5 Things Carly Fiorina Has Learned About Leadership

Thoughts on leadership, ethics and the 21st century from Carly Fiorina, HP's former CEO.

Carly Fiorina, the controversial CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 until she was fired in 2005, shares five lessons she has learned.

Leaders create something new.

Management is about producing acceptable results within known constraints and conditions. The force for change must be stronger than an organization’s natural inclination to preserve the status quo. This is why even a change agent CEO must have the support of a critical mass of employees. In 1999, HP was no longer among the top 25 innovators in the world. I challenged our engineers and inventors to innovate. By 2004, we were generating 11 patents a day, the highest rate of innovation in HP’s history, and had become the number-three innovator in the world.

Don’t fall in love with your product.

Too much has been made of my background in marketing. Of course, I’d held sales and marketing jobs, but I’ve had experience in virtually every department in a big company. Nevertheless, it is true that as a “nontechnologist,” I thought the point of our technology was to serve customers and, in the process, to deliver revenue and profit. Sometimes, technologists forget the customer. This was happening at HP in the late ’90s, and it was one of the reasons our growth was slowing dramatically.

Competition requires risk-taking.

The risks of change always seem to be more real than the risks of standing still. Leaders have to be willing to make tough choices at the right time, which usually means before they are obvious to everyone else. The Compaq merger was widely criticized when it occurred; many people did not understand the decision immediately. Yet, it was a prudent risk given the changes in the industry and our decision to return to a leadership position within it.

Ethics matter.

Businesses often tolerate behavior that’s on the edge; people justify it as necessary to achieve results and take comfort that it’s not strictly illegal. Yet such actions are corrosive. Some of the most important choices I ever made were firing people who weren’t conducting themselves with integrity.

The 21st century is about brainpower.

It requires different capabilities than the 20th, and American competitiveness is not something we can take for granted. We must realistically assess the state of our educational system and invest in its transformation. At the same time, we must acknowledge that while globalization has caused some real hardship and dislocation for American workers, our security and prosperity are greatly enhanced when a greater number of people around the world have a stake in the success of the global economy. And we must accept that this country has prospered because motivated people have wanted to come here and build a better life.

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