Many years ago I worked at Hewlett Packard. I had the pleasures of meeting every single one of their CEO’s from Bill and Dave all the way through to
Carly Fiorina. They were all amazing individuals with very different personalities, skills and attitudes.
While I never had the chance to play chess with any of them; If I had I would have expected to lose quickly and dramatically against all of them… except Ms. Fiorina. I don’t think Chess is her game.
Let me explain.
When you play chess there are several things you need.
1. You need to understand the moves, how each piece moves and the objective of the game (to capture the other player’s king).
2. You need to be able to develop a strategy to allow you to capture your opponents king without them capturing your king.
3. You need to be able to think ahead, recognizing how the other player will act in response to your move and how to react to the moves they are making.
I suspect Ms. Fiorina would be excellent at steps 1 and 2, but have no idea how to do step 3.
My experience in watching her was that she was exceptional at building a strategy to achieve a goal, but absolutely terrible at making sure that all the people who worked for her followed her lead and did what was required to deliver the goal.
I saw her tell her management team exactly what she required from them. And then I saw her management team ignore her direction and do whatever they pleased. The results were messy to say the least.
What I didn’t see was her dealing with this direct disobedience. Either she wasn’t aware of it or she decided to ignore their lack of professional respect, either way the outcome was not of the highest quality of leadership.
I’ve read her book, and watched with interest her start into California politics. And by chance a few years ago I caught a speech she gave in Sydney while on a world tour with Bill Clinton. They just happened to have the event in the hotel I was staying in. And I’m hoping she has either learned some dramatic lessons over the past decade or quickly moves out of the Republican potentials for Presidential nomination.
I think that on a chess board she would have no idea how her opponent would react, and would be shocked that her pieces were quickly destroyed and her king captured. If she could purchase additional chess pieces and change the rules, different story, but that’s not how chess is played.
When she joined HP as CEO, I was excited, but within a year I had decided to leave the company I’d been at for a dozen years because what she was doing was just that awful. Many friends and people I respect stayed at HP, but to this day I cannot remember anyone saying a good word about her leadership.
Maybe my experiences with Carly are not the experiences of others, and maybe I just caught her on bad days. But it was a lot of really bad days.