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Sep 01 2021

Leading, leveraging and building your business in a post-COVID world

In a post-COVID world, it will not be business as usual; consumer behaviors, interests and demands have changed. This session will offer ways to preserve and grow your client relationships in this new environment.

By Carla Harris

Topics Covered

It is such an honor and a privilege to talk about leadership, leverage and lucidity in this environment. I particularly am excited to talk about leadership because I think that we are in an unprecedented time. Leadership does not just happen; you must be intentional. And you must be intentional around eight things, or “eight pearls,” as I like to call them.

If you want to show up in your client relationships and with the people whom you manage as a powerful, impactful, influential leader, the first pearl that you must be intentional about is your authenticity. Your authenticity is your distinct competitive advantage. Nobody can be you the way that you can be you. Anytime that you speak or behave in a way that is inauthentic to who you really are, you create competitive disadvantage because you are using valuable intellectual capacity that you could use to really hear what your clients or your teammates might be saying. When you bring your authentic self, people trust you, and trust is at the heart of any successful relationship.

When we went into this shelter-in-place environment, I started hearing from leaders from all over the world, asking me questions such as “How do I lead in this moment?” and “How do I stay engaged with my clients in this moment?” And I answered, “At a minimum, if you are a powerful, impactful, influential leader, you must do three things: You must be visible, you must be transparent, and you must be empathetic.”

You must be visible because your clients are used to being able to see you. Even though you must leverage technology, it is important that they see you. It is a poor substitute for being in the same place, but it has been proven to be a powerful instrument.

You must be transparent about what you know, what you don’t know and when you know it. When you are in the financial services seat, you are privy to lots of information that people in other industries do not have. Being able to share that information with your clients and your teams is a measure of transparency that is highly valued. That transparency underscores your authenticity.

And, lastly, you must be empathetic. Now is not the time to behave as if the pandemic is not impacting you. Now is the time to say, “Let me tell you how I’m managing it.” Sharing the methods that you have used also builds the relationships.

The next pearl is building trust. All great leaders understand that they cannot do it alone. The only way that your teams will give you their best thinking, the benefit of their previous experience and access to their networks is they must trust you. And the way that you build trust is to simply deliver over and over again. Whenever I am trying to penetrate a client relationship, I must listen closely to find out what the client really values and set myself up to deliver on that.

The next pearl of intentional leadership is creating clarity. Everybody’s trying to figure out what the future will look like on the other side of this pandemic, especially your clients. People will migrate toward the voice that is the strongest and has the most cogent argument. That is a real opportunity for all of us as leaders. Now is the time to create that clarity. And with respect to your teams, it means your job is to define “success.” When people know exactly what they are playing for, they are motivated and inspired to deliver beyond that which has already been defined. And fear has no place in your success equation. What is the worst that can happen if you take a risk and it doesn’t work out? You fail, but guess what? Failure always brings you a gift, and that gift is called “experience.” Now you know how to do it better; now you know how to do it differently; now you know how to do it successfully.

The next pearl of intentional leadership is creating other leaders. That is how you grow your power. The more that you can invest in other leaders, the more you have an opportunity to grow your market share and to expand your footprint. It’s clearly important that you invest in other people so that they can become leaders. If you focus on those things that only you can do as the leader, you leave yourself capacity to evolve into the very best leader, the most powerful leader that you can be.

The next pearl of intentional leadership is diversity. It used to be the case that companies had three constituents: the shareholders, the employees and the customers. Each of those constituents had a very powerful tool: The shareholders could sell the stock, the employees could quit, and the customers could vote with their feet. But now there is a fourth constituent, and it’s called “community.” It’s not local; it’s global. And it too has a powerful tool called “social media.” Within seconds, you can have massive brand degradation. Millennials and Gen Zers are quickly becoming the dominant population. They have grown up in a very different environment where they value diversity, where there’s a smart African American kid on the left, a smart Hispanic kid on the right, a smart Asian kid in front of them and a smart Indian kid behind them. That’s what excellence looks like.

The next pearl of intentional leadership is all about innovation. It is the dominant, competitive parameter across all industries. It is your job to teach your teams how to innovate. How do you teach people how to innovate? You must teach them how to fail. When somebody on your team takes a risk, it is your job to make sure that you celebrate the fact that they took the risk, teach the team what they learned and now pivot and go into the next try.

The next pearl of intentional leadership is inclusivity. How do you show up as an inclusive leader? You simply solicit other people’s voices and communicate that you value their contribution. No. 1, you say, “I see you.” And No. 2, you say, “I hear you.” As a powerful leader, you have done two very important things. You have put everybody’s fingerprints on the blueprint, and you have underscored the value of who they are and their contribution.

And lastly, you must be comfortable calling a thing a thing, no matter how bad that thing might be. When you are honest about an adverse situation, or you are transparent about the good, the bad and the ugly, people trust you even more.

The thing that holds all of these pearls together is courage. It takes courage to call a thing a thing. We have all been in situations when we knew something should have been said, and we simply looked down at our shoes. It takes courage to be seen as an inclusive leader and to invite your teams into the solution-making process. It takes courage to teach people how to fail, especially when they are deathly afraid of failing. It takes courage to be intentional around diversity because we all are vulnerable to unconscious bias. It takes courage to create other leaders, especially if you are unsure of your own leadership trajectory. It takes courage to create clarity when you cannot see. It takes courage to engage enough with your clients and your teams to build trust. And it takes courage to bring your authentic self into any environment, which is why so many people are challenged to do so. If you want to be seen as a powerful, impactful, influential leader, you must both expect and strategize to win.

Carla Harris is the vice chairman, managing director and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley. She is responsible for increasing client connectivity to enhance revenue generation across the firm. In her 30-year career, Harris has had extensive industry experience in the sectors of technology, media, retail, telecommunications, transportation, industrial and health care. In 2013, she was appointed by former President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council.