In case you haven’t heard, presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina is a Republican.
Despite Fiorina’s significant business accomplishments, we live in a world where one’s political affiliation seems to trump all else — a world where the “left” and the “right” have been accused of placing an emphasis on being right as opposed to doing right; a world where the skill of listening has tragically diminished.
Fiorina offers a more sensible view: “From my experience, people agree on about 85 percent of the issues and politicians argue about the rest of it. Politics magnifies differences.”
However, Fiorina skillfully focuses less on differences in favor of areas of agreement: “Everybody actually wants to live a life of dignity, purpose and meaning, but they have to believe they have a chance to.”
In 1999, Fiorina was named chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, thereby becoming the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 business. Much has been written — both positive and negative — of her time on the job.
Lest we forget the swift exit often faced by those sitting atop the corporate ladder, Fiorina’s departure came with more media fanfare than would likely accompany most male C-suite partings.
Gender-bias aside, as a leader, Fiorina has fashioned a refreshingly simple platform: “Unlocking potential of the people I work with is the highest calling of leadership. In my experience, no matter what the setting is, people have far more potential than they realize — so organizations have more potential than they usually utilize.”
Since leaving Hewlett-Packard in 2005, Fiorina has served in a large number of advisory and policy-making positions, and has lent her support to several civic organizations.
Though she is keenly aware of being a woman in a male-dominated world, Fiorina was physiologically reminded of this reality in 2009. Yes, she lost her Senate bid to Barbara Boxer of California the following year, but she triumphed personally: Fiorina became a breast cancer survivor — an act that elevated Fiorina’s fearless factor to new heights.
“Before I had cancer, it looked like I was fearless,” she says. “Sometimes courage is not the absence of fear; it’s acting in spite of fear. I’m not sure I would have [run for President] before I had cancer. There actually isn’t anything to be afraid of.”
As described in her recent book, “Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey,” Fiorina is understandably still mourning the 2009 loss of her 35-year-old stepdaughter, Lori Ann — a situation Fiorina thoughtfully explains: “She struggled with addictions and they overcame her.”
However, Lori Ann Fiorina’s life is celebrated every day her stepmother moves forward to support women’s issues. Through heartache, Lori Ann added even more fearlessness to her stepmother’s agenda.
Fiorina explains: “Her death is probably why I am so passionate about wasted potential because death is not the only thing that wastes people’s potential. Many people’s potential is wasted or overlooked or dismissed or never given a chance.”
Fiorina’s commitment to Lori Ann’s memory can be found in her run for the White House, as well as in her role as founder and chairwoman of the women-focused Unlocking Potential Project.
“Women are half the nation. Women also represent the most underutilized potential in the world. If we want to solve problems, women have to play,” she explains.
Just as I was about to leave a whimsically adorned room at Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, Florida, our interview host, Fiorina called my attention to a sign on the door and playfully inquired: “Do you know the words to the ‘Clean-Up Song’? Because I do.”
Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere.
Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.
Did I ever anticipate that a presidential candidate would sing Barney the dinosaur’s “Clean-Up Song” to me? No.
Though TV’s “Barney & Friends” showcased young boys and girls working as equals, the demonstrative Tyrannosaurus rex’s lesson of equality hasn’t always transferred into the professional woman’s reality.
In fact, shouldn’t today’s intellectual “clean up” revolve around the rethinking of our biased preconceptions and prejudices — especially when those ideologies negatively impact the women in our lives?
Despite the adversity-ridden slippery slope of the campaign trail, Fiorina maintains: “One of the things that always drives people apart is when someone is judgmental. If we judge others, we are going to separate ourselves from one another. No one of us is any better than any other one of us.”
Now, consider this challenge: Forget about politics. Forget about what you thought you knew about Fiorina. Instead, think of your grandmother, mother, sister, wife and/or daughter.
What’s more, any male whose resume includes the job title of “father” also has a 50 percent chance of having a daughter. Regardless of your political beliefs, your daughter needs you to passionately defend her right to reach her potential.
In Fiorina’s words: “One woman can change the world because one woman changes the lives of everyone around her.”
Does Fiorina expect you to always agree with her? No. Am I suggesting you vote for her? No, that’s your decision. However, placing a greater emphasis on the power of listening works in every professional setting, political or otherwise. Just as there is a gap between reading and comprehending, there is a chasm between listening and hearing.
Finally, to my daughter, 2015 Florida Gulf Coast University graduate and budding social worker Maribeth Jones, you have my heart, my support — and my vote of confidence. As luck would have it, you have Fiorina’s as well.
Randall Kenneth Jones is president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida. He is also a speaker, writer, professional storyteller and creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org. Reach him at www.randallkennethjones.com