Inaugural Hesselbein Lecture features Col. Diane Ryan

By Ivoree Svoboda and Mamadou Ndiaye

On Thurs., Sept. 28, Colonel Diane Ryan, the inaugural speaker for the Frances Hesselbein Forum Lecture Series, met with students of the Johnson Institute’s Leadership Portfolio Program for a Q&A session.  Col. Ryan is an esteemed veteran who has moved up the ranks of the US Army serving 29 years before moving into academic roles. She spent the last nine years as a faculty member and senior administrative leader at the United States Military Academy at West Point (USMA). There Col. Ryan was instrumental at implementing programming and coursework with a focus on civic engagement. She also sponsored Cadet Simone Askew, the first African American woman to hold the highest student position of First Captain at the United States Military Academy. Col. Ryan has recently transitioned to being the Associate Dean for Programs and Administration at the Johnathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University. Her research interests include empowerment, diversity and innovation, and attitudes toward social change. 

It is no coincidence that she was chosen to speak as the inaugural lecturer for the Frances Hesselbein Forum.  Col. Ryan encapsulates the ideals of Mrs. Hesselbein and as she spoke, you could immediately sense her deep sense of admiration for Mrs. Hesselbein.  Later during her inaugural speech, there was a video introduction by Frances Hesselbein, where she called Col. Ryan “unequivocally one of the finest people I’ve ever met.”  This being said by Mrs. Hesselbein, who has had audiences with presidents, army generals and many other decorated individuals across the globe, speaks volumes to the character of Col. Ryan.  Many of Col. Ryan’s ideals are a direct correlation of the values she has adopted from Mrs. Hesselbein.

In the Q&A students asked questions concerning how to prepare for their career path and the attributes it takes to be an exemplary leader. Col. Ryan met their questions with both personal insight and anecdotes detailing her own challenges and triumphs in what she describes as her "leadership journey." She told students that her journey into her career was “unplanned” or “non-traditional.” Often, she would take opportunities as they presented but not necessarily that she had sought out. She partially accredits her willingness to take these chances to viewing the PBS series “The Power of Myth.”  

“You have to let go of the life you have planned to have the life you have waiting for you” said Col. Ryan when quoting Joseph Campbell, a renowned philosopher and speaker. She described her journey as a series of “luck meets preparation and opportunity” and encouraged students to take opportunities that present themselves even if they are not along their plan.  Students also asked how she survived and exceled in these various opportunities, especially when placed in challenging circumstances such as “filling in a gap” she was untrained for, and how she combated feelings of doubt from herself or peers. Col. Ryan suggested the following:

  1. Find the best mentors.  A great mentor can help you learn the systems of the organization quickly. 

  2. Network with the right people. Then develop relationships that can be mutually beneficial.

  3. Volunteer and participate in key roles that will increase your knowledge and can escalate your position. 

Through the discussion Col. Ryan emphasized the value of challenging yourself to new opportunities, while forging meaningful relationships along the way. 



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