What does it mean to lead and win in today’s sales environment? We had the tremendous opportunity to hear from a top business leader who is also an author, singer, public speaker, Harvard graduate, and more. She shared her perspective on constructing a culture of authenticity and business that withstands any and all change.
At Unleash 2021, our CRO Anna Baird spoke with Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor of Morgan Stanley. Her list of accolades is extensive, including being named to Fortune Magazine’s list of “The 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America,” Fortune’s Most Influential List, and U.S. Bankers Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance (2009, 2010, 2011).
Carla shared her wisdom around overcoming obstacles, conceptualizing winning strategies, and directing momentum no matter the environment. Below are highlights from the conversation.
(Note: We’ve condensed and edited the original discussion for this post.)
Leadership Wisdom with Carla Harris
Carla, you have an amazing business philosophy around the “success equation.” You wrote about this in your book “Expect to Win” alongside bits of wisdom you term “Carla’s pearls.” Can you give an overview of that philosophy?
Carla: Absolutely. Carla's pearls are the tools that help maximize your success in the seat you’re sitting in. They are things like authenticity as your distinct competitive advantage, being the architect of your own agenda, and understanding the 90-day rule. That rule simply means that it’s natural for people to start evaluating you in 90 days of starting at a new organization. So, you should focus on putting points on the board within those first 90 days.
One of my most important pearls is that perception is the co-pilot to reality. How people perceive you will directly impact how they deal with you. More importantly, you have the power to train people to think about you in the way that you want them to.
Another is understanding the three most important relationships in your career — the advisor, the mentor, and, most important, the sponsor. Other pearls I like to share are around leveraging your voice, the importance of taking risks, understanding the power of your network, and that balance is the key for longevity and long-term success. Of course, my final pearl is having that "expect to win" mentality.
How can we adopt these philosophies as companies and teams, not just as individuals?
Carla: Companies should be intentional about asking themselves whether they have an environment where people feel like they can bring their authentic selves to work. And if not, how can they create that environment? Companies should stress to their people, "We want to know who you are. We want all of you to walk in every day." When people feel like they can be their true selves, they always outperform. That accrues to the leader's and company's benefit.
What do you think it takes to win in today’s environment?
Carla: As a leader, you must be intentional about showing up as a leader every day. We're in an environment we've never been in before. We're going into territories unknown. For teams to follow you into territories unknown and take the risk of doing things in a different way, they need to trust you.
More broadly, you should also think that way with your clients. Every company should be grossly preoccupied with how to create, build, instill, and amplify trust with clients. Frankly, the idea of clients sticking with you and believing in you has been pressure tested over the past year or more. Companies must think about reestablishing that trust and refreshing it over and over.
To win, companies must think about authentically building relationships with their teams, reestablishing relationships with customers, and making sure their voice is the one that customers hear. Plus, innovation has sped up over this period. Customers have gotten used to a higher velocity of engagement, and they are valuing content and frequency of touch in a different way. Those are going to be new parts of the success equation going forward in any type of customer interaction.
In addition to your professional life, you often talk about your personal accomplishments. So, let's dive deeper on the concept of bringing your whole self to work. Why do you think it’s so important for individuals to have a rich life outside the office?
Carla: Because it makes you a balanced person. If you have something else in your life that's bringing you joy besides just work, it gives you more to share with your clients. Especially if you're in the sales business, it becomes a point of differentiation. If you don't have anything to talk about besides the business or market, how do customers differentiate you from the next salesperson?
Then, they also know there are other things that you care about. Not to mention, it might give you something else to talk about with that client and then you're off to the races in a conversation about x, y, z. It gives you something else to share and amplifies who you are as a person — ultimately, underscoring the relationship aspect of the exchange.
You talk about the focus on the customer experience and connectivity, which is near and dear to our hearts as an engagement solution for go-to-market teams. What are the components to success for that strategy at Morgan Stanley?
Carla: One of the most important components to success is to be a good listener. That may seem obvious, but people will always tell you what they value if you just listen. You need only put forth the question and leave the space for them to deliver that which they value to you. And then you can engage and strategize on how you might deliver that back to them.
Everyone values being heard. So, one of the things I say to a client is, "Okay, let me repeat what I think I heard you say,” or “did I understand you to say A, B and C?" The person can't help but think, "Wow, she was listening." You generate immediate currency in that exchange that you can now invest back into that relationship.
Want to learn more? Join us on the road this fall for Unleash Summit Series 2021! You can also hear from other notable leaders as they share expert ideas for navigating sales today at our other upcoming sales events and summits.
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