Pearls of Wisdom from Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris

Industry powerhouse Carla Harris, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, shared “hard earned and hard learned” pearls of wisdom from her 32-year career on Wall Street during NICSA’s Strategic Leadership Forum this month.

“I dare say that I’ve learned a few things about not only surviving, but more importantly, thriving, in the seat that you sit in or the seat that you aspire to sit in,” Harris said. “And frankly, that’s what the pearls are all about.”

Harris shared three main pieces of advice with the audience:

  • The Perception Pearl. According to Harris, how smart you are and how hard you work factor into your success, but a large component of the equation is the perception the marketplace has about you. Fortunately, you can train people to think about you the way they want you to think about you.

“Pick three adjectives that you would like people to use to describe you when you’re not in the room that are absolutely consistent with who you really are — however, pick three adjectives that are also valued in your organization,” Harris said. “Then, you must have consistent behavior around those three adjectives, and you must use this language in your environment, particularly when you are talking about yourself.”

  • The Currency Pearl. Harris said there are two types of currency in any environment: performance currency and relationship currency. “Performance currency is the currency that is generated by delivering that which was asked of you and a little bit extra,” she said. “That $1.50 works this way right back down to a dollar. Why? Because now you have created a new standard of excellence. Everybody knows that you will deliver. Everybody expects that you will do a great job, so there’s no longer a premium associated with your deliverable.”

Harris said the most valuable currency is that of relationships, which never experience diminishing marginal returns. “At a minimum, you must have a relationship with every seat that touches your seat,” she said. “If the only person that knows you’re doing a great job is your boss, then your ability to ascend is going to be vulnerable. It’s your job to make sure as many people as possible in the organization is aware of your outsized contribution.”

  • The Authenticity Pearl. “Your success, like mine, depends upon your ability to successfully penetrate relationships — and the easiest way to penetrate a relationship is to bring your authentic self to the table,” Harris said. “When you bring your authentic self to the table, people will trust you, and trust is at the heart of any successful relationship.”

Harris also provided her perspective on diversity and inclusion within the industry.

“I find it interesting that 30 years into this conversation around diversity and now diversity and inclusion, I still hear people say it’s the right thing to do and with all due respect, what’s most important is that it’s the commercial thing to do,” she said.

“You must start with a lot of different people in the room to get to that one idea that will allow you to innovate and capture and retain a leadership position in your industry — that is the business case around diversity.”



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