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‘Own Your Power’ – and More Wisdom from a Woman at the Top of Wall Street

You’re powerful. But do you own your power?

You’d better!

That’s advice from one of the most powerful women on Wall Street.

‘Own your power’

“If you’ve been invited into the room, you belong in the room,” said Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, who was also appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council.

When you have a seat at the table, use it, Harris says. Use it to learn. Use it to voice your opinion. Use it to ask questions. Use it to respectfully counter opinions. Use it to share ideas that will improve your organization.

And if you don’t use your seat, move aside and let another woman fill it, Harris said.

That’s just one pearl of wisdom Harris  shared at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.  Here are five more — all things she’d tell her 25-year-old self (and any other woman in leadership):

‘In order to grow your power, give it away’

“You amplify yours by giving it to others,” said Harris, who’s also written best-selling books and has released three gospel albums.

This isn’t just about delegating lower level tasks as you move up in leadership roles. Use your experience and connections to guide other women to become better employees and leaders. Give assignments that are meaningful, not menial. Then shine a light on people who achieve them successfully or contribute to a team win.

As you “give away power,” you’ll gain respect. And the number of supporters behind your work and goals will increase.

‘Take risks’

If you approach anything with fear, you will fail. If you approach it with courage, you might still fail from time to time, but you will succeed almost always. And if you fail, you will gain experience that will help you avoid future (possibly bigger) failures.

So, Harris said, take risks if they will expose you to:

  • opportunities you might not otherwise get
  • new people and relationships, and
  • branches you can use to grow your career.

‘Beg for forgiveness, rather than ask for permission’

Taking risks often calls for doing something that’s never been done or is out of the parameter of normal operations. As long as what you do isn’t immoral or unethical, and doesn’t risk the safety of your company, reputation, employees or career, step outside the comfort zone to reach goals.

Harris said many times in her career she tried something without asking for permission, forgiveness was relatively easy to attain because her initiative usually outweighed the protocol violations.

‘Don’t worry about making mistakes’

“If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t stretching yourself,” Harris said. “What’s important is that you get up … and use it to move on … without carrying the baggage of the mistake.”

Own your mistakes just as much as you own your power. But let go of mistakes once you’ve righted them, noted what you must learn and planned how you will avoid them again.

Also, share your mistakes. Tell your rising leaders about your mistakes and how you used them as a learning tool and stepping stone to the next success.

‘Celebrate your victories’

Women often hit a goal, smile, accept a few congratulations and are “in a hurry to get to the next big thing,” Harris said.

Don’t rush through victories. Enjoy them by celebrating with colleagues, family and/or friends. Talk about what worked well. Relish in your hard work and the payoff.

And don’t just stop at celebrating professional victories: “If it’s your birthday, celebrate for the month!” Harris said.

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