3 Questions About Leadership

Convening Leaders 2023 speakers Carly Fiorina and Leo Piccioli offer a glimpse into their own styles of leadership.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Leadership is about solving problems and changing the order of things for the better. It’s about unlocking the potential of those around you.”

Carly Fiorina

The great leaders of the 21st century … are capable of looking long-term, sharing their vision, and making sure that short-term actions add up to that vision.”

Leo Piccioli

If you have any doubt that the pandemic has caused leaders to reevaluate their management style, just Google “post-pandemic management skills” — and be prepared to scroll through 111 million results. What it takes to lead teams today will be a recurring topic throughout the Convening Leaders 2023 program in Columbus, Ohio, Jan. 8–11, where participants will hear from a range of leaders from within and outside the events industry.

Among those Convening Leaders speakers with a corporate leadership pedigree are Carly Fiorina and Leo Piccioli. Fiorina is best known for having served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005 — the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. She ran for U.S. president in 2016, has headed up several philanthropic organizations tackling global poverty and promoting female empowerment, and is the best-selling author of three books. Today, as founder and chairman of Carly Fiorina Enterprises, Fiorina works with companies to create an equitable workplace culture, build high-performance teams, and teach the fundamentals of leadership. Fiorina is facilitating the Tuesday Main Stage, a panel on the global travel and hospitality outlook for 2023 and beyond.

Greater Buenos Aires–based Piccioli, who is presenting a breakout session on leadership styles, served as managing director of the Latin American market for Staples from 2013-2016, and has spoken around the world on leadership, values, and innovation. He has been named the “Executive of the Year” by the Asociación de Dirigentes de Empresa (business leaders association) and has written several best-selling books on leadership and technological change.

We asked Fiorina and Piccioli to answer the same three questions about leadership via separate emails. Although they come from different parts of the world with different life experiences, both landed on similar themes: the importance of humility in leading others as well as the value of thinking in the long term while solving problems in the short term.

If you compare leadership styles from when you started your career to now, what has/has not changed?

Fiorina: When I first started out in business, I thought leadership was defined by title and position — who had the best parking space, who had the best perks, who had the biggest budget, who had the most people reporting to them. But I realized that there were a lot of people with positions and titles and perks who weren’t actually leading. Despite their power and fancy titles, nothing was getting better. Leadership is about solving problems and changing the order of things for the better. It’s about unlocking the potential of those around you. No matter where you are or what your circumstances are, you can lead.

Piccioli: “You are not paid to think”[is something I heard] as I was beginning my brief career in finance at a mid-sized corporation in the early 1990s. Many of the managers I met at that time were similar to the teachers I had: Most of them acted as if they really knew everything and we simply should obey.

It was consistent with the need of companies — a workforce to do repetitive tasks.

The problem today is that technology accelerates and takes over all those boring, repetitive tasks for which we were trained. The old-fashioned bosses, those who expected mostly obedience and were successful are — suddenly, in their view — lost, with new generations expecting leaders they want to follow. Leaders with a mission and strong values. As technology evolves, humans will take care only of innovation, empathy, entertainment, and other mostly human tasks. They all need engaged leaders who understand that change is the new black, who have a strong bias towards automation, and have not only great speaking skills but mostly fantastic listening skills. “I pay you to think,” they may say.

What is the one leadership quality you think is most important today and most difficult for leaders to embody — and why?

Fiorina: Humility. Leaders need to have the humility to say what they don’t know and acknowledge what they haven’t gotten right. Leaders must be self-aware and clear-eyed about why a mistake was made and have the perspective to understand what important lessons were learned.

Piccioli: Many will say it is empathy, since it is our complaint when a leader does not do what we want him or her to do. However, there is a larger hurdle for leadership. Despite our lifespans expanding, we live in a more anxious world. Interruptions, the competition for our attention between streaming, news, notifications, and our biases towards trying to satisfy all of them, are making humans in general, and workers in particular, more short-term looking.

The great leaders of the 21st century are those who are capable of looking long-term, sharing their vision, and making sure that short-term actions add up to that vision.

Despite the appearance of the contrary, we have more time.

What is the one piece of advice you have for leaders at all levels who are facing current challenges (e.g., quiet quitting, burnout, the talent shortage, and the Great Resignation)?

Fiorina: When leaders face challenges, immediate short-term problems must be solved and solved quickly. However, a leader can balance their focus on the near term with a willingness to contemplate the longer term. Sometimes, the longer-term impact is unknowable, and decisions must be made immediately. So be it. Most of the time, though, a balanced view of both the short and the longer term is possible and advisable. A disciplined focus on problem-solving, now and going forward, forces a leader to contemplate the lasting consequences of their necessary, short-term choices. And that problem-solving discipline yields better solutions now and fewer problems down the road.

Piccioli: We must remain humble. I would suggest assuming that the changes we observe are here to stay and, instead of fighting them (e.g., retention plans, a massage chair at the office, more money), adapt our teams and processes to go with the flow — giving more freedom (WFH, for example), reducing onboarding processes, laying off stress (but not layoffs!), etc. The key question I ask myself all the time is: What if this was a feature instead of a bug?

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

Convening Leaders 2023 will be held Jan. 8–11 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. To learn more and register for the in-person and digital event, visit conveningleaders.org.