Redefining Mentorship and Sponsorship in the Pursuit of Success

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Carla Harris needs no introduction. She is the Vice Chairman of Global Wealth Management and a Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley.

She is the author of several incredible books, has been heavily involved in the Multicultural Innovation Lab through Morgan Stanley, is a motivational speaker, and has been an incredible resource for women, specifically women of color, within the financial planning profession.

Carla is a TrailBazer, and has been throughout her career. She is an advocate for women of color, and is always pushing for growth and improvement both within the finance industry, and beyond.

Carla’s goal is to see a greater amount of institutional capital going to women-led businesses in the next 30 years. She wants to see more women and women of color in leadership roles, and through Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab she is lifting up companies founded by women and people of color that look beyond “traditional” service offerings.

In this episode, Carla is dropping so many pearls of wisdom. We cover entrepreneurship, the importance of the DEI movement, how you can advocate for yourself in work and in life, and so much more. Are you ready to be blown away? Tune in now!



What You'll Learn:

  • How to reframe your thinking when you’re the “only” in the room

  • The difference between a mentor and a sponsor - and why you need both in your career

  • How financial planners, and individuals in the broader finance industry, can lift up women and people of color to build a more inclusive environment

  • Why you need to have a “why” to stay motivated and inspired to do excellent work

  • How to “ring your own bell” to keep blazing trails and level up in your life and your career

  • The importance of owning who you are

  • What true allyship looks like - and how you can embody that in your work and your life

  • Why she believes that advocacy is so critical to her own personal “why”


Show Notes:

Episode Transcript


Rianka: 00:00 Carla, welcome to 2050 TrailBlazers.

Carla: 00:04 Well thank you very much Rianka for having me, happy to be here.

Rianka: 00:08 Thank you. Yes, so before we officially kick off season three of 2050 TrailBlazers for the month of February, I want it to take a moment to highlight and celebrate the history makers outside of and within the financial service industry and I have been blessed to see you speak in person several times and I always leave feeling empowered and inspired. You shared so much wisdom and knowledge with us, which you have coined to be called Carla's Pearls and I hope you share a lot of your pearls with us today.

Carla: 00:51 Whatever you would like to know, I'm happy to share.

Rianka: 00:54 Awesome. So let's jump right on in. So you enter into the financial service industry in 1987. The landscape looked completely different, I'm sure, than it does today. You've had the mental tenacity and ambition to advance time after time over the past 30 years. What kept you pushing forward?

Carla: 01:21 Well, one of the things that I talk about all the time, and it is one of the pearls, Rianka, is that you need to have a personal agenda that you want, you need to know why you're doing what you're doing. And I would say that throughout my career I was pretty clear on why I was doing what I was doing. Now that why evolved over time, right? So in the early days it was right out of Harvard business school. I want to be successful. So that's why I'm working hard. That's why I'm pushing through. That's why I'm hanging in. And then a couple of years into it, I want to be promoted. I want to be paid really well. Um, and then from there is I really want the opportunity to drive these deals, to run these deals. So every step along the way in your career, you need to have an agenda.

Carla: 02:05 And in, there's two major questions on the agenda. One is, you know, why are you in the seat that you are in? What skills do you want to get? What experiences do you want to have? What kind of people do you want to meet? What kind of networks do you want to build? Those are some of the questions that you should answer around why you taking a particular seat i.e. why you're taking a particular job. The next question is, why am I gonna do it in that house and the house is where you're prosecuting the seeds, the company, the organization, the nonprofit. So you should say, well, I want to be here because I like the career opportunities. I like the career trajectory. I like the people. There's an opportunity for me to have good sponsorship here. I like the trajectory. So those are all the questions as to why you want to be in a certain place.

Carla: 02:51 Prosecuting the seeds. And the good news of having an agenda is that it keeps you from making emotional decisions about your career. So when you're disappointed, you don't get a promotion, you don't get a, uh, an assignment that you want, you don't get the bonus that you want. You can go back to your agenda. Now you can ask the question, have I that everything that I wanted to get out of this, uh, of this opportunity, this seat and this house at the answer is no, then you shouldn't leave because you were disappointed at that point. You should stop and think about how do I make this disappointment and I owe you from the organization to me, you know, how do I leverage this differently? Um, as opposed to make an emotional decision to say, oh, they didn't treat me well, I'm out because that may not be the right answer at that time. And there could have been other things that contributed to that decision, frankly, that you did, that caused that outcome. So if you have an agenda, as I said, it keeps you motivated and inspired to deliver excellence and you also are very clear on when it is time to move, either move internally or move away from the house.

Rianka: 03:55 Wow.

Carla: 03:58 So I hope that answers your question.

Carla: 04:01 As to how I keep going. Because when it got tough, you know, I could go back and say, have I gotten everything I wanted to get out of that seat. And frankly, can I get it here faster? Even if it means waiting another year that if I went someplace else and then have to put points on the board, have to find a new sponsor, you know, have to learn that terrain all over again. So it again, if I was able to do it by making sure that I was doing what I wanted to do when I want to do it or certainly had the eminent opportunity to do it.

Rianka: 04:32 Absolutely. Creating an agenda is certainly very important. And I love how you mentioned, um, you know, having that agenda and reflecting back to it. So you don't make emotional decisions. Yes. There are going to be some times where you're disappointed in your career, you didn't get promoted as quickly as you want it to, or you didn't get that pay raise as quickly as you want it to. But if you refer back to that agenda, you can say, okay, are there still some things that I need to get out of here? Or is this still the best house for me to be in, in this particular seat? You also mentioned something about sponsors and I, and I think that is a great point for us to dive into because I recently saw a Ted talk that you did recently called how to find the person who can help you get ahead at work, which I will add the link to the show notes. You mentioned there's three types of people, but only one of whom you should rely on and you mentioned is not a mentor, which we've continued to hear and we kind of know what a mentor is, it's not an advocate, but it's the sponsor who will help you get ahead at work. Can you explain to the listeners what you mean by sponsor?

Carla: 05:49 Sure. And let me draw the distinction, an advisor as I write about in my first book in Chapter Five, Expect to Win the advisor is the person that you can ask any question of, I could say Rianka tell me how you do a podcast or Rianka tell me how you find your guests. If we're in the business of doing podcasts and you because you've done it because you have the intellectual and experiential capital. You can say, Carla, here, the five things you need to do, that's an advisor. Somebody who can answer a discreet questions. A mentor is the person that you can tell the good, the bad, and the ugly too, so by definition it has to be somebody that you trust. A mentor's job is to give you tailored advice tailored specifically to you and to your career aspirations. If I know Nancy and I know Rianka and they both want to become executive vice presidents and I'm a good mentor, I will give them two different strategies because they're two different women and my job is to give them tailored advice that they can successfully execute.

Carla: 06:48 Your mentor does not need to be within your organization, nor do they need to look like you. They just need to understand the context that you're working in in order to give you tailored advice that you can successfully execute. Now, the fact of the matter is you can survive a long time in your career without a mentor, but you are not going to ascend in any organization without a sponsor. The sponsor is the most important of those three relationships and a sponsor is not the person you tell the good, the bad, and the ugly to the sponsor is the person you tell the good, the good and the good.

Carla: 07:23 Because this is the person that's carrying your paper into the room. This is the person that behind closed doors will argue passionately on your behalf as to why you should get the great bonus, why you should get the next great assignment, why you should get that great client list. Make no mistake. This is the person that spends they're valuable political and social capital on you, so there needs to be a good reason why they're spending this capital on you and you frankly need to be able to articulate why you are worthy of their spending this capital on you. So that's the real distinction between the sponsor and the mentor. And as I say to people all the time, early on in your career, you're mentor and your sponsor may be the same person, but as soon as possible, you need to separate those relationships because you don't want the sponsor to be polluted. Frankly, with your bad and your ugly, you want that person so focused on your strengths and why you're the best person for that opportunity and not to be compromised in their thinking behind closed doors.

Rianka: 08:30 Yes. That is phenomenal advice right there and it's something also that you mentioned with the sponsor is that you shared how to get a sponsor, is that you currency and for us it's not the currency, the usual currently that we're thinking of a dollar like I'm gonna slide you $20 can you be my sponsor, but it's more so of that performance and relationship currency. Can you explain a little bit more to listeners? What does that look like? What does that mean?

Carla: 08:57 Sure. And this is the kind of stuff it probably is, frankly, Rianka, the most important concept that I write about in my second book, Strategize to Win. Performance currency is a currency that is generated by your delivering that which was asked of you and a little bit extra. Every time that you perform on an assignment above people's expectations, you generate the performance currency and the performance currency is valuable for three reasons. Number one, it will get you noticed because everybody loves a star, so it will get you noticed, uh, and create a reputation for you in your workplace. Number two, it will even get you paid and promoted early on in any new environment or early on in your career. And number three, it may even attract the sponsor because when you have good performance currency, it raises your level of visibility in an environment such that a sponsor may be attracted to you, but for many women and men and people of color, it does not happen that easily.

Carla: 09:57 So sometimes you have to exercise your power and ask for a sponsor. And if you have great performance currency in an environment, it heightens the probability that that person will answer in the affirmative upon your approach. But here's the issue with performance currency, over time it starts to experience diminishing marginal returns. I would argue that it's worth about a buck 50 at the beginning of your career or early on in any new environment, but over time it starts to experience diminishing marginal returns. And that dollar 50 works its way right back down to a dollar. Why? Because now you have created a new standard of excellence. Everybody knows that you will do a great job so there's no longer a premium associated with your deliverable. The currency that now is most important is the relationship currency and relationship currency is the currency that's generated by the investments that you make and the people in your environment.

Carla: 10:53 Everybody works in highly interdependent environments. Nobody really works in a silo, so at a minimum you need to make sure that every seat that touches your seat, you have some type of relationship with the people that are in those seats. And here's why. Your ability to move up in any environment is going to be a function of somebody's judgment. Judgment about whether or not you ready judgment about whether or not the team will follow you judgment about whether or not you will ultimately be successful and judgments are directly influenced by relationships. Just think about your own judgment and how it's partly influenced maybe by your experience, but always somehow influenced by something that somebody tells you about. A thing, a process or an experience. Now, here's the other reason that it's important. Why your performance currency may get your name on the list that's being discussed behind closed doors.

Carla: 11:51 When your name is called, if nobody in that room speaks on your behalf, they just go to the next name that's on the list and it has nothing to do with your ability to do the job, but everything to do with whether or not somebody in that room knows you well enough to say, oh, Rianka, she'll walk through walls, she'll get it done. Oh Rianka. All the junior people love her. She'll put together a terrific team all the way. Oh Rianka, she's a safe pair of hands. Notice none of those comments have any kind of numbers, quantitative data associated with them. It's all that informal comment and those are the comments that are made behind closed doors that make the difference on whether or not you get the nod for that opportunity, that bonus or that promotion.

Rianka: 12:31 Yes. These are, I'm loving all of these Carla Pearls. So thank you. What, what is the characteristic of a sponsor? You know, I'm you know, fairly early in my career and financial services and, I listened to this episode and I'm taking the wisdom from Carla's Pearls and I'm, and I'm looking for a sponsor. What, what do they look like?

Carla: 13:06 Your sponsor has three characteristics. Number one, they have to have exposure to your work because remember they have to have credibility behind closed doors. So it needs to be somebody who's exposed to your work. So when they say, oh, she did a great job on x, oh, she's terrific with clients. They'll have some basis from which to speak. The second characteristic is they need to have a seat at the decision making table. And if you don't know who has seats at the decision making table within your organization, ask someone, you'd be surprised how quickly people will tell you. And number three, this person needs to have some juice.

Carla: 13:51 And if you study your organization well enough, and I normally tell people, study your organization for two weeks, you'll be able to tell not only who the decision makers are, but who the respected decision makers are in your organization. Who's the person that everybody listens to? Who is the person that everybody feels they have to pass something by? Who is the person that when they speak and the thing gets done, no questions asked. You'll be able to figure out who has juice and who doesn't, and you'll be able to figure out who has a seat at the table or as someone who has a seat at the table so when you're thinking about who can be my sponsor, think about who has a seat at the decision making table, who has a respected voice and who by the way has exposure to my work and sometimes the person that you report to may not be someone who has a seat at the decision making table, but they may be connected to someone who has a seat at the decision making table or you may be able to get connected to someone who has a seat at the decision making table even though they're not in your direct line as being a boss.

Rianka: 14:57 Yes. This is all great advice. I'm sure the listeners are like pausing and writing this down and all of that. So, I mean, this is very timely and great advice. It's something that you mentioned earlier. It's something that you mentioned earlier and then I just want to nail down and talk about a little bit more is, you know, the women and people of color in financial service industry and you know, sometimes a sponsor may not just come to you and you have to ask for one. So are the rules of engagement different for people of color in the financial service industry and, and how do we navigate that?

Carla: 15:39 Yeah, I really don't think the rules of engagement are different, but I think that it's even more imperative that we engage in the environment. You know, what I mean by that is that in our communities, even today in 2019, we are told, keep your head down, work really hard. You know, if you do a great job, it'll get noticed. You know, no one can take that away from you, but at the end of the day, if you don't know how to talk about what you've done, you don't know how to ring your bell in that environment. You don't know how to assimilate into that environment. Go hang out for lunch with people, go to drinks with folks you know, go grab coffee at 9:00 in the morning. If you don't know how to engage the senior person that could potentially be a sponsor, then all you're going to do is work really hard and frankly be frustrated because it's not going to be those objective things only that will make the difference in your getting promoted on time.

Carla: 16:40 Your getting the top bonus if you don't have a relationship when people are making those highly subjective decisions about how to pay everybody that's in their department or how to pay everybody that's on their team and then you're not going to end up at at the top end, even if you're really good because there's going to always be an argument that somebody else is really good unless you're just a stand out, runaway performer and I would. I would argue that there are very few of those distinctions in any firm within financial services. There's a group of people who are clearly, you know, tier one very good, and then there's the middle bucket and then there's a, there's a, a lower bucket, but the distinctions in between each bucket are very, very fine Rianka. So at the end of the day it's important that you are engaged and that you are building those relationships that you do find a sponsor. So I would say that the rules aren't different, but the fact that it's even more imperative that you play because some of those relationships, some of that affiliation, some of that affinity doesn't happen as naturally. So you have to be intentional and thoughtful about making it happen.

Rianka: 17:50 Yes. Yes. That is really great advice. And I'm sure again, so many great takeaways that we can use today. And especially for the onlys. And what I mean by the onlys is, you know, Carla, I'm sure you can speak to this of a, you know, when you enter into the industry, um, you know, 30 years ago, I'm sure you were sometimes the only, the only woman in the room, the only African American in the room and maybe even today, still the only in the room. So what, what advice do you have for the other onlys who are in the room?

Carla: 18:36 Thank you so much for that question. This is a great question, and here's my advice for the onlys in the room, reframe your thinking. Remember that if you are the only person that looks like you in the room, you have a huge advantage because you're the only person that looks like you in the room. And so when you are ready to speak or when you're ready to present, all eyes are going to be on you because you are the only person that looks like you in the room. And all you need to do is to relax and to deliver your excellence into that expectation. Period. It is not a liability. It's an asset. Because if everybody else looks like each other, they all have to fight for attention. They all have to fight to be differentiated. They all have to fight to stand out. You do not. And if you have gotten to the point that you are in that room as the only now, you also need to be reminded that you are that good because you know that it's not easy to get in that room. And if you got into that room, nobody just gave that to you. So you should own that in all of its power.

Rianka: 19:44 Yes. Yes, yes. This is what I'm talking about

Carla. I'm inspired now. I'm like,

Carla: 19:50 Good, good. Cause it's true, it's true

Rianka: 19:55 It is. It is. And this is what I share most of the time. I am the only in the room and, but it's also my hope that it will not continue to be that way. And one of the things I do with the platform that I have is lift other onlys up as well. Um, so that, you know, I believe that if you have a platform, you have a responsibility and that responsibility is to help the next generation which you have done

Carla: 20:26 That's exactly right. And not just the next generation, your own generation. There are people who are in your generation that have not been afforded the opportunities, the access and the exposure that you have. So not only is that your responsibility to make sure that you opened the door and you widen the frame for those coming through the door behind you, you get an opportunity to do that, that with those, that are right here at, in your generation.

Rianka: 20:49 Yes. Yes. Well, you know, it's happening, Carla it's happening. So yes, and I'm excited. I'm really excited. And in another talk you spoke about intentionality when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. You talked about intentionality, accountability and consistency. Particularly as it pertains to recruiting and recruiting diverse talent. And what I mean by diverse talent, I mean black and brown and we are in shaky times right now, uh, during this time of the recording, we're still in a government shutdown. And when the government reopens, I'm sure we will all feel some of the ripple effects in the economy. And um, you had mentioned in a bull market there is focus on recruiting, but in a bear market, the intensity lags and then there's a loss of a pipeline. But as we know what goes down must come back up, right? And so when the bull market happens, when the bull market happens, again, it's like these companies and industries are, are starting over and so how can we just keep the momentum going no matter what type of market that we're in because as we know we need more black and brown people in the financial service industry. But it seems like it stops when there's a poor economy.

Carla: 22:19 That has been my thesis as to why we haven't gotten further along in the financial services industry. But I will say this, that companies seem to be listening around what has happened in this bull and bear market environments. And they realized how expensive it is to keep starting over and over. And how you also lose massive productivity. Because if you have somebody that's been there for five or six years, you've already trained them, they're at a level of productivity where they probably are value at and then now you either have to, um, you know, let them go or they leave because another organization has let their bottom ten go and they're trying to steal your top 10. Uh, but either way they realized now is it's expensive because now I have to rehire somebody else, get them in, have them assimilate and then try to resume to the level of productivity that where they were in their old shop or maybe even better.

Carla: 23:15 And so I think companies are tiring of this, you know, of this routine and are now trying to figure out a way that they can create a value proposition for people to stay. And I think they are very, very focused on this now, especially given the millennial generation where, you know, most boomer leaders or older Xers have a perception that millennials will turn over quickly. So they are trying to figure out what we can do. How do we change things? You know, how do we create greater stickiness? So I, I think I, with let me put it like this, I'm very hopeful that people will come up with working models, um, that will hopefully alleviate this issue of starting all over again.

Rianka: 24:04 Me too. So as a follow-up to that, you know, you've been in the industry for 30 years, you have definitely been a trailblazer and still blazing a trail for women all over for everyone, for women and for women of color specifically because we see you and you are a prime example of what can be done. What do you hope to see in the next 30 years?

Carla: 24:34 I hope to see in the next 30 years, three things, number one, a more women and more women of color in positions of leadership, leadership, i.e. C suite, among the fortune 1000. Number two, I hope to see a larger number of women who are entrepreneurs in high growth businesses, especially tech enabled businesses. Uh, and number three, I hope to see more women and more women of color specifically on the boards of some of these fortune 1000 companies

Rianka: 25:09 Yes, and here recently, Maxine Waters under her leadership with the finance committee, she is, um, you know, putting together a subcommittee that is focusing on diversity and inclusion within the financial services. And so I hope, you know, the table is the seats around the table are filled with people who have been, you know, boots on the ground in the trenches for a while. So we can actually truly make some impact in this.

Carla: 25:38 Yes. Agreed. And I think there's a fourth thing that I would want and that is to see a greater amount of capital go at, I'll call it institutional capital, venture capital, private equity, capital family office capital. I would hope to see a greater amount of that going to women led businesses. And that's something that I've been working on a lot here at Morgan Stanley in the Morgan Stanley innovation lab where we bring companies in to give them cash content and connections to some of our largest clients. Uh, and we've been really focused on entrepreneurs of color and women and have done a really great job in each of our cohorts by having the majority of the companies that are in the lab. Actually, founded in and a women founded women led and so, but when you look at the statistics of the amount of institutional capital that's going to women, I was just at a golden seeds conference yesterday and you know, again, the number is below four percent and it's smaller, you know, if you, if you think about it in terms of deals and um, if you look at certain industries, so I'd love to see, you know, that number, you know, quadruple in two to three years, uh, and then continue to accelerate.

Rianka: 26:59 Yeah, I saw, was it last year that Morgan Stanley launched the innovation lab?

Carla: 27:07 Yes, we started the first class of the innovation lab was in '17, that is correct, with five companies. And in '18, we had nine companies and we are now reviewing the class of '19 and I would expect that the number would grow in terms of the companies that we have in the lab.

Rianka: 27:26 Awesome. So for those who may be listening, who will want to look into this, I'll make sure I'll add some information to the show notes, but are there specific qualifications for this or.

Carla: 27:38 Yes. Yes. We're looking for companies that are, as I said, we have a specific focus it's not only focused, but we do have a focus on entrepreneurs of color and women and tech enabled business, so the technology has to be an integral part of the success of your business in some way, um, and it has to be at the level where the product has been proven and you either already have sales or an imminent sales pipeline so that we can see that this proof of product, proof of concept a real market, you know, for the product. And I'd say those are the broad strokes of the characteristics that we're looking for. In last, in last year's class we had a regular way software technology. We had, energy tech, we had med tech, we had a consumer tech if you will. So it was a really diverse class.

Rianka: 28:35 Awesome. Well I'll make sure I put information in the show notes about this innovation lab so the listeners can read more about it and hopefully apply to be a part of this growing a initiative.

Carla: 28:50 That'd be great. Thank you.

Rianka: 28:51 Absolutely. And so in your your book, I want to transition a bit in your book Strategize to Win you share a quote by Maya Angelou and it says, success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it. Carla, what is success for you?

Carla: 29:16 Success for me is really being able to have a level of proficiency around what you do to be able to inspire others to do their thing in the best way that they possibly can and to make things happen for other people. That's part of my also my definition of power and I say part of my definition of success is having power, which means that you're able to use your influence on somebody else's they have. I could pick up the phone and introduce you to someone. I can pick up the phone and have someone listen to your story. I can pick up the phone and have somebody listen to me tell your story and perhaps having them want to make an investment in your company. I can call a city politician and put in a strong argument for a park in a neighborhood. You know, all of those things are part of being successful in, in my own mind and part of having power.

Rianka: 30:13 Awesome. Well Carla, thank you so much for joining us today. You have left us with so many of Carla's Pearls and I am sure the listeners are taken a ton of notes, if they want to find you and just follow along on your journey as you continue to drop these pearls. Where can they find you?

Carla: 30:38 Well, they can find me at www.CarlasPearls.com, and they certainly can find me on linkedin and on twitter and on instagram at, @CarlaAnnHarris and facebook as well.

Rianka: 30:52 Awesome. Is there anything that you would like to leave us with? Anything else you want to share before I let you go?

Carla: 31:01 The only thing I would say is, is leverage your relationships. Nobody can do it on their own and don't be afraid to reach out and ask people for help. And certainly don't be afraid if somebody turns you down or they don't respond. As I like to say, if you asked someone for help and they turned you down, there's only one word next, you never let one person's rejection stop you on your way of maximizing your success, but use the relationships aggressively, you have access to more opportunity and more people. Then you know, if you would just raise your hand and ask someone that that's already in your network.

Rianka: 31:40 Awesome. Well thank you so much, Carla, for joining us today.

Carla: 31:44 Oh, you're most welcome. Thank you very much for having me, Rianka, and all the best in '19 on the podcast.

Rianka: 31:49 Thank you.