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Michigan Credit Union League

2022 AC&E Preview: Interview with Keynote Speaker Carla Harris

On June 10, during the first Center Stage! of this year’s Annual Convention & Exposition (AC&E), Carla Harris is delivering her keynote presentation, “Carla’s Pearls.”

Harris a vice chairman, managing director and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley. She is responsible for increasing client connectivity and penetration to enhance revenue generation across the firm. In her 35-year career, she has had extensive industry experiences in the technology, media, retail, telecommunications, transportation, industrial and healthcare sectors, and in 2013 was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council.

She has previously been named to Fortune Magazine’s list of 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America, Fortune’s Most Influential List, U. S. Bankers Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance, Black Enterprise’s Top 75 Most Powerful Women in Business as well as many other prestigious recognitions.

Harris possesses a master's of business administration from Harvard Business School and an applied baccalaureate degree in economics from Harvard University, Magna Cum Laude. Carla has also received honorary doctorates of laws, humanities and business from nine colleges and universities.

MCUL talked with her to hear more before June’s AC&E.

For Harris, authenticity is about being who you really are. If you want to bring all of you into an environment, according to Harris, you need to do three things. The first: Know who you really are. You need to be checking in on yourself on a regular basis, she said, particularly emphasizing the COVID-19 pandemic, since it has impacted everyone in one way or another. So, she said, if you haven’t checked in with yourself in a couple years, you need to do so.

The second: Understand and embrace the fact that we are all multi-faceted.

And finally: Relax. “Now you can relax and meet people where they are, and decide what facet of you is going to interact authentically in any given situation.

Harris said when she started writing and speaking about leadership, she focused on what authenticity is and why you want to be authentic, but since then, she said her focus has shifted to a prescriptive approach — teaching people how to be authentic.

“I realized people were still struggling with how to do that,” said Harris, which is why she came up with the aforementioned three-pronged approach.

When asked what she she most routinely sees as the stumbling blocks to great leadership, Harris recognized three barriers:

  1. Bringing their authentic self into their leadership seat
  2. Failure to listen to what people around them are telling them what matters most
  3. Failure to act when you do get feedback

Harris told MCUL that she brings a particular attention to the makeup of her audience in order to understand what matters to them. This way, she puts herself in the best possible position to help attendees get over those common barriers to great leadership.

“It’s about understanding who’s out there and what they might need at the time,” she said.

Another part of Harris’ process in understanding her audience is researching and asking beforehand what the respective industry or company is currently struggling with. In 2021, she said she most commonly heard companies who were fatigued from working so hard the previous year. Also common was plateaued growth and struggling to reinvigorate employees who are used to being industry leaders but are suddenly in the middle of the pack.

For her presentation, Harris draws on 35 years of experience on Wall Street, which has exposed her to all kinds of leaders, both good and bad. In addition, her diverse background as a Black woman that has been in these environments informs her understanding of leadership.

Harris said attendees of her keynote at this year’s AC&E should leave with the tools to lead with intention. 

“It’s not just, ‘This is what you ought to do.’ I’m very prescriptive in my delivery about how to do it, because I’ve realized people don’t manifest how they should. Intellectually, they know it, but they don’t know how to do it.”

Bringing up an example, Harris said people may know they need to be an inclusive leader, and they may know what that means, conceptually, but they may not know how to “show up” as an inclusive leader.

“That’s where they stumble,” she continued.

Among the tools she will cover in her presentation and offer attenddes are how to trust as a leader and how to execute like a diverse leader.

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2022-05-16 00:00:00