Want to be Successful? Tips for Career Success
By Anne Pollack
We just returned from the 2015 CREW Network Convention in Seattle, Washington. The event was filled with thoughtful sessions, enlightening learning excursions (aka, field trips!), bonding with
our own Tampa Bay Chapter members, and lots of networking with other CREW members from around the country. We were also fortunate to have a plethora of inspiring speakers including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Little, however, could match the opening presentation from Carla Harris, Vice Chairman at Morgan Stanley and author of Expect to Win and Strategize to Win. She provided so much thoughtful and encouraging advice on how to get ahead in one’s professional life, it seemed important to share some of “Carla’s Pearls”.
Ms. Harris began with this important reflection: “perception is the co-pilot to reality.” It doesn’t matter how great we are, how fantastic the work we do is; if we aren’t perceived as having the strengths that are admired in the field, we cannot get to the top of the field. Creating an appropriate perception in colleagues, superiors and clients is no small task, but it can be made easier by training those colleagues and clients to perceive that you have the skills and personality to meet their needs.
How to do this? Start by picking three adjectives that you want to be described as when you are not in the room. Motivational? Organized? Analytical? Tough? Strategic? The adjectives should be both consistent with who you are (authentic) and valued by the organization or customer using them (relevant). Then begin living these adjectives in every aspect of your life—act, eat, and talk in a way that is consistent with these adjectives. Use these terms to describe yourself when asked by others. Be consistent and eventually others will begin to describe you as you have suggested. Ms. Harris suggested this can take 90 days or longer of consistent behavior. By the end of that time, you will have matched others’ perception of how well you do your job with how you well you actually do your job.
Ms. Harris also encouraged women to appropriately use their professional “currency” to build success. Initially, we focus on performance currency. This is doing the job, doing it right, meeting the client’s needs, and taking it all to the next level. This requires learning how success is defined for the project or job and meeting that definition.
Unfortunately, performance currency eventually provides diminishing marginal returns as you’ve raised the bar on performance. One can’t get any further ahead without help from others. Ms. Harris tells us that this is the point that relationship currency becomes especially valuable. Relationship concurrency is the investment that you make in the people in your environment. The ability to ascend in your field is about the people who know you, and the only way for people to know you is to make strong relationships both horizontally and vertically.
Ms. Harris further explained that the ability to ascend professionally requires taking risks. Without the comfort to take risks, doing a great job and knowing the right people will only get you so far. She says “fear has no place in your success equation.” If you are on a margin, it’s always worth it to take the risk. And if you are comfortable with taking risks, you can both recognize and put into place those changes that are needed to ensure you stay relevant.
Ms. Harris concluded by stressing that we must remain authentic to ourselves. With every effort to better ourselves, to change others’ perception of us, to develop professional skills and professional relationships, and to take risks, it is authenticity that is “our distinct competitive advantage.” It is the key to separating ourselves from all the others looking to get ahead at the same time. Ms. Harris is a Wall Street executive and professional gospel singer, but she kept these two worlds apart. It was when she opened up about her singing to her investment world, that her success only grew greater. Each individual has a separate life story, and by being authentic in your communications and professional relationships, you will gain trust and stand out from the ordinary.