How to lead without losing your soul

Claiming she has been the subject of endless scrutiny and criticism during her controversial career in the IT industry, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said leadership comes with a price, which is why it is so important to have a strong internal compass.

In a candid address at the Global Business Forum in Sydney this week, Fiorina talked about the principles of leadership.

Claiming leaders are made, not born, she said there is nothing more draining than witnessing a person compromise to achieve a goal.

"Principles are important. When you come to those moments and you are about to compromise - don't," Fiorina said.

"Do not sell your soul. There are plenty of opportunities to sell your soul in life and if you do, nobody will ever pay you back.

"Keep your soul and be in control of your own choices, that is what life is about."

As the CEO tasked with leading HP's merger with Compaq, the biggest in high-tech history, Fiorina is ideally placed to talk about the rigours of corporate life in the 21st century.

During her hour-long discussion, which followed a presentation by former US president Bill Clinton, Fiorina talked about her darkest days at HP and the battle to transform a company "afraid to change".

When Fiorina first joined Hewlett-Packard in 1999, she said it was an organization "frozen in time".

Fiorina said HP had forgotten its roots as an innovator. Armed with a belief that it is not the strongest that survive, but those that adapt to change, Fiorina's goal was to transform HP and return the company to its roots.

"HP forgot that it was an innovator, we had to relearn original values," she told delegates at the Global Business Forum, in Sydney last week, which included executives from Kaz, Nortel, Altiris, Compuware and Telstra.

"The 'HP Way' was used as a shield against change to dismiss new ideas, which isn't what the founders intended."

Upon joining the company, Fiorina said HP had fallen off the list of the top 25 innovators in the world.

But when she left, HP had returned to the top three.

Transformation, Fiorina said, is a mix of preservation and reinvention as the goal of change is not to lose or deny the past but to use it as a platform for the future. "But there are many points where you have to find a balance between optimism and realism," she said.

Fiorina said one of the biggest contributors to rapid change taking place in the 21st century is globalization.

"As a human race we only have 15 years experience with a truly global economy; we're still learning our way," she said.

"This is an era when every process will be transformed into a digital, mobile, virtual personal world. This will happen over the next 25 years."

In a digital world, Fiorina said it is all about the potential of the individual.

She said the nature of authority has shifted, institutions are more transparent and access to information has been democratized.

"Our institutions cannot operate in vertical chains of command any longer, leaders cannot command and control," she said.

"The new work environment is about horizontal processes and collaboration while skills must be continually refreshed."

Fiorina said the dotcom bust signalled the end of the beginning for IT and it has now entered the main event.

"IT was always a discreet, back-office function, but now its rolling into the fabric of life; technology can do more than people can deal with," she said.

The world according to Carly Fiorina

Comments on leadership - "Everybody has the potential to be a leader. it has nothing to do with position or title. Management and leadership are not the same. The biggest joy in leadership is to unlock the potential in others ..."

About character - "Character is an old-fashioned word, but it has never been more important to leadership because leadership is about candour, authenticity, the ability to accept consequences. In short, character is a battle."

The meaning of integrity - "In most companies people think integrity means not lying. But more often than not it's the sins of omission that are the problem. People may not agree with a decision made in a meeting and say nothing. Instead, they leave the room thinking 'I'll sabotage that later', rather than dealing with it in the room."

On management - "Complement your leadership, not with those like you but those who are different. We all want people who are the same around us - those who look, dress and talk the same - but that's the easy option."

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