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This is the story of an employee who was fired for poor performance. Although she happened to be a CEO, her mistakes were human errors from which we all can learn.

Carly Fiorina was a senior executive who seemed to have the qualities necessary to turn around an $80 billion corporation like Hewlett Packard – until recently, when her board of directors fired her.

Five years ago, Fiorina came to HP from Lucent Technologies, where she had worked her way to the top following an outstand-ing sales career. The HP board had seen her as a decisive, self-reliant and polished CEO candidate.

Later, she proved able to visualize the big picture and willing to take risks. But she was reluctant to delegate authority and unresponsive to criticism. As Hewlett Packards chief executive, she favored boldness, rather than precision execution and follow-through. Fond of the dramatic gesture, she was less interested in the mundane decisions necessary to keep the company running smoothly.

To some employees Fiorina seemed charismatic, but her abrupt, autocratic style alienated many HP veterans, who also felt that she did not have the technical expertise to recognize the consequences of her cost-cutting mandates.

Over the next few years HP turned inward, slowed its innovation and failed to capitalize on its dominant position in printers and imaging. Morale sagged and key employees left. It was at this point that Fiorina negotiated the $19 billion Compaq acquisition, a dramatic gesture which would temporarily mask her problems, but which would ultimately lead to her undoing.

The ensuing bitter shareholder fight, primarily against Walter Hewlett, an HP board member and son of one of its founders, caused the company to lose its focus and presented gleeful competitors with a field day. Carly Fiorina, with a huge expenditure of her personal credibility, narrowly won the struggle. But, forced in the heat of battle to justify the acquisition of Compaqs low-margin personal computer business, she made promises of higher profits which later proved untenable.

Toward the end of her reign, Fiorina, possibly to take the spotlight off herself, fired senior executives whom she blamed for the mediocre performance of the newly merged company. Income projections were being missed and investors had lost confidence. Amazingly, HPs board of directors continued to express support, and Fiorinas star power seemed to dim only slightly. But then two important events occurred.

First, members of the board recognized that they might be financially or even criminally liable for neglecting their legal responsibilities as directors. For the first time, individual WorldCom and Enron directors had recently been forced to pay substantial fines and restitution from their personal funds due to their lack of board governance. That was a shocker.

Second, Carly Fiorina made the mistake of arguing too long and too hard against the increased delegation of authority which the board of directors wanted. As the result of an evaluation led by board member Patricia Dunn, herself a former chief executive of another company, it was determined that Fiorina had consolidated too much of HPs decision-making power in her own office, slowing down the execution of plans and diluting the authority of senior executives.

This disagreement with the board was terminal. Bosses, even board members, are human; never argue unreasonably with them. Carly Fiorina had to leave.

Can we learn from this employees experiences? I believe we can.

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