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Carla Harris on How to Lead and Succeed

Carla HarrisWhen Carla Harris first went to Harvard 30-some years ago, she had two beliefs that she ended up adjusting. The first was that Harris, now a vice chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley, would be a lawyer.

The second: that only her professors would have things to teach her. “I actually learned as much from my classmates, who were from all over the country and the world,” she says. “The many different perspectives opened my eyes to everything, from the Holocaust to the best library to study in.”

No doubt, Harris’s adaptability as well as her growth mindset has helped her compete on Wall Street—and conquer it. In a couple of days, she will be a keynote speaker at the Massachusetts Conference for Women; in the meantime, here, the author of Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over Your Career shares some of the lessons she has learned while climbing the corporate ladder:

Best Career Advice

“When I was a third-year associate, a senior-level woman told me that I was too eager to admit when I didn’t know something. She told me to be more like the boys: they were frequently wrong but never in doubt. My takeaway was to speak with authority when positing an answer, but to leave myself room and say that I wanted to double-check it.”

On Working and Competing Mostly with Men

“I’m asked about this often and have three tips. First, recognize your power and own it. If you were invited into that environment, that room, that conversation—then you deserve to be there. Never question it.

“Second, understand that you have the advantage. If you are the only woman there, then everybody notices you and everybody is listening to what you will say. You don’t have to fight for airtime. That said, you better make sure you are prepared to deliver.

“Third, invest in relationships. In fact, just when you think you need to pull back and focus on the work is when you should push and put yourself forward. People are held back not because of the work they did but because of the lack of relationships with people who can speak on their behalf when they are not in the room and help them move forward.”

The Quality You Need to Succeed

“Resilience. The higher you want to go, the more resilience you need. Inevitably, things won’t go your way or as expected, so you must accept that failure is part of succeeding and learn from the disappointment. Use it to launch your next move. If you don’t learn from the unexpected challenge, and you just sit there, you will not realize all of that which you were meant to do.”

On Leading

“I’ve had a front-row seat to a lot of great, impactful leaders in my 29 years on Wall Street, and this is my curated definition of what it is to be a powerful leader, with each letter in ‘leader’ standing for something:

‘L’ is for leverage. Impactful leaders leverage other people’s experience, relationships and intellect in order to get to the right answer and achieve their goals.

‘E’ is for efficient. A powerful leader defines what success looks like, because when the team knows what they are playing for, then they will outperform.

‘A’ is for authentic. It’s imperative that you be your true self. Only then will the people working with you be who they fully are, which will enable them to outperform.

‘D’ is for decisive and diversity. For any kind of innovative idea, you got to have a lot of different people in the room.

‘E’ is for engaged. To inspire and retain talented people, which is a leader’s job, you need to be highly engaged and transparent. And finally,

‘R’ stands for risk-taker. You can’t further growth or achieve your agenda without taking risks.”

Key to Success

“Decide and define for yourself what success is professionally, personally, philanthropically and spiritually. Then achieve those goals, and use your success to inspire others to achieve their goals. Success is personal and you can only truly attain it when you’re using your own ambitions as a measuring stick—not someone else’s report card.”

Carla Harris will be a keynote speaker at the 2016 Massachusetts Conference for Women on December 8.

▶ Read more from the December 2016 newsletter.

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