Kicking off the second day of the MDRT Annual Meeting Virtual Event 2021, Morgan Stanley vice chairman, managing director and senior client advisor Carla Harris highlighted the importance of leadership in the unprecedented times we live in today.
“We are in a time where there is a generational shift,” she said. “There is a transfer of wealth, there is a transfer of power and there is a transfer of leadership that is dictating a different type of leadership – not only in the organisations that you might run, but in the relationships that you are a part of when you are leading clients and creating a vision of what the future might look like on the other side of what we have experienced over the last 14 months.”
Leadership does not just happen
Ms Harris believes that leadership does not just happen – it must be intentional. And for her, it must be intentional around eight things, including:
- – “Your authenticity is your distinct competitive advantage. Nobody can be you the way that you can be you,” she said. Being authentic means that you should not submerge anything that is uniquely you. Behaving in a way that is inauthentic to who you really are puts you at a competitive disadvantage because you are then using valuable intellectual capacity that could otherwise be used to really listen to another person or respond quickly to something.
- Building trust – Trust is an important ingredient to successful relationships. Ms Harris brought up how being empathetic is a critical part of building trust, especially in the current state of the world where practically everyone has been affected by the pandemic. As leaders at the forefront of innovation, you will be venturing into unknown territory, and she stressed that all great leaders should understand that they cannot do it alone and will need to have the trust of their team to perform optimally.
- Creating clarity – “If you are a powerful, impactful and influential leader, your job is to create clarity when you cannot see,” she said. With so many people, clients included, still trying to figure out what the future will look like after the pandemic, there is an opportunity to paint a picture of what the future might look like. “In the absence of a strong voice, people will migrate towards that voice which is the strongest and which has the most cogent argument. And that’s a real opportunity for all of us as leaders. Now is the time to create that clarity,” she said.
Aside from the pandemic the last year or so has seen race-related tensions come to a head in many parts of the world, consequently bringing racial inequities to front-of-mind.
On the back of that, diversity, equity and inclusion consultant Torin Perez suggested three ways of being a more inclusive leader:
- Be antiracist – Inspired by Ibram Kendi, author of ‘How to Be an Antiracist’ who was included in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2020, Mr Perez said that it is not enough just to say, “I’m not racist.” Having friends from different racial backgrounds, working with people of colour and not being actively racist does not mean that one has not passively supported policies, institutions and products that have exacerbated racial inequities in our society.
“Striving to be antiracist is the only way that we get a chance to root out systemic racism and close the gaps of racial disparities that inhibit the quality of our lives in so many areas like education, health and wealth,” he said.
- Be the change – As cliché as it sounds, it is very likely that many of us at some point have used at least one of a myriad of excuses not to make a change. “Being the change is simple – it’s about challenging your assumptions, challenging and disrupting those excuses, seeing your current perceptions and stereotypes that do not serve you and saying, ‘I’m going to change them’,” said Mr Perez. “When you decide that you will be the change and challenge your assumptions, it changes how you show up every single day and changes your ability to affect your circle of influence.”
- Be an inclusive leader – People have a bad habit of, when we are around good-intentioned, like-minded individuals, we assume that when we see something wrong, they too have seen it and they are the ones who will act upon it. Essentially, the bystander effect. “Silent bystanders have cost us so much ability to make progress,” said Mr Perez. “Because they are aware enough to see the issues or the challenges, but they just bet constantly that someone else will do it.”
Mr Perez encouraged everyone to step up and be that ‘someone else’, to notice the bias, exclusion and inequity and address it and bring it to the forefront of what we want to do.
And while one person is unlikely to be able to change the world or solve all its problems, he added that doing what we can from where we sit will contribute to a global and growing movement of inclusive leadership.
An attitude of gratitude
In his incoming presidential speech, 2022 MDRT president Randy Scritchfield served a reminder that many of us have been able to overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges over the last year thanks to the support of those close to us.
“Ask yourself who have been your star supporters in the past year – who has lifted you up when you needed it. It could be a spouse, partner, friend, client or fellow MDRT member. I bet your list is a long one,” he said.
“I encourage you to embrace an attitude of gratitude by thanking anyone who has supported you this past year.”
One of the things financial advisers do well is run the numbers and give the likelihood of different things that could happen to a client in their lifetime. A lot of this tends to focus on negative events, and Chris George said that it is important to frame things positively.
“In our industry we are able to rattle off the percentage chance of a death or critical illness or disability to our clients. In order to create a more positive experience, I flipped the statistics,” he said. “Rather than tell a prospect that they had a 7% chance of dying, 22% chance of critical illness before age 65, I would explain to a client that what those odds meant is that they actually had a 93% chance of being alive and a 78% chance of being healthy into retirement.
While on the surface it seems like he had just talked the prospect out of seeing the need for insurance at all, Mr George pointed out that he had in fact positioned insurance in a more positive way – advising the client that they need need to prepare for the most likely scenario.
“It made little sense to plan for the most likely events to occur, and not the most likely,” he said.
More on MDRT:
MDRT Virtual Event Day 1: Into the future, to the next level
MDRT brings timely strategy to life with innovative 2021 annual meeting virtual event
MDRT makes strategic moves to empower members for 2021 membership season amid global crisis
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