The leadership and communication conundrum of Carly Fiorina

Here is the next installment of our series of blogs about Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina to discuss how these women leaders show up, achieve success, and deliver their message as they vie for the Oval Office.  We are not offering political analysis or making a voting recommendation. We are looking at these candidates as women who have the attention of a nation. How did they come about this powerful position and how are they using it?


I’m a little bit stymied.

When Carly Fiorina is on stage, she smoothly and deftly answers pointedly worded questions, parries with her Republican challengers and directly attacks the Democratic Party.  The usual political pundits congratulate her on her preparedness for the debates and having crisp answers. The mainstream media highlights her one liners aimed at Trump and his misogyny.  After every debate, she raises her profile and her approval points.

leadership - carly fiorina

MILWAUKEE, WI – NOVEMBER 10 (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

When you watch her on stage, she leads. She is pointed and direct. Among the blustering and posturing that was on display in the latest debate, particularly between Donald Trump and John Kasich, Carly spoke up and spoke out with a clear message and clear agenda.  She did not get ruffled. She did not sneer or make nasty, derogatory remarks. She focused on her own talking points and delivered them with confidence and passion.

In short, she communicates like a leader.

But – and here’s where I am confused – then she drops – drops in points, drops in approval, drops her message and out of sight.

Where does she go?

The presence we see on stage for these broadcast debates recedes to obscure events and limited media coverage. She has a unique position – the only woman in the Republican line up.  She has business experience that puts her credibility on par with Donald Trump. She has a unique tax code plan that should be under discussion as much as Ted Cruz’s flat tax.  Her positions are comparatively not any less defensible than her competitors.  And her story – as a woman, as a business leader, as a cancer survivor – is equally compelling, if not more so, than her peers. And yet, after every debate, during which she has performed powerfully, she dissolves into silentness.

Perhaps this is a strategic campaign ploy that I am not smart enough to figure out. This concerns me, however, because I should be on her campaign team’s radar as part of her target audience – so she should be highly visible to me during this competitive primary season. So I don’t get it. And as a result, I am not ‘getting’ her.

What I can tell you, though, is that it’s not a smart leadership ploy. Leaders are supposed to find a stage, share big thoughts, provide keen insights and clear direction. But then, the leaders we are loyal to, whom we choose to follow and support with our actions, words and dollars, those leaders remain visible and transparent. They take the journey with us because they are leading us.

I’m interested in understanding her energy.  Is the persona she brings on national stage the same one that shows up at county fairs, in blogs, in media coverage and at local fundraisers?  What kind of energy does she bring to the tax code issue versus the Syrian refugee one?  I want to observe all the different aspects of Carly’s leadership energy and explore that with you.

missing leadershipBut I can’t find her. Perhaps it’s a sexism issue – Marco Rubio had no problem extending his visibility and speaking platform to several major television and radio networks in the days after the last debate. Neither did Jeb Bush. Perhaps the mass media outlets are not allowing her a platform to present because she’s not scoring as highly. When I Google the slate of candidates – Marco, Jeb, even John Kasich – over 20 articles across major television, radio and newspaper outlets pop up for the past three days. But when I put in Carly… six. Six pieces of coverage in three days.

Whatever the reason, Carly’s conundrum is that she can’t  showcase her leadership skills through her powerful communications skills if her communications platform is not in order.

Natalie Hahn O’Flaherty is a principal at Dirty Girls Consulting, offering programs that support women. Women work differently, think differently, and it is up to us to develop this difference into  our strength. We explore breaking free of traditional standards, accomplishing professional and personal goals to create an authentic, fully loved life. Read more Dirty Girl Consulting blogs here.

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