November 19, 2020

Leading with intention: Eight strategies for navigating teams through uncertainty

Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director, and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley shares eight strategies – or “pearls of wisdom” – for becoming a more powerful and influential leader.

Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director, and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, has had a seat at the table with many powerful leaders. Over the course of her Wall Street career, she realized that many leaders are rewarded, compensated, and promoted without consideration of whether they’re truly able to empower teams or embrace opportunity amid change and uncertainty.

This, Harris explains, is why so many leaders are not living up to their full potential.

Beyond the ongoing health crisis and other socio-economic events driving the need for better leadership is the fact that young talent is now dominating the workforce. Millennial and Gen Z workers are demanding a new work experience rooted in transparency, inclusivity, and feedback.

According to Harris, intentional leadership is paramount in guiding teams to success in this complex, ever-changing world of work.

“You must be intentional if you are choosing to show up in a leadership seat every day – especially in the context we’re in right now.” – Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley

Harris took the virtual stage at INSIGHTS 2020 on Tuesday to share eight proven strategies to become a more powerful, influential, and above all, intentional leader. These strategies – or as she calls them, “Carla’s pearls” – can help leaders make a meaningful impact within their organization and their careers as a whole.

1. Be authentic

Your authenticity is your distinct competitive advantage. “Any time you’re speaking or behaving in a way that is inauthentic to who you are is putting yourself at a disadvantage,” Harris shared.

Authenticity is especially critical as leaders manage remote or dispersed teams as employees work from different locations. Harris explains that the workforce is more uncertain than ever, and leaders need to shift focus to three fundamentals of authenticity:

Visibility: People crave stability amidst uncertainty. Your people are accustomed to seeing you at the office or on-site. In absence of in-person interaction, leaders can create more stability by becoming more visible during virtual meetings and one-on-ones. 

Transparency: Be transparent as a leader, Harris says, and share what you know and when you know it. Let your team in on important information like return to work plans when they’re made available, so employees don’t find out from their coworkers or other individuals in the organization.

Empathy: It’s important to let your team know you’re personally not immune to what’s happening in the word. Connect with your team members and share how you’re managing change. Harris recommends opening up about how you’re balancing work and staying productive.

2. Build trust

By now we all understand there’s no going back to the old normal, so how are you getting people to follow you into unknown territory?

“You simply deliver,” Harris says, “over and over and over again.” Harris explained you need to deliver consistent value to build trust. Start by thinking of four things you can do to add value to other people’s lives before asking for anything. When you do this, people will trust you enough to give you a shot.

3. Establish clarity

Creating as much clarity as you can for your team – even when you are unable to foresee what’s to come – is key to thriving in the future. When you define what success looks like for your team, they will go beyond what you’ve defined, Harris said. In uncertainty, you may not know what success looks like long term, but you can focus on a specific period of time – whether that’s outlining what success looks like for the duration of a meeting or for a particular project. Create clarity to maximize the productivity of your team.

Read next: Strategies for leaders and managers to support employees during COVID-19

4. Create other leaders

Harris shared a powerful statement with the audience: “The way to grow your power is to give it away.”

“When you get to the leadership seat”, Harris noted, “you must be disproportionately focused on creating other leaders. That is how you amplify your impact in your organization.” Many leaders, she explained, are held back as they’re unable to move from execution to empowerment.

You need to leave the notion of doing everything behind so you can fulfill your opportunity to be the best leader you can be. This, she clarified, involves being intentional with helping others shine in an innovative way.

5. Build diverse teams

We are all vulnerable to unconscious bias. Leaders need to be aware of this bias and push against it, Harris said.

There is a powerful business case for diversity. Innovation is born from ideas, which means you need to bring together different ideas, perspectives, and experiences.

As well, Harris explained that younger talent is demanding diverse work environments. Millennials and Gen Z are seeing diversity in school and in their personal lives and this needs to be reflected in their work experiences.

“Millennials and Gen Z care about the jersey they’re wearing. They want the organizations and people they affiliate themselves with to be consistent with their values,” Harris said. To be an employer of choice in your industry, you need to be intentional with diversity.

Read next: Six ways to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace

6. Welcome failure

As a powerful leader, you must teach your teams how to innovate, and failure is an important part of this. “If your people are too afraid to fail, they’ll never reach far enough,” Harris advised.

If someone on your team takes a risk and it’s not a success, you need to help them learn from that experience so you can invest and fail better with future risks. Being careful about how you respond to your team’s failure is imperative as it can either encourage people to embrace it or fear it.

Teams need to fail fast, learn, and invest all over again.

7. Prioritize inclusivity

Harris called upon leaders to solicit other people’s voices. This could involve bringing the team together to solve a business challenge and invite people by name to partake, asking certain individuals to identify gaps in the solution, and ask others to jump in and contribute to the problem-solving process. Open the conversation up to everyone and get them involved on an individual level.

“As a powerful, influential, and impactful leader, you need to put everyone’s fingerprints on the blueprint, and now everyone is accountable and invested in the endeavor.” – Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley

8. Be honest

Leaders must always be honest. Your team may have heard news that the organization will be restructuring or acquiring another company, for example. If you withhold information, you undermine the authenticity and trust you worked hard to build both internally and externally. Be straightforward with your team – especially when it comes to sharing important company news.

As Harris closed her session, she left the audience with this last thought: the eight strategies or pearls of intentional leadership should always be tied together on a single strand of courage. You need to demonstrate courage as you bring your authentic self to work, create other leaders, establish clarity, build diversity, and throughout everything you set out to do as a leader.

WATCH NOW: Carla Harris: Why being smart isn't enough to thrive in today's changing world

Britt Armour

Britt Armour is a content marketing specialist at Ceridian, where she writes about the HCM space, and how Dayforce is disrupting traditional HR solutions.  

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