Want to Be a Leader? Carly Fiorina’s Advice for Unlocking Your Highest Potential

Former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina recently spoke to The Daily Signal about her new book, “Find Your Way: Unleash Your Power and Highest Potential.” Fiorina is the host of the podcast “By Example” and founder of Unlocking Potential. The interview is available on our podcast along with a lightly edited transcript below.

Rob Bluey: You started as a secretary and later became the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company. You also ran for president and are now hosting what I think is the best leadership podcast out there. Tell us about your journey and how it led you to write this book.

Carly Fiorina: I was one of those people that didn’t have a sparkling resume. I majored in medieval history and philosophy in college, not exactly the path to the great job. I went to law school briefly, hated it, and dropped out. So my first job in business was as a secretary.

I really wasn’t trying to get ahead, I was trying to keep my job. But what I learned along the way is that there are problems everywhere, there are people close to those problems who understand them and who actually know what would make them better, but they’re rarely given the opportunity or the chance to do so.

So I would collaborate with people and we would solve problems, and the more problems I solved, the more I realized I liked solving problems. And the more I ran to problems, the more opportunities were put in my path.

What I’ve learned is that anyone can be a problem-solver, which means that all of us can be leaders, because problem-solving is the purpose of leadership.

And our potential really isn’t determined by how we start, or our circumstances, or even how people think of us. Our potential is determined by how we use what we all have inside.

Bluey: And leadership comes in so many different forms, as you demonstrate on the podcast, and I’ve heard in your various interviews. What do you say to those people who may be struggling to find their way right now? What advice do you have for them in the book that would be appealing to them, and helpful for them, to do exactly what you’re talking about?

Fiorina: One of the reasons I wrote this book now is because I think people feel, in many ways, helpless and hopeless and powerless and frustrated.

They sort of see a lot of problems that have festered a long time. They see a lot of conversation back and forth that isn’t particularly collaborative, that is fairly vitriolic, that doesn’t seem to get anything done.

So they say, “There’s nothing I can do.” Or they get caught up in social media, where, boy, there’s a lot of tribal behavior, there’s a lot of criticism and vitriol back and forth, bu there’s also a lot of worry about what other people think about you. There’s a lot of criticism.

And so I wrote this book to remind people that each of us have the capacity for problem-solving and leadership. That all of us are gifted by God. That actually all of us have more potential than we realize.

So my advice to people in this book is, yes, you have to find the courage to tackle a problem, but tackle a problem, and you’re going to learn things about yourself that will be refreshing to you, and you’re also going to learn things about other people that will be reassuring to you.

Bluey: Some of our listeners might be just starting careers, others might be in retirement. … Are the lessons in the book applicable to them no matter what season of life they might be in?

Fiorina: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that is away frequently is that leaders look different. All leaders look different, but leadership is always the same.

So it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how old you are, or what you look like. None of that matters because the fundamentals of leadership are about courage, and character, and collaborating with others, and seeing possibilities all around you, and problem-solving. And those are things that each of us are capable of, although we sometimes don’t use those capabilities.

Bluey: I appreciate that you certainly have a gift in terms of the way, not only you talk about it on the show, but write about it, and I think help connect those ideas, in many cases, to very real situations that have certainly helped me in my role here at The Heritage Foundation and Daily Signal, hopefully become a better leader myself. So I personally have benefited from the work that you are doing.

Why is teaching people about leadership so important to you personally?

Fiorina: Because we have a lot of problems. We’ve got a lot of problems.

By the way, that’s part of life. Life is filled with problems. But if you want things to get better, then we need more leaders. Whether problems are in communities or families or companies or organizations, those problems will fester unless leaders are lifted up and inspired to tackle those problems.

One of the things that I’ve learned over and over again is that the status quo, whatever it is, is extremely powerful. Even when it’s really disheartening, or really dysfunctional, the status quo is powerful.

One of the reasons the status quo is powerful is because when you try and change it, you get criticized. So what I want to do is unlock the potential for problem-solving and leadership wherever it is, and lift up leaders, whoever and wherever they are. Because the more leaders we have, the better everything is.

Bluey: Tell us more about “By Example.” It’s your leadership podcast. You’ve completed Season One, you’ve had some tremendous guests—coach Tony Dungy; Colin Powell, our former secretary of state; Bob Dole.

In so many cases, whether it’s sports or politics or business, you’ve brought together people who have shared their own journeys as leaders.

Tell us the vision behind “By Example” and why you started it, and how people can learn more about it.

Fiorina: “By Example” is a series of conversations with people who are leaders, not because they’re famous, although some of them are; not because of their titles, although some of them have big ones; but because of who they are, and what they do with who they are.

We’ve had famous people on for sure, and you’ve mentioned several of them, but we’ve also had people that probably you’ve never heard of.

We just had a woman who has Down syndrome and is the first registered lobbyist on Capitol Hill with Down syndrome, and she’s an amazing leader.

Leadership is not about position, or title, or fame, or wealth. We think it is, we get very confused about what leadership is. Really what leaders do is change the order of things for the better. They make things better. They solve problems. They collaborate with others.

The reason we call it “By Example” is because the people I have conversations with are an example of leaders that I hope others will learn from.

We’re very excited, in Season Two, to be having the president of The Heritage Foundation, Kay Coles James, an incredible leader, someone who is so unexpected in many ways.

She begins in the projects of Richmond, and here she is now leading one of the foremost policy and think tank organizations in the world, and she’s changed the order of things for the better everywhere she’s ever gone.

Bluey: That’s so true, and she’s brought tremendous leadership here. It is a true honor to serve under her. Do you have a favorite guest that you’ve talked to?

Fiorina: No, that’s like asking which of your kids are your favorite. No. Every single guest that we’ve had has brought something so inspirational to the table.

Our guests all have experienced very different circumstances. They’ve made a positive contribution in very different ways, and I hope that when people listen to an entire season, they’re reminded of what I said a few minutes ago.

Leaders are always different, but leadership is always the same. And for people who want to learn more, please come to CarlyFiorina.com, and you can learn all about the podcast and the work we’re doing in communities across America, and you can order a book, “Find Your Way,” as well if you’d like.

Bluey: And you have an organization called Unlocking Potential. I wanted you to share more about the work that you’re doing there because it does extend beyond the podcast and the book.

Fiorina: Yes. Unlocking Potential Foundation is focused on working with nonprofit organizations that are in communities all across this country, and helping them become more effective problem-solvers and leaders.

A lot of nonprofits are working in really difficult circumstances, and they don’t always have the investment in people that we, for example, might take for granted in a well-funded organization or a for-profit organization.

So everything that I’ve learned about leadership and problem-solving, we bring to the table in these nonprofits.

We do work with organizations that serve the homeless community here in Washington, D.C. We have partnerships with corporations like American Express or MassMutual where they bring us into the communities where their employees are investing to lift those organizations up.

Problems only get solved if leaders are present, and leaders are all around us. They just may not know it, and they may not have been developed or encouraged in that way.

Bluey: Thank you for the work that you’re doing on that.

I can’t let you go without asking at least one question kind of related to politics. I want to go back to the 2016 presidential campaign and ask you what lessons about leadership you learned from that experience of running for president?

Fiorina: It’s one of the reasons why, honestly, I think the answer to problems isn’t in politics right now, and I’m not sure it’s going to come out of Washington until politics changes.

This is something that Kay Coles James and I agree very much on. She wrote this in her book in 1995.

But I was reminded in that process of something that George Washington said in 1789. In his farewell address to the nation he said, “The trouble with political parties is, they will come to care only about winning.”

I think what we see in politics is a focus on winning. The problem is, when you’re focused on winning, that’s a very different dynamic than a focus on problem-solving because when you focus on winning, someone has to lose. When you’re focused on problem-solving, everyone has to win.

So the dynamic is very different. Win-lose, versus collaboration and win-win to change the order of things for the better.

Bluey: If the solution isn’t coming from Washington, what are some of the ways that those of us who might work in Washington at an organization like Heritage approach things in a way that is constructive, collaborative, and helps us solve some of those big problems?

Fiorina: One of the reasons that I’m a conservative is because I know that people closest to the problem know best how to solve the problem.

I see it over and over and over again. Problems get solved by people who actually experience those problems because they understand them deeply.

It’s just that so often, they’re not given the opportunity or the chance, or the leadership, to solve the problem. So I believe that change happens from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Again, it’s why I’m a conservative, that’s why I think there’s too much power concentrated in Washington. It’s why I think decision-making and power and money need to be dispersed.

I would encourage The Heritage Foundation to continue to do the work you have been doing, which is to say, “No, concentrating power and money and decision-making always results in power abused, and decision-making that’s not effective, and money that’s wasted.” We know that. But that’s why I’m a conservative and I think it plays out.

Bluey: That’s a great definition of a conservative. And I’ll tell you, it is a challenge even to remind some conservatives about the proper role of government and why we believe in limited government and federalism, and making sure that those decisions do happen in communities and localities.

Fiorina: Principles and politics are sometimes not the same thing either.

Bluey: That’s true.

Fiorina: And the trouble with principles is, they’re frequently inconvenient in politics because they cut against the team you’re on. And yet, if we believe in principles, they apply all the time.

Bluey: They certainly do.

The one thing that Kay James likes to talk about is Heritage serving as the true north of conservatism and being an articulator of those principles. Hopefully that’s a role that she and all of us can continue to play.

Carly Fiorina, I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk about “Find Your Way” and about your podcast “By Example.”

I encourage our listeners to buy the book, to check out the podcast, to learn more about your work at CarlyFiorina.com. Thank you for being with us.

Fiorina: Thank you so much for having me. And I encourage you to continue the very important work of The Heritage Foundation. It is more important than ever now.

Bluey: Thank you.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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