Carly Fiorina - Leadership in Tough Times

Carly Fiorina
November 09, 2020

Carly Fiorina

Former Chairman & CEO, Hewlett-Packard, Founder & Chairman, Unlocking Potential and 2016 Presidential Candidate
Business Motivation Leadership & Relationships Virtual Presentation Women in Business Women Leadership Speaker Business Motivational Business Keynote Leadership

Introduction

Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers.

Brian Lord:

Hi, I'm Brian Lord. Your host of the beyond speaking podcast. This week, we're excited to be joined by Carly Fiorina. Carly is the former chairman and CEO of Hewlett Packard and the first woman to lead a Fortune 50 company. Carly's experience spans from secretary to CEO, from public to private and from for-profit to nonprofit. Under Carly's leadership, HP's revenue grew, innovation tripled, growth quadrupled, and HP became the 11th largest company in the U.S. Carly is also a best-selling author with three books, including Tough Choices, Rising to the Challenge, and Find Your Way. So, Carly, right now your topic of leadership through a crisis is extremely important. It's something that a lot of businesses and other organizations really need. So to start off with... How can leaders approach decision-making in tough times, like the ones that we're in right now?

Carly Fiorina:

Well, one of the most important things to remember in any crisis is that you need to keep an eye on the long-term even as you're wrestling with this incredible set of unforeseen difficulties in the short-term. And that sounds so easy, but it's actually not. What happens in a crisis is people tend, sometimes, in an organization, to panic because they're being overwhelmed by all the stuff that they weren't prepared for. And in that process of getting overwhelmed, they start to forget their longer-term goals. What that means is they make choices that don't advantage them when the crisis is over. So let me just give you a really simple example: When the COVID hit, of course, everyone started to think, "Oh my gosh, I don't have any revenue. I have all these expenses. What am I going to do?" And there were some organizations that immediately began laying people off. In many cases, obviously, employees could not be kept fully on the payroll. But how that got done either positioned people for success later or not. And so you saw some employers really sever the relationships with their employees in the short-term panic, and you saw other organizations go out of their way to stay connected, to keep those relationships, even to invest in their employees during a difficult time so that when things began to return to normal, they could bring those employees back. And those employees would have actually increased loyalty to the firm. In the nonprofit world, the smart nonprofits kept their relationships with their donors, even if their donors weren't giving them money. And of course, while it's easy to forget about your strategic plan in a crisis, don't. Because while may not be able to accomplish all of those longer-term goals, a crisis actually is always also an opportunity to get really creative about "How should I approach these most-important goals and what can I actually be getting done now?"

Brian Lord:

How would leaders prepare for a crisis before a crisis?

Carly Fiorina:

Well, that's a great question, too. So, you know, I think part of preparing for a crisis is to recognize that they always happen, right? I mean, stuff happens. We can't predict the future. So, okay. People didn't predict the Dot-Com Bust. They didn't predict SARS. They didn't predict Ebola or they didn't predict 9/11. They didn't predict the financial crisis. They didn't predict this pandemic. And yet if you step back and think about each and every one of those events, we actually could have seen them coming. So we know when a system is out of balance, people should have been able to realize that eventually, you know, when companies are worth 90 times forward price-earnings, and there are no earnings ever that something was going to go wrong. We have enough science to tell us that a pandemic was inevitable. And we also knew that the price of real estate couldn't go up forever. You know, what goes up is going to come down eventually. And so there are- one of the things that I think is so critically important is that leaders maintain what I'm going to call peripheral vision. Strategic vision is usually "let's look ahead," but you can't always see the future. But what you can do is look around. See what's going on around you. Because if you are tuned to what's going on around you, you can actually begin to understand what are the things that could come out of left field, whether it's a change in a competitor's behavior or a global pandemic.

Brian Lord:

How has our culture gotten leadership wrong?

Carly Fiorina:

In so many ways, you know, think about culture for a second. What is culture? Culture is, in a company it's kind of, what's it like to work around here. In a society or a community. It's what do we celebrate and lift up? And so if you think about the culture in our country, for some time now we tend to lift up conflict. We lift up controversy, we lift up theme and we particularly lift up power, position, title. And somehow we've lumped all that together and said that's what leadership is. Leaders have power. They have position, they have title. Maybe they create conflict and controversy and they're famous. And in truth, leadership has nothing to do with those things. Look, there are leaders who have position and title, maybe power and fame, but that, isn't why they're leaders. A chief maybe is a leader, but maybe they're just a manager or maybe they're actually harming the organization that they are supposed to lead. So what is a leader? A leader is someone who actually solves problems. They tackle the festering problems that need to be solved. And they are also people who change the order of things for the better they make things better. They drive change. They are not satisfied with the status quo. And in my experience, what I've learned is that leaders come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and they're everywhere all around us. And a lot of them don't have title or position or power, but they are solving problems and they are changing the order of things for the better. And we need more leaders.

Brian Lord:

Well, one of the things, too, that you talk a lot about is you- and you just mentioned it- but problem-solving. Like that's such a big part of being a leader. What's your best framework for problem-solving?

Carly Fiorina:

So, you know, I learned about the importance of problem-solving early on in my career. You mentioned very briefly, I started out as a secretary, literally. And when I finally was encouraged to go on and get an MBA, I landed in a huge company- AT&T at the time- a million employees, and I was at the very bottom. But what I saw all around me were problems. Problems that festered. Problems that everybody knew about, talked about, complained about, gossiped about, and yet they kind of just lay around. And so I started solving problems. What I learned in the course of that is that if you solve problems, people actually pay attention and teams come together and better performance is created. But what I also learned, hence the origin of the Leadership Framework that you referenced, is that problems fester, because they're complicated. And people get overwhelmed by how complicated they are, or they get overwhelmed by how much resistance there is actually changing something to solve them. And so what the Leadership Framework does is lay out in very specific terms, what are all the things you need to think about to actually solve a problem? And there are four things, actually. What's the problem I'm trying to solve? Do we agree on the problem I'm trying to solve? What are our goals? Who has to do what? How am I going to measure success? And what's the behavior that I need to get this problem solved? Each of those things are complicated in their own right, but if you pay attention to all of those things together- and problems actually can get solved, even if they're complex and even if they're longstanding.

Brian Lord:

You can see how that would be difficult though. Even just, agreeing on what the actual problem is. Which of those steps- in your experience- takes the longest?

Carly Fiorina:

Well, the first one, actually. It's such a perceptive question. And how often do we actually just skip right over that? Right? And everybody says, certainly we do this in politics. We argue endlessly. And we actually haven't agreed on the problem we're trying to solve. But it happens in organizations as well, where people will pile into a meeting and "Yeah, yeah. We know why we're here." Well, actually, maybe we don't know why we're here. Or maybe everybody has a different view of why we're here. And so taking the time- and it takes a lot of time- to actually discover, agree, align around "what do we think is the problem we're trying to solve?" And then "what are our goals?" I have an expression, you know, people are always talking about, "We need to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up." The pace of change is important. And we always feel like we're in a hurry. You need to go slow to go fast. And what I mean by that is you have to take the time, go slow to get everybody lined up on what is the problem we're trying to solve? What are the goals we're trying to achieve? Once you take that time, then the execution of problem solving goes so much faster. But if you skip over that step, then you're going to get all caught up all along the way. And you're not going to get as far as you could get.

Brian Lord:

Now, do you have an example of this from HP or somewhere else where you actually applied this and it came out on the, on the positive side?

Carly Fiorina:

Yes, I have a million examples of very fundamental problems, basic problems, personal problems. One of my teammates has used the framework to design the deck in their backyard, honestly. But I'll give you an example from HP. When I arrived at HP, we were in trouble. You know, we were in the middle of this big technology, boom. And yet our growth was less than 10%. Our profitability was deteriorating. We were losing market share. We had 87 different business units, all with their own president. They're all beefed on their own turf. You can imagine. And we had customers telling us, "Hey, we're not buying from you anymore because you're too slow. You're too fat. We want to systemize seven different products." And yet no one saw that problem in the same way, because everyone saw it from their own particular point of view, their own particular vantage point, their own particular business, 87 of them. And so before we did anything, I brought the senior team together for three days and they all screamed, "We don't have time. It's too many meetings!" But for three days we came together and we looked across our organization and saw everything at the same time, in the same way. And then we talked about what is our problem actually, and what are goals? You see, sometimes people have entirely different points of view about the problem, because their context is different. Their perspective is different. Their experience is different. And until you get all that up on the table and yeah, it takes time and a lot of good conversation, it takes leadership. Until you get all that up on the table, you're working at cross-purposes sometimes without even knowing it.

Brian Lord:

So one of the questions, by the way, I keep putting those questions in. I know we've got a number of questions here. So one of the first questions, this was kind of brought up. Actually one of the people I booked speakers for in the past, kind of brought this up- and one of your former AT&T colleagues. But she said, "What was it like being a woman in a board meeting in the 80s and 90s?

Carly Fiorina:

Well, I wasn't in many boardrooms actually in the 80s, I wasn't that high-up [Laughing]. So it was the 90s and 2000s, and in this decade as well, but, you know, let me just say my first meeting, with business colleagues and customers, when I was that low-level employee is in a strip club because that's where they did their meetings and they didn't see any reason to change that habit for me. So I went to a strip club, looked like an idiot and tried to talk business. You know, that was awkward to say the least.

Brian Lord:

Wow.

Carly Fiorina:

I was introduced via boss as this is Carly, our token bimbo. I can recall sitting in meetings where even though I knew more about a subject than anything else than anyone else, people would, male colleagues would raise as a risk, me talking to a customer because it might be the wrong time of month. I mean, I know these stories sound so incredibly shocking, and yet it is still true that it's different when you're different. And it still is different. So, you know, even as a presidential candidate, this was in 2015, I was asked on a national news network, whether a woman's hormones prevented her from serving in the oval office.

Brian Lord:

Wow.

Carly Fiorina:

I mean, that was 2015, actually 2016. And my response was, "Well, I don't know about you, but, I can think of a few instances where a man's judgment was clouded by his hormones." The point is this, it is still different when you're different. And it is one of the reasons why we have not made as much progress on diversity and inclusion. Despite corporate America spending $8 billion a year on diversity and inclusion training. The reason we haven't made enough progress is because people find it difficult to talk with people are different than they are. And they're clueless or they're careless or old habits come up. I mean, truthfully, I don't think most people are bad. I do think a lot of people don't know how to effectively deal with somebody different than they are. And so it's why building effective diverse teams is so critically important. It's why sometimes getting over the insult, you know, the "token bimbo" guy, I didn't make a fuss at the time, but I then went into his office and shut the door and said, "You'll never speak to me that way again." Sometimes bad behavior has to be confronted, but most of the time we have to figure out how to work with people who are different than ourselves and who may be a little nervous, intimidated, afraid, or hostile to working with people that are different than they are. And yet I'll just say one other thing, despite the fact that we haven't made much progress in the boardroom, less than 16% of corporate board members are women still to this day, that's not much progress that number hasn't moved in about 25 years. What happens when people are most comfortable with people like themselves is the people who are in the room tend to stay in the room and they bring people like themselves into the role. Not because they're intentionally trying to be bad, but because they're just more comfortable that way. And yet all the data is crystal clear. Teams that are diverse produce better results. Because actually, we all are more creative, we're more imaginative, we perform at a higher level when we are challenged by new ideas and people who are different than us. That's how we work. It's uncomfortable, but we're better when we're challenged. And that's why building diverse teams- if you can build an effective team, those diverse, effective teams produce better results every time.

Brian Lord:

So, thank you for that. So, some questions from some from different people, this is from Jamie Lewis: "What differentiated you early-on in your career as a top leader?"

Carly Fiorina:

You know, I think the honest answer to that is I didn't see myself as a leader when I started out. I didn't have a plan to become a CEO. I was just trying, honestly, not to get fired. What I saw myself as over time was a problem-solver. I saw all these problems that nobody was dealing with. And so I started working with others to solve them. And what I learned over time is that people closest to whatever the problem was always had great ideas about how to solve it. That taught me over time that people closest to the problem know best how to solve it if they're given the opportunity, if they're given the resources, if they're given the chance. And it also taught me that I loved problem-solving and working with other people. And so I would just keep running to problems, the tougher, the problem, the more interesting and exciting I found it. And so when you solve problems, people pay attention. And when you work with others to solve problems, teams get better and stronger. And it turns out in my experience, people like to work together to solve problems. It gives them a sense of purpose and accomplishment. And it's why I say we need more leaders 'cause Lord knows, we've got a lot of problems all over the place. So my advice to anyone out there don't get hung up on what your title is. Believe me, there are tons of problems all around you. And there are people who know what those problems are. Reach out to those people and work with them and solve a problem.

Brian Lord:

One of the, I guess, [my thing I'm always curious about] where does that come from? Who taught you how to be a problem-solver?

Carly Fiorina:

You know, that's such an interesting question. I'm not sure it was who necessarily, I mean, I was tremendously benefited, tremendously blessed by, my mother and father. I truly was, these were both people- they were tough parents sometimes- but they were people of tremendous character. But what I remember, both of them telling me is, "You have potential use it." I didn't know what that meant. For a long time, I didn't know what that meant. But when I landed in the business world finally, and I saw all these people talking and complaining about problems and I thought, "Well, we can make this better. We can make this better." And the more I did it, the more I craved it. And the more together I accomplished with other people, the more I craved "bad." And what I learned in the process was not just how to use my own potential, but how much potential other people have. And so it has, convinced me through experience that not only are diverse teams the best teams, not only do people closest to the problem know best how to solve the problem, but also that everyone, everyone has more potential than they realize. Everyone. And the issue is how has that potential unlocked? In my experience potential is unlocked when people are challenged to make something better, challenged to do something more than they're currently doing.

Brian Lord:

So question from Leah Glover Hayes, "What struggles almost kept you from reaching the C-suite?" This kind of a run-on question here. "How did you overcome and what wisdom did you learn in the process that you could share with other women that might struggle with the same things?"

Carly Fiorina:

You know, I said at the outset or several minutes ago, that it's different when you're different. And, look, when people say things like, "You know, you're a token bimbo," or "Maybe it's the wrong time of month" or dismiss and diminish in sometimes subtle ways and sometimes obvious ways. And all those things have happened to me. All those things have happened to me- continue to happen to me, it's part of life. And so you can get discouraged. My advice to any woman or to anyone who's different actually would be twofold. Don't hide your light under a bushel and don't get a chip on your shoulder. And what I mean by that is the following: Don't hide your light under a bushel. There are people who will be uncomfortable with who you are, let it be their problem, be who you are, be as smart as you are, as brave as you are, as focused as you are, as different as you are, bring all of who you are to your work, to your life. And if they're uncomfortable with it, so be it. Don't hide your light under a bushel, be who you are, bringing it on, bring it all. But secondly, don't get a chip on your shoulder. Recognize that so much of what happens to you doesn't happen because people are bad. Some people are, and those bad people need to be confronted, but most people probably are just careless or clueless or thoughtless, or maybe afraid because they don't quite know what to do with you. Don't get a chip on your shoulder. Instead, look for people who lift you up and they're out there. And they are probably more numerous, in my experience, than those who want to tear you down, who are out there. Also, look for the people who lift you up. Look for the people who can work with you and together. Make progress, change the order of things for the better.

Brian Lord:

Here's a question from Mary Ann Locke: "What are you seeing and what is your advice for women making second-half-of-life career changes?

Carly Fiorina:

Well, in addition to everything I just said, you know, there are all kinds of... So don't hide your light under a bushel and don't get a chip on your shoulder. There are so many stereotypes that are thrown on to women in the second half of their careers. Ignore all of that. Ignore all of that. Think carefully about what gives you the most satisfaction? Where do you get the most joy? What fulfills you think carefully about what your strengths truly are. And then think about what opportunities do I have to apply my strengths to those things that I really want to apply them to. The good news is in the second half of your career, you probably have more opportunities, more choices, more options than you perhaps have in the first half of your career. So take advantage of all of those if you have that. It's easy to get discouraged right now. It's so easy for anybody to get discouraged right now. I mean, we're dealing with a pandemic. We're dealing with unemployment, we're all getting sick of Zoom meetings- no disrespect to this wonderful Free Virtual Fridays! [Laughing] We're all kind of getting tired of this, right? And we look out and we see a nation that's divided and endlessly arguing about problems that have been festering for a long time. Boy, it's so easy to get discouraged. And so again, I'll go back, look for people that lift you up, and look for opportunities to make a difference that are gonna lift you up as well.

Brian Lord:

All right. So this question comes from Vince Poscente: "What mistakes do young women make in the workplace that may be holding them back from advancement?"

Carly Fiorina:

Oh, it's, you know, I think it's hard to generalize, honestly. And I would say that there is a parallel question to that one, which is "What mistakes do men make that hold women back?" Because it's up to- if you accept the data- and the data is crystal clear, that diverse teams are better teams, are more effective teams, achieve better results. Then it's not just up to women to figure out how to advance. It's up to men to figure out how to advance othersnthat don't look like them. Having said that, look, I think here's the truth. The status quo is a powerful thing. And fitting in is a powerful desire. That is why problems fester. That is why numbers don't move. People get intimidated by the status quo because people are invested in it. And so it's hard to push up against the status quo and we all want to fit in. And it's hard to push up against someone who says, "Wow, you're making me really uncomfortable." And yet that is what change takes. People have to be willing to challenge the status quo and accept the criticism and the discomfort that comes along with that. And I think sometimes people, men, and women, but sometimes I think it feels so much safer and easier to settle into other people's expectations of us and settle into the status quo. Even though we know it isn't what it should be and we need to make a change. Change, standing out, problem-solving leadership. They all take courage and they all take the willingness to withstand criticism.

Brian Lord:

Couple more questions here. So this is from Rebecca DeLuca: "What is the best way to find champions and advocates for career advancement?"

Carly Fiorina:

You know, first, I would say when I was coming up, we didn't have things that were formal mentoring programs. Now of course, people have more formal programs. And I think there's good news with that and bad news with that. So what I would say is when you're looking for someone to lift you up, first of all, look for people who know you. Look for people who know your circumstances. And what that means, obviously, is look for people who are relatively close to whatever your circumstances are. Sometimes, you know, people will say, Oh, I need to get someone who's famous who doesn't know anything about me to be a mentor. Actually, that's not going to work very well. Look for someone who knows you and your circumstances. Number one. Number two, look for someone who will tell you the truth, who will give you real feedback, but who is invested in your success. That's important, because so often, people get confused and they think, "Well, someone who compliments me a lot is someone who's invested in my success." Not necessarily. Sometimes people who compliment you a lot are actually rooting for you to fail. They are passive resisters. I've met a lot of those in my life. "Oh, atta girl. You're great. I'm right behind you." And actually behind you, they're not helping you. They're sabotaging you. And they're also people who criticize you because they don't want you to get ahead. They want to cut you down. So look for people who are going to tell you the truth, who are going to give you the feedback you need. Sometimes my most effective mentors were subordinates of mine. Sometimes my most effective mentors were peers of mine. Sometimes my most effective advocates and mentors were superiors of mine who would tell me when I needed to hear it, "You know what, Carly, this isn't working. We need you to find a different approach. We need to develop a new skill in you so that you can succeed."

Outro

Thank you for joining us for the Beyond Speaking Podcast. To learn more about today's guest, go to BeyondSpeak.com. Make sure to leave a review and subscribe wherever you listen.

Carly Fiorina

Want Carly Fiorina for your next event?

Find out more information, including fees and availability.
Find Out More
Keep Reading
Carly Fiorina - Leadership in Tough Times
Carly Fiorina
Carly Fiorina
November 09, 2020
Introduction Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper ...
PAST: Carly Fiorina | 8/28
Carly Fiorina
Carly Fiorina
August 21, 2020
Leadership in Tough Times: A Fireside Chat with Carly Fiorina In this ...
Carly Fiorina - Leadership in Tough Times
Introduction Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers. Brian Lord: Hi, I'm Brian Lord. Your host of the beyond speaking podcast. This week, we're excited to be joined by Carly Fiorina. Carly is the former chairman and CEO of Hewlett Packard and the first woman...
Read More
PAST: Carly Fiorina | 8/28
Leadership in Tough Times: A Fireside Chat with Carly Fiorina In this Q&A format, Carly will cover: - How leaders can approach decision-making in tough times - How our culture has gotten leadership wrong - How to demonstrate leadership to others. - What is the best framework for problem-solving? Carly's leadership lessons aren't th...
Read More