What’s the key to being a visionary? Sometimes it starts with a little belief and some fancy eyewear.
I started like most of us started: I just did. I worked. I was smart. I got things done. Then, all of a sudden, that stopped working, and I had a choice to make about what I wanted to be when I grew up (again). So I decided to (really this time) take control.
Let me start here: I love what I do because, at the heart of it, I know I’m in the driver’s seat. Of course, that’s an ironic metaphor—since I’m from Brooklyn and I hate to drive—but stay with me here. I work for Morgan Stanley, a global financial services firm that hired me when I was five months pregnant—in September 2008 as the economy was going through so much turmoil. It was a huge risk for them, and a big jump for me, moving from higher education to financial services. I worked. Went on maternity leave. Came back. And got it done some more.
A couple years later my boss felt I was ready for a big challenge. He pitched me as lead for one of the biggest and most high profile projects in the pipeline. Then, the head of the group shot him down. The feedback? I wasn’t a visionary. I was more of a “doer.”
That really, really bothered me. In some ways, I felt he was probably right. After all, I loved “getting things done.” I worked with so many smart people, so I was happy to collaborate on great ideas instead of taking the lead and the glory. I wasn’t alone: studies have shown that women are unlikely to take credit for their role in group work in a mixed-gender setting unless their roles were explicitly clear to outsiders. But after some stewing, a thought occurred to me. What if I started acting like—and ultimately believing—I was a visionary? Sure, it wouldn’t get me that coveted project that I missed, but surely it might lead to something else? It was time to get intentional and take charge of my professional narrative. So I did.
The first thing I did was go out and assemble a unique wardrobe to help me “look the part.” Oh, sure, that might seem completely superficial, and, yes I invested in some fancy eyewear. I wanted to put on my superhero costume, and I made sure it screamed “visionary.” I called my glasses my “leader lenses.” I would take them off and give a purposeful stare when I was making a visionary point (anyone who knows me remembers this phase with giggles). People were very entertained. I decided to explicitly signal that I was different and people should take note, and the confidence came soon after. I decided not to blend in. I’m loud, so I might as well live loud too—with a red dress and teal specs!
Next, I started bringing ideas to people all the time. I stopped censoring ideas that were too “out of the box” (which kept me from sharing them in the past) and instead began to workshop and brainstorm them with others. I gave tons of credit to the people who helped me refine my ideas. I encouraged people to share their own crazy ideas. In doing so, I created a safe place for people to not only incubate their ideas, but to also “get it done.” There’s a Lean In Circle stat which states that 85% of circle members credit their circle with positive changes in their life. Who doesn’t want an 85% boost in their life with some laughs thrown in?
Carla Harris, a fabulous trailblazer at Morgan Stanley, has said: “The most important conversations about your career happen when you are out of the room.” (See paragraph 3 above for exhibit #1). On the surface, this is a completely disempowering concept—how can I control what others say about me? But I was determined to have a say.
I began by clearly defining my mantra. At the time, it was: “I’m a trailblazer for dynamic leaders. I’m an expert in growth strategy and program management. I’m passionate about building community.” (It has since evolved to: I make big ideas a reality and I help teams love the journey.)
Then, I told my mantra to as many people as I could. That way, everyone knew what it is and where I was going with it. It was my own professional narrative and best of all, I wrote it myself. Talk about taking control of the conversation. Do you have a mantra?
Me with my fellow MAKERS@Morgan Stanley Wealth Management 2017 Awardees. Notice the bold dress pattern, cute specs, and hand holding with my dear colleague (aka my tribe). I would have hugged all of them in that photo if I could. Such a fantastic group!
Now, cut to present day. I have led even bigger projects than the one I didn’t get, pushed myself and my team to inspire and innovate, and most of all tried to help others in their own journeys. A little career/karma update: That leader who said I wasn’t a visionary? Years later he offered me a big role to lead strategy on his team (I turned him down, but we have become buds anyway).
Here’s the biggest takeaway. I love what I do and it’s because I push myself to be MY BEST SELF, and that there are tons of people I work with who will support me as I take risks and swing for it. And by being intentional about highlighting my own strengths, I became better equipped to shine a light on the strengths of others. I’m a more effective leader because of it. Speaking of leadership, I am totally due for some new eyewear.
Jennie Glazer is the Chief Operating Officer for Field Talent Management at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. The Field Talent Management team plays a crucial role in accelerating Morgan Stanley’s Modern Wealth Strategy through significantly improved client focused engagement capability and impact. In her prior role as COO for Diversity & Inclusion programs in Wealth Management, she led the design and production of Leadership Summits for women and multicultural financials advisors—experiences that connected our talent in meaningful ways. Jennie lives in Brooklyn, NY with her two children and husband. In her professional and personal pursuits, she strives to live her mantra, “Make Big Ideas a Reality, Help Teams Love the Journey.”