There have been two excellent podcasts from the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leader series that bear recording. One from Carly Fiorina. And another from Carol Bartz of Autodesk.

What resonated most with me about these two podcasts was:
1. Don’t try to overplan your career.
2. That old cliche about change being hard.

Carol (a straight talker) came right out and said: ‘No body cares about your career except you and your mother.’ And that you shouldn’t create fixed narrow straight up the ladder career paths because:
a) your focus will be too narrow
b) you won’t have a good foundation

If you want to be CEO, VP, or some high-level executive a broad range of experiences is better than shooting straight up the ladder – because eventually you will fall over.

I also like the fact she never knew exactly where she was going next. Her whole attitude was is you saw something that was interesting, run with it, do it well, and chances are someone will notice and reward you with another opportunity. Just do it!

This is empowering. It means if there is a job or position you want, just show the initiative, get involved, and go for it. Chances are it will work out.

Carly gave what has probably been one of the best leadership talks I have ever heard. She describes leadership as facing two huge obstacles:
1. Fear
2. Status quo

Everyone fears something. And people in positions of power want to preserve the status quo. Not because they are evil people. But because it’s comfortable, and it’s good for them! It’s natural and many of us would do it to in similar circumstances.

But leadership isn’t status quo. It’s about creating that vision for change.

Carly has one of the best stories of leadership I have heard. She describes how after studying medival history at Stanford as an undergrad, and dropping out of law school after a year much to the disappointment of her parents, he talk a job as a secretary at a local business and worked there for a couple months.

A few months in, two gentlemen approached her and told her they thought she had potential to do more than answer the phone and asked if she would be interested in learning more about what they did around there.

That’s leadership. It’s seeing the potential and possibilities in others and then helping them seize them.

Income statements and balances sheets are lagging indicators

An income statement of a balance sheet is an indication of decisions already made. Somebody has bought a product, that’s revenue. A manager has made a decision about expenses, that’s an expense you post. Lagging indicator. Important but you are looking in the rear view mirror.

THere are things that tell you where a business is going. Asking the right questions of customers is really important. Customer satisfaction is the leading indicator of how a company is doing.

Single greatest indicator of a company’s health

Carly’s single greatest factor as to whether a company is doing well or a company is doing poorly is customer satisfaction. This is why Carly boldly announced in 2002 that in a few years time HP would be the world leader in technology surpassing both IBM and Dell in sales. She knew this because she knew HP could replicate Dells cost structure, they could replicate their distribution and Dell had stopped innovating, and there customer satisfaction ratings were falling while HPs were going up.

Dell had quit innovating. They had stopped taking risks. They had stayed with the same competitive model for too long and their customer satisfaction was straight down.

A companies ability to take risks is also an indicator of a leading business.

Customers always know what’s wrong. And every time they do, it’s an opportunity.

Leadership

Carly then goes on to describe leadership further as:
1. Capability.
2. Collaboration.
3. Character.

Capability

Every company eventually hits a point where the old answers don’t work anymore. And when that happens it’s only creativity, risk taking that can save the company (innovators dilemma).

Learn something every day. Those most adaptive to change survive. True of species, organizations, and people.

You can’t ever settle in. Don’t get old before your time.

Collaboration

Good decisions are a result of diverse people coming together and examining every point of view in a deliberate, rigorous, process, and then making a decision.

Groupthink is the enemy. People all alight and get together and agree. It’s human nature because we all want to surround ourselves with people like us. It’s comfortable. It’s easier. You finish each others sentences. You can relate. But one day you are going to miss something.

The goal is to always build a diverse group of people. Because you make better decisions. It’s harder. But it’s better because you get better answers.

Anybody can play today. But not if we can’t leverage. So learning how to collaborate with people with different POV than you is a very important leadership skill.

Character

Character is about judgement, perspective, and ethics.

Judgement – being able to take loads of information, and distill it down to it’s core. Should I act? Or should I pause. Do I have all the information? How do I filter the good information from the bad. The necessary from the irrelevant. That’s judgement.

Perspective – understand the difference between the interesting vs the important. Not everyone is like you. Need to understand those differences. Carly encourage people to read history, art, travel the world. All that gives you perspective about what’s out there.

Ethics – in most organizations and in most endeavors if you do things that are on the line, or one the edge, you can get better results in the short term. That’s why a lot of businesses tolerate businesses that are on the edge.

Values are what guides your behavior when no one is looking and don’t think anyone is going to find out. Leaders most important job is making people understand that values actually matter. Ethics count.

And that we are not going to do things on the edge, because eventually we are going to cross the line. Devastating things then happen. You can’t hide anything anymore. So you can’t get close to the edge.

Summary

This was an awesome talk about an awesome leader and I encourage anyone interested to listen to the full podcast on the link(s) below.

Note this is also available on iTune as a podcast (great for commutes).

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=1557

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=1679