Carly Fiorina, business leader and former CEO of Hewlett Packard, recalls feeling “lucky” and “blessed” as an eight-year-old – but not necessarily as talented or equipped as the people around her seemed to be.
It wasn’t until the self-proclaimed “goody two-shoes middle child” took a Sunday school class with her mother that she began to see the possibility of her own potential.
“She said, ‘What you are is God’s gift to you; but what you make of yourself is your gift to God,’” said Fiorina.
Fiorina visited Regent University as a part of its Executive Leadership Series on Tuesday, February 28 at the Founders Inn and Spa. The monthly series celebrates renowned and influential leaders as they discuss the trends and principles of leading businesses.
Fiorina’s journey to success, admittedly, has not been smooth. She entered the career field with two items on her resume: philosophy major and law school drop-out. Without a clear understanding of what she was made for, she eventually landed a job as a “Kelly girl” for a nine-person real estate firm.
It wasn’t long before her peers at the firm discerned that she had a greater potential for more than typing, filing and answering the phones. Their encouragement set her on a clear trajectory.
Through this experience she encourages young people who are fresh in their careers to take a job – any job – and to do it well.
“Whether you’re filing papers or flipping burgers, someone will take notice,” said Fiorina.
She eventually pursued her MBA, and landed a job at AT&T as an entry level sales person in a male-dominated field.
“I went to work every day hoping I wouldn’t fail,” said Fiorina.
But through the ride her career has taken, which eventually landed her in Silicon Valley as the CEO of HP, as the first female leader of a Fortune 50 business, she’s learned one thing:
“Everyone is gifted by God,” said Fiorina. “And everyone has more potential than they realize.”
It’s through this that Fiorina developed what she believes are the true principles of leadership. First, that leaders – like her mother, and those who took notice of her in her entry level job – understand the potential of people all around them.
She said that “leadership” and “management” are not interchangeable terms, and that while managers deliver results within the constraints and conditions of an organization, it was a leader’s job to solve problems and “challenge the status quo.”
“But change is like heaven,” she said. “Everyone wants to go there, but nobody wants to die.”
This courage to challenge the status quo is why Fiorina believes that “people of faith make better leaders.” Traits such as humility, empathy, optimism and courage, found through many faith teachings, are essential to a leader, according to Fiorina.
Additionally, understanding that sometimes “the ends don’t justify the means,” possessing a sense of collaboration and seeing possibility are also imperative to not only a leader with character, but a leader who will change the world for the better. These leaders aren’t born. They’re made.
“Leadership is choice, and any of us can lead from exactly where we are,” said Fiorina. “Christian leadership is necessary to change the world. And the only thing that changes the world is leadership. Anyone can lead. So whether you’re young and starting out, or older like me…I would close by saying, ‘choose to lead.’”
The next Executive Leadership series event will feature William “Toby” Harris, co-founder, co-owner and executive vice president of Movement Mortgage on Wednesday, March 22.
Learn more about Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series.