Carla Harris on How to Serve Your Followers


At Leadercast Live 2019, Carla Harris, vice chairman and managing director of Morgan Stanley, defined a healthy team as one that embraces authenticity, collaborates, manages conflict and differences productively, and champions encouragement. 

Carla's 8-Step Challenge to Being a Servant Leader:

1. Focus on your own authenticity. Embrace your skills and interests to leverage relationships and be comfortable in your own skin.

2. Build trust. This happens when you deliver results over and over again. Carla suggests thinking of four things you can do for your client before you ask for anything. 

3. Create clarity. People are motivated to outperform if they have a clear goal. Even if you cannot determine what the goal will be six months from now, set a clear one for each day.

4. Produce other leaders. Leadership is a journey from execution to empowerment. Amplify your impact as a leader by raising others up.

5. Seek diversity. If you have homogenous thoughts at your decision-making table, you will have gaps in the market. 

6. Innovate. You have to teach your team how to fail because if they’re scared of failure, they will not innovate. Make sure they know failure will not result in an adverse reaction from you.

7. Be inclusive. Ask others how you can show up as an inclusive leader. 

8. Use your voice. Then, give everyone else a voice so they feel ownership.


Well, good morning, Leadercast. It is really an honor and a privilege to be here, and I am so excited to talk about this topic today, "Leading Healthy Teams." I have a few pearls is I like to call them, my hard earned and hard learn pearls after being a woman on Wall Street, as of this summer, for 32 years. I've learned a few things about leadership since I've had the privilege and the honor of taking hundreds of companies public, doing lots of common stock transactions. I've had an opportunity to sit at the feet of some great leaders, and then not so much. So, as a result, I've come up with my own view of what I think powerful, impactful, influential leadership looks like, and you need to be that kind of leader in order to lead healthy teams.

So, before I get into that, let's talk about what is a healthy team. In my view, a healthy team is really about five things. Number one, it's a team that embraces authenticity. Any time any of us is in an environment where we can be who we really are, we will always outperform and that will directly accrue to the productivity of your team. So a healthy team embraces and encourages an environment where people can be who they really are. 

A healthy team also embraces collaboration. In fact, they get excited. They get more productive when they can work on something together because, you see, a healthy team is compiled of winners. And winners understand that there is no monopoly on intelligence. You won't always have the best idea, you won't always have the right idea, but somebody on that team has the intellect, the experience, or the relationships that will allow the team to successfully prosecute any endeavor. 

A healthy team also frankly embraces conflict. We know it's going to come, but a healthy team will embrace conflict productively. And what does that mean? That you have a common ground mentality, that you know that you know that you know that no matter what we will and can find the common ground even if the common ground is that we will agree to disagree.

A healthy team also embraces differences. They understand the fact that every person on that team is unique. Every person on that team is different. That is a personal advantage to everybody on the team. Why? Because you're different than I am, I now get the benefit of learning about your perspective, of learning about your background, of learning about your intellect. And because I have any kind of interaction with you and you are different, you have now just added to my own intellectual and experiential tool chest. 

And then finally, a healthy team also embraces encouragement. A healthy team will be very intentional about encouraging every person on that team to be their best and encouraging every person on that team to take risks, to stretch beyond and they will also encourage everybody on that team to line up. Once the objective has been decided upon, even if you had a different perspective, you line up, and you move in the best interest of the overall team.

But as I just said, in order to have a healthy team, in order to lead a healthy team, you must be an intentional leader. Leadership does not just happen. And many organizations like my own on Wall Street has been a producer of culture. People are given positions of leadership as a reward for being a great trader, as a reward for being an outstanding banker without really a whole lot of thought as to whether or not they motivate and inspire people to be their very best, to outperform, to have that level of productivity that nobody has ever seen. 

And it's interesting because I think along with the financial services crisis, came this need, frankly, for organizations to change. And I think whether it's financial services, or retail, or health care, we're now going to find ourselves in an environment where people will be looking for and choosing leaders that can motivate, and inspire, and collaborate because that's what you're going to need especially with this new employee population called millennials and Zers. They require transparency, they require collaboration, they require feedback, which means you're going to have to be the kind of leader that will engage and be able to offer all of that to not only recruit the best people in this next generation, but certainly to keep them. 

So you have to be intentional because it doesn't just happen. You have to be intentional and say that you're going to show up every day focusing on the following eight things. 

If you're going to be an intentional leader, you must focus on your own authenticity. Your authenticity is at the heart of your power, and it is your distinct competitive advantage because nobody can be you the way that you can be you. And any time that you're trying to speak or behave in a way that is inauthentic to who you really are, you will create a competitive disadvantage because you're using valuable intellectual capacity that you could use to really hear what your internal client or your external client is saying yet it's not articulating. You're using valuable intellectual capacity that you could use to demonstrate that quick twitch response. And you're using valuable intellectual capacity that you could use to co-collaborate with that person on the other side of your conversation. 

As quiet as it's kept, I've learned after 30 years that most people are not comfortable in their own skin. So, when they see someone who is comfortable and confident in their skin, they will gravitate towards you. They absolutely want some of that. If your success like mine depends upon your ability to successfully penetrate relationships, the easiest way to penetrate a relationship is to bring your authentic self to the table. When you bring your authentic self to the table, people will trust you, and trust is at the heart of any successful relationship. This was a very interesting lesson for me to learn.

While I have been on the Street for 30 years, I'm also a gospel singer. I've recorded three gospels CDs, I've done five sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall and one sold-out concert at the Apollo Theater. Thank you very much. But I will tell you, ladies and gentlemen, when I first started in this business as an investment banker, I didn't want anybody to talk about the fact that I was the singer. I wanted to be known as a no-nonsense, hard-driven, analytical, quantitative investment banker. I'm not here to sing and dance, boys. Let's not get it twisted. 

I didn't want anybody to talk about that until I saw the client reaction. Against my objections, my colleagues would take me into the pitch and say, "Oh, this is Carla Harris, our capital markets banker. But what you really ought to know about Carla, she's an amazing gospel singer, and she sang at Carnegie Hall, and Radio City, and Apollo." And I'm there rolling my eyes until I saw the client reaction, "Oh, you're a singer. Well, I so admire people who can sing. And I personally love to sing, but my family will only let me sing the shower. And maybe you can talk to my daughter about how she integrates her love of the arts in her academics." And there we were having a 15-minute meeting before the meeting. Are you with me, Leadercast? The meeting before the meeting. 

So, when I sat down to pitch, they heard me with a different ear. They saw me through a different lens. Because Carla Harris, the singer was allowed to be in the room with Carla Harris, the banker, I naturally differentiated myself from the other five bankers that will come in there and pitch that same IPO that afternoon. So, now whenever I go into a new situation, oh I bring Carla Harris investment banker, I bring Carla Harris the prayer warrior, Carla Harris investment manager, Carla Harris the speaker, Carla Harris the writer, Carla Harris the mother, Carla Harris the golfer, Carla Harris the football fan. I bring all those Carlas to the table because I don't know which Carla will be the one that will connect and allow me to own the relationship in a proprietary way. 

As I just said, if you have chosen the leadership seat, it is imperative that you bring your authentic self to the table because now you motivate and inspire those who are working with you. Notice I said, "with" and not "for," those who are working with you to bring their authentic selves to the table. And as I said, it means they will outperform, and that will accrue to your status in that leadership seat.

The second thing that you must be intentional about is building trust. I would humbly submit to you that we are all in some way competing around innovation. And if you are competing around innovation, you will by definition go into territories unknown. And if you're going into unknown territories, you cannot do it alone. You can do it alone anyway, but you really can't do it alone when you're going into unknown territories. Your team needs to be with you. 

And in order for people to follow you when they know that you don't know what's on the other side of this opportunity, they will need to trust you. And how do you build trust with your teams? There's the way you build trust with anybody—you deliver over, and over, and over again. 

I challenge you now to think about somebody in your life that you trust that may be outside of your household. Think about your favorite dry cleaner. Think about your favorite restaurant. You know, think about the person that does your hair. Think about the person that you go to over and over again. Why do you go? You trust that they're going to deliver this time just like they have 20 other times. 

When I'm trying to build a relationship with a client, I think of four things that I can do for them before I ever ask for anything. So I listen very closely in that first conversation about the kinds of things that they're concerned about in their leadership seat, about the kinds of things that they like personally, about what they think about the business environment. And then after that, I said, "Oh, I heard you say that you were interested in horseback riding. I know somebody who's a great horseback rider, and they have an outstanding trader. Would it be useful to you if I connected you with that person?" 

"Oh, by the way, I know that you're interested in seeing this kind of art. There is a great exhibit now with The Met. Would it be helpful to you if I connected you with some tickets that allow you and some friends to go to that particular thing?" 

"I know that you're interested in this thing about the capital markets. Would it be useful if I set up a call with my research analysts who can give you our outlook on the market this year and next year?" 

"Oh, by the way, I know that you enjoy this restaurant. By the way, it's restaurant week. You might want to think about putting that on your calendar, and I'd be happy to join you." 

I try to think of four things that I can do that will probably be value add based on what they've told me they care about so that by the time I ask for something, they're thinking to themselves, "Wow, I can't really turn her down. She's done this, she's done this, she's done this, she's done this. I wasn't really thinking about giving Morgan Stanley the business, but maybe I got to give him a little bit." And that's all I want, ladies and gentleman. Just open a little bit, and I'll wiggle my hips through the rest of that thing. I do know how to land and expand. Just need a shot, right? 

But building trust is the same way with your teams. Spend time with everyone so that you understand to the person what will create outsize productivity. What do they care about? The days are gone when you could be the kind of "my way or the highway" type leader. And as a boomer, we had lots of those leaders. You really did what you did out of fear at the end of the day. But you cannot be a "my way or the highway" type leader and be impactful and effective in this kind of environment because now folks will just leave and every company wants to feel, every organization wants to feel like they are the employer of choice. If you are "my way or the highway" type leader, you will not be the employer of choice, which means you have to engage. You have to understand who you're working with more than ever now. And once you figure that out, then you can find ways that you can build trust, and you can be intentional about it.

The next thing you must be intentional about is creating clarity. As I've said, we're all working around innovation, and you are going to go into territories unknown. But as the leader, it is your job to define clarity because when people know what they are playing for, again, they are motivated to outperform, and that will now accrue to your leadership status. 

I had the privilege of interviewing Ken Chenault, and he talked about 9/11, and you all know what happened to American Express in their headquarters during that time. He said it was really clear to him at that moment that his job as a leader was to define reality and to create hope. So even when you cannot see what the pipeline looks like, even when you don't know how this is going to work out competitively, it's your job to define clarity. And if you can't do it around the year and you can't do it around the quarter, do it for the month, do it for the week, even do it for the day. 

I've just created an accelerator within Morgan Stanley of emerging companies that are focusing on multicultural entrepreneurs and women. Has never been done on Wall Street before. There was no playbook, had never been done within our organization, yet I had to create a vision to get people excited about being a part of the team. Again, places unknown. I cannot do it alone. So I had to create clarity even around what we were doing that day or for the next couple of hours. And you'll be surprised how your teams will focus, and they will try to find a way to beat that which you have defined as success even for a couple of hours.

The next thing you have to be intentional about as a leader is creating other leaders. Your job as a leader is to create other leaders. Leadership is a journey from execution to empowerment. And that was an interesting lesson for me because I am a master executer. You leave me to my own devices, I just want to get it done. I just want to check it off the list, and I'm feeling really good about life. But then I realized that if I really wanted to amplify my impact as a leader, my job was to empower other people and allow them to develop as leaders. So, I needed to leave all those things that I was executing and let someone else cut their leadership teeth on those things that I was executing before. 

And because I am blessed with a lot of capacity, I'm one of those people. If I had 10 things to do and you say, "Carla, I need you to do this. I'll take on that." Then you say, "You can do this. I'll take on that. I'll take on that. I'll take on that." And guess what ladies and gentlemen, just because you can doesn't mean you should. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. And you should not dictate how people should execute. Perhaps they might execute better than you. And even if they don't do it the way you did it, as long as it gets done, that is the objective. 

And the way that I got myself off of that focus on execution, I said, "Carla, the master executer, is standing on first base. That's all the things that it took for you to get to the leadership position. But Carla, the master leader, the person that motivates and inspires, that has a vision, that listens to people, that solves problems, that fosters collaboration, she's sitting on second base." And guess what? You cannot get to second base with your foot still on first.

The next thing that you must be intentional about is diversity. If you have homogenous thought at your decision-making table, you will have a gap in your go-to-market strategy. So, it's important that you avail yourself of the best thinking in your organization and, frankly, unless you are clairvoyant, you don't know where that lies. There is somebody who is a superstar, who has a great idea that you may not have tapped. 

The biggest mistake that I see leaders make is that they don't use their people. They don't effectively use their people. So many women and people of color leave organizations, frankly, because they are underleveraged. It's not just about bad treatment, they've been underleveraged. They have so much more to offer, but someone has put them in a box and not allowed them to really do what they could do or not allowed them to leverage the learning and the training that the organization has given them. 

So you have to make sure that you have diversity of thought at your table. It is the thing that will allow you to innovate because if you want to innovate, you need a lot of ideas because innovation is born from ideas. If you need a lot of ideas, you need a lot of perspectives because, frankly, ideas are born from perspectives. If you need a lot of perspectives, you need a lot of experiences because perspectives are born from experiences. And if you need a lot of experiences, you better start with a lot of different people because experiences are born from people. So you must start with a lot of different people to get to that one idea that will allow you to obtain and retain a leadership position on the back of your innovation.

The next thing that you have to be intentional about, frankly, is innovation, which means ladies and gentlemen, that you have to teach your teams how to fail. You have to teach them how to fail. If people are afraid of failing, they will not innovate. If they know that they're going to get a bad reaction from you if it doesn't go well, they are not going to take those risks. As my grandmother used to say it, "A burnt child is afraid of fire." They're not going there anymore. So you have to be very, very careful, leaders, how you react when someone has made a mistake. 

And the way that you teach them how to fail is, frankly, to celebrate the failures. And it's okay for you to say, "Oh wow, Dan. You know what? That was a colossal failure. That was a huge mistake. We're going to pay for that one, but let's talk about why it was a good thing you did there, Dan. Here's what we learned because you had the courage to try. And we learned these three things, and now these things will now inform our next try." 

Ladies and gentlemen, the only reason that people don't take risks is that they're scared. They're just scared. It's fear. And hear me clearly, Leadercast, fear has no place in your success equation. Fear has no place in your success equation. Anytime you approach anything in your life, personally or professionally, from a position of fear, you will always underpenetrate that opportunity. And anytime I feel it creeping up the back of my neck, I just remind myself of that old southern saying, "Fear is just false evidence of things appearing real." It's really not there. Because what's the worst that can happen if you take a risk and it doesn't work out? So, 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. 

At the margin, it is always worth taking the risk. And if you are faced with a new opportunity, especially a leadership opportunity and you're not sure whether or not you should take the risk, ask yourself three questions. Will this new thing give you skills and experiences that you would not get if you stayed in your current seat another 12 months? Second question, will this new thing now expose you to people, relationships, or networks that you would not get if you stayed in your current seat another 12 months? Third question, will this new thing now generate new branches on your personal decision tree of opportunity? I.e., you could go off and do some other things that you would not have been able to do if you stayed in your current seat another 12 months. If the answer to all three of those questions is yes, you should absolutely take the risk.

The next thing that you have to be intentional about is inclusivity. I have the privilege and the honor of spending a lot of time with CEOs across all industries, and generally, the number one question they ask me is, "Carla, how can I show up as an inclusive leader? What does that look like? Everybody's talking about there, but frankly, I don't know how inclusive leadership manifests itself." 

One simple thing, the easiest way to show up as an inclusive leader is to solicit other people's voices. Solicit other people's voices. You'll be surprised how effective that is. So try this on Monday when you're with your teams for four different times. When you're with your teams, start Monday, when they come in, and you have a problem that you have to solve, you can certainly lead off and say, "I know we have this issue and I want to get everybody's input on it. I'd like to start with a strawman of what I think the answer might be, but I'm not the smartest person in the room. So I'd like to get your thoughts. Let's start with this strawman. Okay, Nancy, how would you think about that? How would you add to that as a solution? Oh, that's pretty good. And now, Harry, I want you to play devil's advocate. How would you refute everything Nancy and I have said. What would be the flip side of that? How would you do it differently? That's pretty good. Okay. Mike, I want you to talk about what Harry's done. And Marsha, I want you to think about how you might add onto that." 

Do it four times, ladies and gentlemen. You will find that when you pull your team together the fifth time, you will not have to solicit anybody's voices. They will come into the room, ready to contribute. Why? What have you done? You've done two things. You've said, "I heard you," because every time they put forth something, you responded. And guess what? Everybody values being heard. Everybody values being heard. And you've also said, "I see you," because you call them out. And everybody values being seen by the boss. So, if you want to be inclusive, that's how you do it. That's one exercise of how you do it. The result, they will start to think about this team as "my team," not "the team," and this company or organization as "my company, my organization," not "the company, the organization."

And then lastly, as an intentional, powerful, impactful, influential leader, you must be intentional about using your voice. As a leader, you have to be willing to call a thing a thing. You cannot leave things unsaid, especially if they are in any way eroding the team, scaring the team, laboring the team. 

If it's a tough competitive environment and you're starting to lose your position in the marketplace, call it. Say, "That's what it is." Have everybody touch it. Have everybody feel it. Have everybody participate in terms of giving an answer about how you might turn that around. Because when you get everybody's fingerprints on the blueprint, everybody is vested in the success of what transpires and everybody owns it if it doesn't work. 

If things are not being done correctly by about people in your organization, you have to call it. You cannot leave it unsaid. When someone has said, "No, we ought to get Dan for this and we don't need Rashida for that," then you should say, "Why?" Somebody has to ask the question, not just take the conversation and leave things unsaid. 

And ladies and gentlemen, as I close, I tell you in order to lead healthy teams, you have to be an intentional leader. And in order to be a powerful, impactful, influential, intentional leader, you must both expect and strategize to win. I thank you very much.
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Carla Harris

As vice chairman, managing director and senior advisor at Morgan Stanley, Carla is responsible for increasing client connectivity and penetration to enhance revenue generation across the firm. In her 30-year career, Carla has had exte...

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