Fiorina on Leadership

As the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, as well as a candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign, Carly Fiorina has a lot to say about leadership.  Interestingly, however, the concept of leadership that she talks about isn’t necessarily about the person in the corner office.

Fiorina spoke recently in the UWM Distinguished Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Lubar School of Business.

“I used to think that a leader was the person with the biggest office, the title, perks, and the ego,” she said.  “What I have found, though, is that leadership has nothing to do with position, title or status.  A leader is a person who doesn’t accept things the way they are.  They challenge the status quo and work to solve problems.”

After all, she said, people who are closest to the problems usually have the best insights and ideas for solving them.

Fiorina described three key qualities of true leaders:

Courage.  When a leader pushes for change, she said, it’s like thinking about heaven:  everyone wants to go there, but no one wants to die.  Leadership always takes courage.  A lot of people are afraid of looking foolish or being criticized.  But criticism is the price of leadership; the payoff is solving problems.

Character.  We don’t talk about or celebrate character much today, said Fiorina.  Character is knowing that how you do things is more important than having your 15 minutes of fame.  Leadership requires taking the longer view.

Collaboration.  Fiorina also notes the importance of collaboration — “bringing others along” — in leading change and solving problems.  “To have an impact, you have to work with others – including those who are different from you,” she stated.  That means you must have humility (knowing you can’t know or do it all by yourself, and recognizing the potential in others to contribute) as well as empathy (seeing and hearing someone else and their value).

“In the end, leadership is a choice,” Fiorina said.  “Everyone has the potential to lead if they can see the possibilities.”