Carly Fiorina

The problem was that she started believing her own press clippings.

Commentator’s observation on the firing of Carly Fiorina as H-P CEO 


CF2Carly Fiorina was a top executive in a top industry. Her ouster last week made front page, as well as business page, news for two days. Since ascending to the leadership of H-P in 1999, she had been lavishly praised by the press and had become a celebrity in her own right. Some say that was the problem.

If that was the problem, it was one of long standing for us all. In ancient Rome a slave stood behind the emperor as he rode his chariot through cheering crowds and whispered over and over, “thou art mortal.” It would seem then, that losing ourselves in our own clippings has been a problem with humankind for a long time.

It’s a problem that teachers and parents are keenly aware of today. Once a kid is labeled as smart or slow, serious or silly, well behaved or trouble, the label is likely to stick. Kids find themselves living up—or down—to their labels with often disastrous results. “Smart” kids become over-achievers and burn out long before their potential is realized. The kid who was in a little bit of trouble ends up getting into a lot of trouble, because, “it’s what everyone expects.” And so it goes.

When we grow up, it goes on at work as well. Managers with reputations for being people-focused find it increasingly hard to discipline. Supervisors with reputations for toughness begin to take sadistic delight in seeing just how tough they can really be. Even worse, team members are labeled too; some are hard workers, some are slackers and some (heaven forbid!) are actually trouble-makers. What’s more, we find that these labels are confirmed on a near daily basis!

Sadly, when we start believing our own clippings or the clippings about others, we are headed down a dangerous path. It’s human nature to seek confirmation of our opinions and beliefs. If we think someone or something is, for example, good, we tend to notice things that support that “goodness” and discount or ignore things that suggest otherwise. So the next time you deal with someone who has a label, think twice. Make sure that the label fits—or if a label is really necessary at all. More to the point, the next time you’re pumped up by your own clippings, have a friend stand behind you and whisper in your ear, “thou art mortal too!”

Best of luck Carly!   —Ebert

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