Sunday, November 13, 2005

Carly Fiorina on Leadership

The other day, my employer paid for me (and group of colleagues) to attend a day-long leadership conference. It featured several well-known CEOs and other figures, such as Richard Branson (owner and CEO of various companies under the Virgin banner), Jack Welch (retired CEO of General Electric [GE]), and Rudy Guiliani. All the speakers were somewhere in the U.S., and the satellite feed was beamed to hundreds of locations around the world to thousands of participants like me.

Some of the sessions were interesting and thought-provoking. One of the speakers was ridiculous, others were inspiring. To me and everyone I spoke to, Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was the best of the whole day. I don’t know if anyone out there reading this blog will find my thoughts on this day of interest, but I’d like to summarize some of the notes I made myself while I was there, and this is just as good a place as any to keep them. Besides, you’re all free agents and can scroll down to the next post if you find this one boring. :-> So, without further ado:

  • Leadership, as she defined it, has nothing to do with power; it is a choice to make a positive difference. It is the courage to take risks, to see what others might not see (or want to see), to do what others might not do (or want to do). It is unlocking potential in others.
  • In college, she studied medieval history and philosophy. But once she graduated, she needed a job, so she worked as a receptionist. From this she learned that there is dignity in all work, anyone can make a difference in an organization, and what can happen when someone takes a chance on you. There were people at her first job who believed she had the potential to do more, and asked her to take on more responsibility, and allowed her to explore more of her potential.
  • No matter what job she had, she focused all her energy learning as much as possible from those around her, doing the best job she could, and pouring her passion into her work. She said that over time she's become convinced that it’s vital to focus on what you’re doing at the time, rather than fixing your sights on the next promotion/step (She said something to the effect that people who are always thinking of the next advancement don’t usually do their current job very well.)
  • There are two ways to look at every job: 1) to see its limitations, or 2) to see its possibilities. Those who focus on the possibilities always achieve more than those who don’t.
  • She compared leaders and managers: Leaders create something new, see possibilities and make them happen, take risks; managers mitigate risk, operate within a set of boundaries, and ensure that what’s currently in place continues to work.
  • She said that as we’ve entered the 21st Century, we’ve entered unchartered territory. Up to and including the 20th Century, leadership was vertical, or “mechanical. Information went up the vertical chain of command, and orders went back down it. This was inefficient, because it meant that the leader was responsible for knowing everything that was going on among the rank and file, and for arranging for the transfer of information between groups that eventually reported up to him/her.
  • In academia today, the greatest innovations and breakthroughs now come through collaboration between different departments (I forget the example she used, but it was something like biology and mechanical physics). Today’s problems are more complex, and therefore horizontal collaboration (vs. vertical chain of command) is more important.
  • Important questions yet to be answered in the 21st Century: How do we share information/power? How do we enforce accountability?
  • We now have a “biology” (I think the word “ecology” would have been better) of a complex network of relationships
  • Eventually, every physical/static/mechanical/manual process will become digital/mobile/virtual/personal. Example: photography … At one time, very few people had cameras; now camera-phones are ubiquitous
  • The ordinary person has become far more enabled/empowered than in the past
  • Information is no longer power, as with the Internet, we all have access to information. Neither is authority the source of power, as authority can now be questioned.
  • Technology can unlock human potential; the barriers of time, distance, power, and wealth are falling. Anyone can choose to lead.
  • Leadership requires going beyond subject matter expertise. It requires the understanding that common sense and asking the right questions will make up for expertise. Leadership requires the courage to believe you can probably figure it out, or find others to help you figure it out. Rely on others to help; people like to talk about themselves and their area of expertise, and they like to help others.
  • It is not enough to identify a problem; a leader always provides a solution or a positive alternative. Criticizing solutions is easy, but a leader must overcome fear, take risks, “put yourself out there, stand behind the bet that you make”
  • Leadership requires TRUST. People must trust you, but you must also trust them. If you can’t trust others, you can’t lead.
  • Leadership requires balance between optimism and realism. You must believe that positive change is possible, yet have a clear-eyed understanding of the barriers and weaknesses facing you.
  • Leadership requires balance between consistency and flexibility. Consistency allows others to anticipate how you will react, or what you want. Consistency in goals is essential so that everyone can work toward something and achieve it. However, things happen, and you have to work around them and be flexible. Yet your end goal should always be the same. She compared it to sailing – you zigzag (instead of going in a straight line) across the water to get to and end destination.
  • Do NOT surround yourself with people like yourself; today’s problems and enterprises require a diversity of perspectives and approaches.
  • Balance strategy and execution (big picture and details).
  • Whenever she is asked for the one piece of advice she would give to anyone in leadership, she says never to give up one’s internal compass: “Never sell your soul, because no one can pay you back.” There are many things that can throw a leader off course. A leader gets lots of advice. But the most important decisions a leader will make is when s/he is alone. “Don’t make choices that don’t feel right to you.”
  • Ultimately, leadership is about authenticity, not style. You can’t fake it. It requires you to bring all of yourself to the job (your head, gut, all of your capabilities).
  • The best leaders ask their people to bring all of themselves to the task as well
  • Leadership is not power, title, number of people reporting to you
  • Leadership is raising people’s sights regarding themselves, the possibilities of their organization, and helping them to achieve more than they thought possible.

1 comment:

TrueEssence said...

Thanks so much for sharing! I love this:

"Leadership requires TRUST. People must trust you, but you must also trust them. If you can’t trust others, you can’t lead."