Carla Harris is no stranger to speaking about the corporate world and how to move from just being good at your job to winning at your career, having given hundreds of speeches and interviews about the keys to getting ahead and finding your voice. One of the most powerful black executives in corporate America, she’s written two books on success Expect to Win: Proven Strategies For Success From a Wall Street Vet and Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Up, Step Out, or Start Over in Your Career. She also has a website dedicated to her gems of wisdom which she calls Carla’s pearls.
On the 8 and 9 November, she shared her knowledge with a new audience in Nigeria at the Nigeria Investment Conference and Women In Investment Management workshop organised by the Chartered Financial Analyst Society Nigeria (CFA) which held at Eko Convention Centre, Lagos.
It was Harris’ first-ever event in the West African country and questions from the crowd where numerous as she doled out career tips she’s learned over her 31-year career at Morgan Stanley where she started right out of business school in 1987, and of which she is now vice chairman of Wealth Management and senior client advisor.
During the session, Harris spoke passionately about the two kinds of currency people earn at work: performance currency, which is about how good you are at what you do, and relationship currency, which is about the relationships you’ve built with decision-makers in your company. Harris, who in August 2013, was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council, emphasized how relationship currency is more valuable in the long run. “Performance currency will get you noticed, but it has diminishing marginal returns,” she said. “It is your relationships that allow you to maximize your success.”
Ms. Harris captivated the crowd with her characteristic charm and energy while inspiring women to be more assertive and leaders to be more inclusive. In addition to her book, Strategize To Win, and the opportunity to be the backing choir of the acclaimed gospel singer, here are ten tips the audience left the conversation with:
- Ms. Harris in her speech advised everyone to “Be Intentional”. Be Intentional about clarity, about creating other leaders in your career, about teaching your team to fail, and also, about your voice: call a thing a thing!
- Leadership is contact sports. If you have been invited into the room, you have earned a right at the table. Leverage that to your benefit.
- When you submerge your voice, you become irrelevant, and you become a target. “Authenticity is your competitive advantage,” she said. Don’t think for others. Be strategic about making connections. Expect and Strategize to win.
- Hold your ground during negotiations. Ask for compensation at market value, regardless of what you were paid before. The only person that has a responsibility to your career is you.
- You can have it all. You just need to define what “all” means outside of the general definition of society.
- “People often make the mistake of thinking their work will speak for itself,” Carla Harris revealed to the attentive audience. “Well, guess what? The work does not speak.” Relationship currency is key to career progression. Relationship currencies are investments you make with the people in your environment. “You must have relationship with every seat that touches your seat,” Ms. Harris strongly advised. “The higher the compensation, the greater the dependence on relationships.”
- Don’t let money be a reason that you don’t go for something, especially academically.
- Never go into a new opportunity not knowing what success looks like. When people give you a role that has never been occupied or ask you to do something that has never been done, it means they have a very high view of who you are. They need you to figure it out and develop the proper value for that seat.
- Pick three adjectives that are absolutely consistent about who you really are, and three adjectives that are valued in your organisation. Where they intersect is the character that you should project. You must have a consistent behaviour around these adjectives so people can think about you in a certain way. Know the adjectives that are consistent to the seat you are occupying and the seat you are aspiring to get to.
- If you want to grow your power, give it away. To this, Ms. Harris speaks to the notion held by older professionals in an industry who say a younger person has to go through a lengthy process to get to the position they did, and withold resources that can enable them get there faster. “Get over yourself,” she admonishes.