Carly Fiorina: Why you shouldn't underestimate her

Story highlights

  • Jeffrey Pfeffer: Carly Fiorina has mastered some important lessons in leadership that are relevant to everyone
  • Fiorina should not be underestimated as a presidential candidate, regardless of the opinions about her career at H-P

Jeffrey Pfeffer is Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. His latest book, "Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time" was just published by HarperBusiness. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)While pundits endlessly debate Carly Fiorina's record at Hewlett-Packard — how much of the stock price decline during her tenure was her fault; was the Compaq merger, about to be undone in the impending split of the company, smart or dumb; how much did H-P really increase its sales and inventiveness during her reign, and so forth — there's one thing no one should question: Fiorina has mastered some important lessons in leadership, lessons relevant for anyone.

Here are four things that anyone, running for president or not, can and should do:
Number one, tell your story. If you won't, no one else will. By telling your story repeatedly, you can construct your own narrative. When Fiorina was fired and left H-P, The New York Times reported that her exit brought her $42 million. That figure soon became widely reported in the media as a $42 million severance. Fiorina vigorously rebutted the amount, noting that it included restricted stock she had earned, pension benefits and stock options, compensation that would not normally be considered "severance."
    Jeffrey Pfeffer
    Moreover, even before the current campaign, Fiorina wrote an autobiography to provide her account of her many successes as a business executive. Of course, she cherry-picked data to present her track record in the most favorable light. But that is something everyone can and should do: Highlight those parts of job performance where you shine, and ignore or downplay weak results.
    Second, Fiorina has and is building a brand — a public presence. Recognizable brands have real economic value. Sarah Palin went from being mayor of a small town in Alaska to being governor to taking in a reported $12 million by becoming a well-known public figure. Running for president, even if unsuccessful, transforms people into public figures often widely sought on the speaking circuit, so in many ways, they win even if they lose. Everyone can and should build a public brand because no one is going to get picked for a job, promoted, or be accorded other opportunities if others don't know them. So build your own visibility — by blogging, publishing articles, giving talks, becoming active in civic organizations. Visibility doesn't correlate perfectly with earnings capacity or being hired for a great job, but it helps.
    Third, don't worry about being liked — Fiorina doesn't. In an oft-told story of being subjected to sexist comments — incl