Carly Fiorina: Ethics in a Corporate Life | Summary and Q&A

March 2, 2011
Stanford eCorner
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Carly Fiorina: Ethics in a Corporate Life

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In this video, the speaker emphasizes the importance of ethics and values in leadership. They point out that while engaging in borderline behavior may produce short-term results, it ultimately leads to devastating consequences. With the era of constant communication and information, it is impossible to hide unethical behavior, and people will eventually find out. The speaker stresses the need for leaders to uphold a set of ethics and values to prevent crossing the line. Additionally, the video highlights the fear of change and how leaders can drive and facilitate positive change through effective collaboration.

Questions & Answers

Q: Why do some businesses tolerate behavior that is on the edge?

In most organizations, engaging in borderline behavior can produce better results in the short term. While this may seem like a rewarding strategy, it ultimately poses significant ethical concerns. Such behavior is often tolerated because of the notion that short-term gains outweigh the potential long-term repercussions.

Q: What is the role of values for leaders?

The speaker argues that a leader's most important responsibility is to ensure that everyone understands that values matter and ethics count. Values guide behavior when no one is watching, and they are essential in maintaining integrity and preventing unethical conduct. By prioritizing a set of values, leaders contribute to the establishment of an ethical culture within the organization.

Q: Why is it crucial to stay away from the edge and uphold a set of ethics and values?

When individuals engage in conduct that straddles the line between acceptable and unethical, there is a constant risk of crossing that line. The speaker highlights that devastating consequences can occur when people walk over the line, especially in today's era of constant communication and information flow. Upholding a set of ethics and values ensures that individuals maintain their integrity and prevent actions that could harm both themselves and the organization.

Q: Is there variation in ethics and values globally?

While there may be some variation in ethics and values across different cultures, most of the time, people understand what constitutes acceptable behavior and what is on the edge. The speaker acknowledges that ethics and values can differ around the world, but the general understanding of what is considered ethical or unethical remains relatively consistent. Regardless of the variation, the importance of maintaining ethical standards and avoiding borderline behavior is a universal concept.

Q: Why are people afraid of change?

The speaker asserts that fear stems from the uncertainty associated with change. Change disrupts the status quo and introduces unknown factors, making people uncomfortable and apprehensive. Individuals naturally resist change, even when it has the potential to be positive or beneficial. Overcoming this fear is crucial for progress and growth.

Q: What is the role of leaders when it comes to driving change?

The speaker argues that leaders have a unique responsibility to drive change within organizations. Because people generally fear change, it takes strong leadership to navigate and guide individuals through the process. Leaders need to communicate the vision, benefits, and purpose of the change while addressing concerns and motivating employees to embrace new ways of doing things.

Q: How does collaboration contribute to successful change?

Collaboration plays a vital role in facilitating effective change. The speaker emphasizes that meaningful collaboration enables individuals to achieve the best outcomes and answers. By leveraging diverse perspectives and harnessing collective intelligence, collaborative efforts generate innovative solutions and build consensus. Collaborating effectively enhances the implementation and acceptance of change initiatives.

Q: Why do only leaders drive change?

The speaker emphasizes the role of leaders in driving change because they possess the necessary authority, influence, and vision. Leadership enables individuals to take charge, make decisions, and guide others. Employees may resist change unless leaders lead the way, providing a sense of direction and demonstrating the benefits of the intended change.

Q: How can leaders ensure that values are upheld and ethics are maintained within their organizations?

Leaders can promote ethical conduct and uphold values within their organizations through several approaches. Firstly, they must lead by example and embody the desired ethical standards themselves. Additionally, leaders can establish clear expectations and guidelines for behavior, fostering a culture of integrity and accountability. Regular communication, training, and reinforcement of ethics also play a crucial role in creating an ethical work environment.

Q: How has the era of constant communication and information affected the ability to hide unethical behavior?

In today's era of always-on communication and information flow, it has become increasingly challenging to hide unethical behavior. The speaker highlights that people will eventually find out the truth due to the widespread availability and accessibility of information. Social media, whistleblowing mechanisms, and increased transparency have made it nearly impossible to keep unethical actions concealed for long. This underscores the importance of maintaining ethical behavior at all times.


This video emphasizes the significance of ethics and values in leadership. Leaders must prioritize and uphold a set of ethical standards to prevent crossing the line and facing the devastating consequences that follow. While change often instills fear in individuals, leaders have the responsibility to drive positive change and address resistance within their organizations. Effective collaboration plays a crucial role in achieving the best outcomes and facilitating successful change. In the era of constant communication, it is essential to avoid unethical behavior, as it is nearly impossible to hide such actions. Overall, leaders must champion ethics and values to create an ethical culture that ensures long-term success and integrity.

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