Carly Fiorina is an American icon – a businesswoman and politician best known for her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, where she was the first woman to lead a Fortune Top-20 company. She led HP from 1999 through 2005. During that time, she presided over the greatest tech-sector merger in history when HP acquired Compaq. That acquisition made HP the world’s largest seller of personal computers.
Ms. Fiorina was also a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and a forceful presence in the Republican presidential debates. In 2018, she founded Carly Fiorina Enterprises, a professional training and coaching firm headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.
We are proud that this leading American executive and inspiring woman was featured on a recent episode of Training Unleashed where she shared her insights on leadership, management, training, company culture and more with host Evan Hackel.
We know you will want to spend time watching this remarkable episode of Training Unleashed and we are excited to share the following excerpts of her comments with you here.
Carly Fiorina on the Importance of People – A Company’s Most Important Asset
“The truth is that most companies will say platitudes like, `People Are Our Most Important Asset.’ But they don’t really act that way! The truth is people are the business. Companies think that a business is its products, its profits, its manufacturing. Yes . . . and people do all those things.
“So I think the people in a business, whether it’s a giant business or a tiny business, are literally what makes it go. And so if people are the business, then you must invest in those people. And the way you invest in people is, you develop them. You train them. You empower them. You encourage them. You challenge them. You hold them accountable. You give them real responsibilities. That’s how people perform at their best. And so if you believe people are the business, and they are, then you have to invest and that starts with training.”
Carly Fiorina on the Critical Importance of Company Culture
“Culture is one of those words in business that gets downplayed a little bit. You’ll hear people say, `Well, yeah, culture, it’s important, but it’s the soft stuff.’
“In my experience, `soft stuff’ is a dismissive term. Culture is the hardest stuff of all! It is the most difficult stuff to change. It is also the software of a company. It’s the software of any team. And so just like a piece of technology, if the software doesn’t work, the machinery isn’t going to work! And that’s true for teams and organizations as well.
“Companies need to start by honestly figuring out what their culture is, and it isn’t the platitudes on the wall. It’s not the code of conduct. It’s not the statement of ethics. It’s not the aspirational mission statement. I mean, maybe it is all those things, but actually culture is reflected in how people answer a really basic question:
What’s it like to work around here?
“That’s the culture of the team. It’s the water the fish swim in, the air we breathe. Often, a culture is counterproductive to what people are trying to accomplish, or sometimes culture can accelerate what people are trying to accomplish. It can encourage collaboration. It can encourage empowerment. It can encourage the development of new skills. It can encourage people taking on additional responsibilities. All of those things in a culture can encourage people to say, `I want to go to training! It’s not a waste of my time. It’s not a distraction from my main job. It is my opportunity to invest in myself or the organization’s opportunity to invest in me . . . it is the most important thing we do around here.’”
Carly Fiorina on the Value that People Bring to Companies
“One of the things that I’ve learned through experience – and I learned this before I came to HP – is that people in an organization know what’s going on. They know what the problems are. They know what the potential is. They actually know what needs to happen. They’re rarely given an opportunity to make it happen or to say what needs to get done.
“When I arrived at HP (if you’ll forgive a bit of a story) everyone was talking about a transformational leader and saying, `we need change.’ And yes, the company was in real trouble in very serious ways. I purposefully came in alone. I brought no one with me. And I did that very deliberately because I said to the organization, you know what we need to do . . . you know what’s wrong . . . you know where we’re falling short.
“And so for me, the issue was not to give them the answer. The issue was to unlock and unleash their potential, their ability to identify problems, to identify solutions and to move the organization forward. And so very specifically on the issue of culture, we started by asking employees, `What’s it like to work around here?’ And we got a lot of answers. And then we asked them, `What do you want it to be like?’
“And guess what? The cultures that people aspire to are usually productive, high performing, collaborative, ethical, empowering organizations. And so the point is, the answers were there all along. As a leader, I was catalyzing people to do what they needed to do. Not telling them from on high, `This is the change we’re going to make.’ And so they owned it, literally.”
Carly Fiorina on Her Journey to Leadership
“I started out as a secretary and when I finally landed in corporate America, you know, I didn’t know what management or leadership was. But what I figured out was there were people all around me who understood what the problems were but had never been given a chance to solve them, who wanted things to be better, but didn’t think they were empowered to do so. And so a lot of what I have put into my online training and the advice I give to companies and executives . . . is what I’ve learned, not just as a CEO, but from being a secretary all the way to becoming a CEO.”
Carly Fiorina on the Critical Importance of Training
“If there’s one thing I want people to take away from an interaction with me or an experience with our training, it’s that all of us underestimate ourselves! Everyone is filled with more potential than they realize. And each of us actually can change the world. It’s just we talk ourselves out of our ability to do so, or we don’t invest in our ability to do so, or others overlook our ability to do so too.”
Carly Fiorina on Her Current Priorities
“One of the things we do through our Unlocking Potential foundation is to provide leadership development to nonprofits. And if you think it’s hard to get training programs through in the corporate for-profit world, it’s very hard to get them through in the nonprofit world because resources are so scarce.
“And so we have developed a set of programs specifically for the nonprofit world. One of those was for an Easter Seals organization, and in that particular case, we brought together the entire organization at one time, from the CEO to CIO to the van driver who brought disabled children and adults to the classroom every day, and everyone in between . . .
”We had everybody together and together, they worked on the goals that they thought were most important. And together, we developed problem-solving skills for each and every one of those people, regardless of the job they were in. Because here’s the thing. The context for the van driver was different than the context for the CEO. The problems the van driver encountered were different from the problems the CEO encountered.
“But problem-solving is always the same. It takes the same fundamental characteristics and qualities, just as leadership is always the same. It doesn’t matter what the context is. And I’ve learned that through experience as well. And so that was a really different kind of experience for them. I have done that subsequently with other groups, and it was an incredibly productive experience for them because on top of learning new skills, they got to know each other better and they got to understand each other’s jobs better, which always brings a team together.”
Carly Fiorina on Human Potential
“You know, Evan, human potential is the only limitless resource we have. Money is limited. Time is limited. Resources of all kinds are limited, except one, human potential. If it’s unleashed, if it’s unlocked, if it’s leveraged, it can literally do anything . . . solve any problem, achieve any goal. And so the reason I devote my life to this, the reason I spent so much time as a CEO investing in people is because human potential is the most valuable resource we have, and it is also limitless. But it’s only limitless if we invest in it and hone it and develop it and then leverage it.”
Carly Fiorina on the Difference Between Management and Leadership
“First, there’s nothing wrong with management. Let me quickly say it’s needed, but managers do the best they can with the way things are. A manager may produce really excellent results, but they accept the way things are, they operate within the constraints and conditions and the context in which they find themselves.
“Leaders change the way things are. Leaders change the order of things for the better. And you have to ask yourself, why is it in organizations that problems fester all the time? It’s not because people don’t know what the problems are. It’s because they’re not willing to change things, to challenge the status quo in order to solve those problems. And so it takes leaders and leadership to challenge the way things are.
“Leadership is about changing things for the better. Leadership is about solving problems so anyone can lead.”
A Big Success Tip from Carly Fiorina
“Run to a problem! Don’t run away from it! Don’t avoid it! Run to the problem!”
An Offer to Our Training Unleashed Audience
Carly Fiorina invites you to visit her LinkedIn profile and sign up for a subscription to her weekly newsletter, Leadership Matters.
About Our Guest
Carly Fiorina is an American businesswoman and politician best known for her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 through 2005, where she distinguished herself as the first woman to lead a Fortune Top-20 company. She holds degrees from Stanford University, the University of Maryland and MIT.
During her time at HP, she presided over the greatest tech-sector merger in history when HP acquired Compaq. That acquisition made HP the world’s largest seller of personal computers.
In the political sphere, she ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 unsuccessfully. Later, she was a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, during which time she became the vice-presidential running mate of Senator Ted Cruz until he suspended his campaign.
Since 2018, she has served as Chairman of Carly Fiorina Enterprises, a professional training and coaching firm headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. Her books include Find Your Way: Unleash Your Power and Highest Potential.