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What Type of Leader HP Needs Next

Richard Davis, Ph.D., Author, The Intangibles of Leadership

Guest Author Blog by Richard Davis, Ph.D., Author, The Intangibles of Leadership

Another one bites the dust.

What else is there to say when the CEO of a company like Hewlett-Packard is forced to resign following allegations of ‘inappropriate behavior’? Of course, what’s truly stunning about this story is that Mark Hurd was hired as the safe, low-maintenance executive in the wake of previous CEO, and current Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina.

Hurd was long known as the “UnCarly,” with a management style focused on cost-cutting and efficiency. He dove deeply into the details and has an uncanny memory for financial details. Fiorina, of course, led with her vision and charisma. She was flashy, attention-seeking, and acquisitive. She famously had her picture hung in the lobby of HP headquarters between founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, an act that was sacrilege to longtime employees and business observers who revered the two men for building the corporate culture forever known as “the HP Way”.

Fiorina and Hurd couldn’t have been more different CEOs.

Guest Author Blog

So what now for HP? Should the board look for the “UnMark”?

What kind of CEO is best suited to lead the company into the future? I suggest that the board look for the following four qualities of leadership:

1) Integrity. OK, there’s almost no need to state the obvious here, but the next CEO of HP better be squeaky clean. They need someone who has a strong moral code, maintains confidentiality, and avoids politics. Unfortunately, integrity is difficult to assess in people: it’s too easy for the savvy candidate to say all the right things. HP should look into candidates’ lives for patterns of fair play and treating others respectfully. Avoid namedroppers and attention-seekers. Press them hard on the basis for key decisions throughout their lives: why they made the decisions they did.

2) Wisdom. HP is a very complex environment right now. They need someone who is smart, reflective, and measured. The person needs to have perspective on life and leadership, and be able to communicate the way forward in a manner that will have maximum impact. They need a wise leader. John Rowe, CEO of energy provider Exelon Corporation, is a fine example of wisdom in leadership.

3) Executive Maturity. There will be tremendous pressure on the next CEO. The person will be scrutinized by shareholders, analysts, employees, and journalists. Emotions are high within HP, and the CEO will need to be a calming force. Composure, aplomb, and emotional control are necessary at this time. Lack of impulsivity and the ability to delay gratification when necessary are key attributes for this leader’s success.

...What I was really witnessing was true executive presence. This intangible is talked about a lot, often in different ways. In the entertainment industry, people talk of the “X” factor; in federal politics, of some individuals appearing “presidential.
Excerpt, The Intangibles of Leadership
Richard Davis

4) Fallibility. Both Hurd and Fiorina were untouchable. They carefully controlled their image so as to appear perfect. They masked their weaknesses and otherwise demonstrated utter perfectionism, although in different ways. This is where HP’s new CEO really needs to be a departure from predecessors. HP must look for someone with humility, who learns from mistakes, who is open to ideas and feedback, and invites challenge. Look for someone who is able to connect with employees no matter their position in the hierarchy.

In conducting their search, the board should be clear about what these intangible qualities mean and how to assess potential successors for them. This requires time, objectivity, and deep insight into people. I fear the HP board could get swept up with external candidates who have the right pedigrees and say the right things, but not have the right character to do what is necessary. They need to avoid the psychological traps of the past and due their proper management due diligence. If they are successful, they will find someone who is fallible, emotionally mature, wise, and above all, has the strength of character to truly bring back “the HP Way.”


Richard Davis
Richard Davis

Richard Davis, Ph.D, is a management psychologist and partner at RHR International LLP http://www.rhrinternational.com

He is author of the recently released book, The Intangibles of Leadership(Jossey-Bass).

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