L. Lindsey joined the Girl Scouts almost forty years ago at her church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her mother couldn’t afford to buy her uniform, but her church and her troop leader ensured that she had one. She credits Girl Scouting with helping her understand that she was a young girl who mattered. Today Lindsey exemplifies an approach to servant leadership that tells girls what her troop leader told her over forty years ago: “Young lady, you matter – and don’t let anybody in this world tell you that you don’t.”

“I became a Girl Scout because it provided a place where acceptance was the norm and opportunities for personal growth were plentiful,” says Lindsey. That was about 40 years ago. Lindsey is now the organization’s highest-ranking volunteer: National President of Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA). “The values Girl Scouts embraced matched my own and reinforced my desire to learn about others and our world.”

As National President, Lindsey serves the girls and the Scout Movement by providing guidance to GSUSA’s executive team and the board in three vital areas: policy, fundraising, and strategic direction. “My role affords me the opportunity to visit our Girl Scout councils, which is one of the most rewarding parts of my work,” she says. “I love talking with our girls, volunteers, and staff—and understanding how they put the principles of servant leadership—leading others by first helping them to be their best—into practice among themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Volunteering at such a high level in an organization is a significant commitment. “I try to visit at least one or two Girl Scout councils each month,” she explains. “Currently, we have 133 councils. Additionally, I preside over national board and executive committee meetings about six times each year. My mission is to take every opportunity possible to tell the world about how Girl Scouts builds leadership development skills in girls. I let people know that not only does our Cookie Program generate important revenue for council programs, but it also empowers girls with fundamental lessons in economic and financial literacy. I tell people that Girl Scouts has powerful strategic partnerships with world-leading companies such as Microsoft and Dove. And I love talking about our Young Women of Distinction—they are excellent examples of what Girl Scouts can do!”

That’s a lot of hours spent on formal and informal activities spreading the word about Girl Scouting. You’d be forgiven for thinking that National President was a full-time role, but Lindsey balances her volunteering with a powerhouse job at Northern Trust Company, Chicago, where she is Executive Vice President. “I lead a team of professionals responsible for the asset servicing of public fund, not-for-profit and foundation and endowment clients,” she says. “I am responsible for the strategic direction, financial performance, staff development and overall growth and direction of this business segment.”

Lindsey joined Northern Trust in 1993 and she previously served as the bank’s director of enterprise relationship management within the worldwide operations and technology business unit, as well as being a senior vice president for a time in the personal financial services business unit. She is also a board member of the Chicago Finance Exchange, an advisory board member of the DePaul University School of Education, and a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. It’s a big job to balance with the requirements and commitments of Girl Scouts, but Lindsey thinks that the work experience she has gained in her professional life brings something to her volunteering.

“Strong leadership skills are at the core of my profession and my role as National Board Chair,” she says. “Strategic thinking, financial acumen and inspirational leadership are key to my effectiveness in both roles. Girl Scouts is a natural extension of applying my experience and leadership to the equally complex—and rewarding—challenge of giving every girl who comes to us the opportunity to become a leader.”

The organizational skills she applies in the office also equip her for handling the challenges of balancing work and volunteering.“I am very disciplined about setting priorities and maintaining a big picture approach to what is important and ensuring that my attention is aligned with my intentions! I am blessed to be able to serve an organization with a mission that I love and to work at a company that supports my volunteer work. I truly believe ‘to whom much is given, much is required’,” she says.

It’s unusual to meet someone who has given so much of their free time to Girl Scouting: most girls will leave GSUSA at some point before reaching grade 12. The difference between Lindsey and the girls who decide to drop out of Girl Scouting is that Lindsey has never contemplated not being part of GSUSA. “I’ve never thought about leaving Girl Scouting,” she says. “It’s an honor to part of an organization that has such a powerful mission for girls. Where else can you find 2.6 million girl members and 50 million Girl Scout alumnae who are making a lasting difference in the world?”

Those 2.6 million Girl Scouts are supported by 928,000 adult members in the US, mostly volunteers like Lindsey. Not every volunteer has to dedicate so much time to GSUSA, and Lindsey is keen to point out that there are a myriad of ways to get involved dedicating as much or as little time as you want. “One of the great things about Girl Scouting is that it offers many avenues for adults to participate,” she explains. “You can choose to work directly with girls or with Girl Scouts in other ways—and the commitment can be tailored to the amount of time one wants to invest in this awesome movement. Whatever path you choose, you will always receive instruction, guidance, and the support needed to be an effective volunteer.”

Lindsey meets a lot of girls through her volunteering and she always seeks to inspire them. “My Girl Scout experience provided an environment where self discovery and the importance of relationships were demonstrated by our leaders and our interactions with one another and the world. While the world has changed in many wonderful ways, these basic yet profound lessons have become a part of my leadership. Girl Scouts utilize essential leadership skills by discovering who they are, connecting with others, and taking action to improve their communities and their world.”

Sharing the story of her own journey with Girl Scouts is one of the ways that Lindsey connects with the young women she meets during her volunteer activities. “It is my intention to demonstrate through my conduct and my conversation that courage, confidence, and character are more than just words—they are powerful qualities one can use to change one’s life—I want girls to know that every good thing they want to do is possible,” she says. “Right now, Girl Scouts are building medical clinics in India; feeding and clothing families throughout the world and helping other girls prepare for careers in fields such as science, engineering, and mathematics. Girl Scouts see the changes that the world needs—and we make them. That is one of the many reasons I have been a Girl Scout, and I will remain a Girl Scout for the rest of my life.”