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Carly Fiorina has taken her lumps. The former head of HP was once touted as the most powerful woman in US business -- and perhaps the world. She was pried loose from Lucent -- back when Lucent was a high-flier, pre-bubble -- to take over HP, at the time, seen as a lumbering Giant in need of some "new economy" fairy dust. She brought glitz, she brought ink, and (see the attached photo) she even brought a little celebrity (that's Gwen Stefani helping make HP digital cameras cool), but in the end her tenure can only be marked as an ignominious failure.
There are many lessons to be leared from her time at HP. However, the most important one is the Power of "Authentic Leadership."
One of the most critical aspects we have found in our research linked to long-term increase in shareholder value is a CEO who embodies "authentic leadership." That is, the people who actually make the organization successful -- often far away from the executive suite -- can relate to their leader(s). With Carly, from Day One, there was a gulf. Whether intentional or not on her part, she oozed self-importance. From her Hilary Clinton-esque wide lapels and power suits to the way she walked the stage at all the big trade shows with her flashy head-mic, you wouldn't expect to run into her at the Mountain View Starbucks. She had the air that she was always running late to meet some head of state or speak at Davos -- as opposed to running the business. This bred enormous disenchantment with the HP employees and - ultimately- the board of directors.
No executive or CEO fails alone. There is blame to be shared -- just as credit should also go to others in times of success. The board is the one who hired Carly; and they made the final decision to let her go. They surely forgot about the importance of "Authentic Leadership" at the time of hiring. Going back to then, they wanted to get a little bit of sizzle into HP's stock; and who couldn't have been impressed by Lucent's success to that point? Carly was able and more than accomplished looking over her CV to that point. How many people, in retrospect of a bad hire, have later said: "He/She looked so good on paper"?
They forgot to delve into whether "authentic leadership" was an issue for Carly. But they didn't when it came time to choose her successor. Mark Hurd is something of an anti-Carly. Quiet, unassuming, from Dayton! He's not the star -- it's the organization, which is to say the employees. I talked to some HP employees a few weeks ago and their relief under the new regime is palpable.
For execs and board members, the message is clear: CEOs better be able to connect with their people, or they won't stay connected to their board.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
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