Morgan Stanley
  • Women Without Limits
  • Apr 22, 2022

Season Wrap & Personal Brand

Hosted by Stacie Hoffmeister
Come In, Let's Talk


Kara Underwood:            Who's invested in you? Who's standing behind your work? Who's taking your calls? Who do you reach out to to bounce ideas off of, and also who's reaching out to you for perspectives and advice?

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           That's Kara Underwood, and this is our season finale. Kara is the perfect guest for this episode because she's been there since this podcast was first conceptualized, and has been its most important champion and sponsor. Kara has outstanding analytical skills. She has a knack for connecting storylines and finding actionable takeaways, so I wanted to hear her perspective on the women and topics we've heard so far. And of course, we'll also talk about some of Kara's superpowers and how she developed them, like why generosity and management go hand in hand, how her introversion has led to greater connectivity, and what taking a Head, Hands and Heart approach can mean for advancement, for growth, and for meaningful change. I'm Stacie Hoffmeister, welcome back to Come In, Let's Talk. Kara.

Kara Underwood:            Stacie.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           Yay. Oh, God, you're the person that taught me how to greet people this way, it's occurring to me. I didn't do this until I started working for you. I used to go into Kara's office for our one-on-ones, because Kara's is my boss. She's my manager and I am so lucky to have a manager that I like and that I respect and that I get along with, so cool. I used to walk into Kara's office for just our one-on-ones and I would come in like, "Good morning," and I would get, "Good morning, Stacie."

Kara Underwood:            I was excited to see you and I wanted you to know that.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           Kara, I am so thrilled to have you here today. And you are the Head of Talent and Diversity for Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley, and you have a huge job and you've had a very important impact in my career, and I really respect your opinion on career development. I'd love to talk to you about your reactions to what we've heard so far on our series, Come In, Let's Talk.

                                                In this series we've had six of the top women at Morgan Stanley, the top women on Wall Street, to be honest, going really deep on how they got to where they are. And I'd love to hear just what resonates for you, what themes did you pick up on up, personally what really stuck out?

Kara Underwood:            First off, Stacie, thank you so much for including me, I'm thrilled to be here. And I loved listening to all of the sessions of Come In, Let's Talk. And a few highlights for me, there are so many. But I'd say the overarching sense that I got in listening to the series was how real the conversations were and how vulnerable and honest the dialogues that you sparked with our female leaders was. The other thing that I walked away with was how important being intentional about your career is for each and every one of us, and the importance of being strategic about, not just your career, but how you think about the work that is in front of you.

                                                And finally, I think to sum it all up, where a lot of it brought my thinking was around how each of these women shared within their own stories the importance of one's own personal brand. And as we seek to ascend within an organization to drive greater impact, to build our leadership remit, what it comes down to is how are we seeing within the organization as a leader, and how attuned are you to your own personal leadership brand, how are you communicating it, how are you expanding upon it, and being aware of how you do this in a very world-class way.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           I love that you pulled that out, that idea of understanding and knowing your personal brand. Many women can get to my level, which is, it's senior but still very much mid-career. And we get here from being excellent at our technical skill, our execution, our expertise, from doing the work to somewhat leading the work as well. And there does come a point in time though when we have to figure out what are we going to be famous for? What are we going to be known for? What's going to be our niche?

                                                I believe to really get to the most senior level of an organization you've got to be really great and known for something. And that journey of creating that awareness, that brand, that personal brand, and then getting others to perceive that too when they see you is very, very intentional work. Maybe that's another season, Kara, is building that personal brand.

Kara Underwood:            I think this could be us, I agree with you. And I will tune in for that one too.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           To deep dive a bit into this idea of personal brand I'd like to speak to you about yours. I'd love to hear about your story, and I'm sure our listeners would too, about how you found your niche, what your superpower is, how you uncovered it, and how you used it to really propel yourself into the position that you're in now?

Kara Underwood:            Oh, my story, something I love not talking about. I would say that my superpower is something that I'm really proud of. And I think why I love doing the work that we do in talent and diversity is I love to connect individuals, connect people to their higher purpose or power, connect them to other individuals who can help them realize that. And it is something that I started to get really present to by virtue of a skill that I've developed throughout my career, which is being really curious about other people and their stories.

                                                I would so much rather talk to someone else about their story than to tell you mine. And I think that comes down to the fact that I'm an introvert by nature, and I love how you highlighted at the top of our conversation that I greet you enthusiastically and I am... Don't think that being an introvert means shying away from being with other people, I do love being with other people, but I am shy by nature as well. And I've learned over the years, one of my coping mechanisms is I seek first to understand who's in front of me and then leverage that information to how is that tied into something I'm trying to do or how is that tied into something for another individual that I've talked to that can help them?

                                                I love being a person that is very accessible throughout the organization. And when you think about talent and diversity, we have individuals who are oftentimes looking for advice about how to ascend within the organization, or how to move around the organization. I'm doing marketing but now I want to do product development, how do I move within the firm? And I'm oftentimes a person folks seek out to for advice.

                                                Now, I can drive my team a little batty at times because I am very generous with my time and my coaching, but I have found that it gives me a really good feel for the pulse of the organization. And how are folks thinking about and feeling about Morgan Stanley as an employer, as a place to grow their careers, for the quality of our managers? And when you have individuals who are personally connected to the work, you're not just doing, what's expected of you, you're oftentimes working, putting in that discretionary time or putting in that discretionary effort. I call it your head, your hands, and your heart, and that's where the real magic happens.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           Your leading in to being curious and really being invested in caring and connecting to hearing from others came out of your introversion. I am an introvert too, which no one believes. No one believes that.

Kara Underwood:            I know. Count me as one of the non-believers.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           And this idea of trying to identify and uncover your super power is an interesting one. I have a prior career in branding. Before coming into talent and diversity I was a brand manager for some big companies and part of my career move was to put myself in a lane where I wasn't so drained at the end of the day. And I worked a lot of hours then, I work a lot of hours now and it feels completely different, completely different. I feel energized by the end of the day, not this drained feeling. I guess for each individual that's something that we have to figure out, is, what do I leave behind? To grow and to find my lane or what do I lean into? When to lean in versus when to walk away is an interesting question.

Kara Underwood:            Stacie, the way you frame that is brilliant and I think it's really important for us to consider, what is it costing us as we are ascending the ladder? Because there always is a cost. But as you have framed it, it's energy. And if you are getting fed back that energy, there's a heck of a lot more that you can give to the task at hand and bring more brilliance, more impact, versus work that depletes you and doesn't fill your cup at the end of the day.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           I'm glad that you mentioned energy, that's a metric, an important metric I think as one is managing and developing their career. And oftentimes when I don't have words to describe something or a feeling, I can notice the energy that it brings or takes or costs, to use your words. Some of the advice I give to others and advice that I've used myself is follow your energy. What energizes you versus what drains you, chances are you want to lean into what energizes you. And if there's a challenge that you're overcoming but that overcoming has just given you energy, lean into it. If there's a challenge you're trying to overcome and it is just draining and costing you too much, see that and act accordingly. But that's an important thing to, I think, name and articulate as we have this discussion.

Kara Underwood:            And I would say that for us as professionals, understanding where we do our best work and trying to find, map your calendar to that. I find that on Monday mornings, for example, it's you're getting hit with lots of little things that percolated over the weekend and it's a cleanup bit, and it's not a time necessarily where I should clear out two hours to sit down and map out a strategic point of view on what the future of work looks like. That I should be aware Monday mornings are going to be little things coming at me, it's quick, it's transactional. And if I have a big presentation I need to carve out time to do creative thought.

                                                Honestly, I do my best thinking at eight o'clock at night after the day is done, got hopefully a good meal in my belly, I've had a little bit of time with the kids to recharge. And it's that time where you're reflecting on the day. So being intentional about leveraging where you do your best work and try to get into, I call it the flow.

                                                And there's been some research and work done on this concept of flow. And I vividly remember a time where back in my career I had made a switch. I had moved from leadership development over to diversity and inclusion in 2014. And it was January, a Sunday afternoon at three o'clock. I'm actually sitting at the same desk I'm sitting at right now in my home office and I was working on something. And about 45 minutes went by but it felt like two minutes. And I looked up and was like, "Oh my gosh, where did the time go?" I was just so lost in looking at data and thinking about what could we build next, that I lost all sense of time.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           Self-awareness is such a big piece of what you're describing and I want to double-click on that in a moment. I agree with so much of what you've said. And I went back, actually in my mind, I went back to a card that my grandma wrote to me for some occasion. And she was a church-going grandma, as so many are, and in the car to me she wrote a verse from the Bible that says, "Perfect love casts out fear."

Kara Underwood:            I love that.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           And that's where... I think about that probably on a daily basis, when you love something, we're all afraid, we're all nervous, it's it happens, but when you love something you're not afraid to actually go for it. And I heard that and what you were describing, it just reminded me of that and one of my own mantras, perfect love casts out fear. Find what you love, find what you love and lean in.

Kara Underwood:            And I often use the adage, when you love what you do you don't work a day in your life. And my husband and my kids would disagree, they feel like I work every day of my life, and talk about how I'm married to Morstan, but I am so blessed because I feel, Stacie, that the work that you and I do is so purpose-driven. It can be incredibly draining, it is intense work, it can be a hard load to carry, but it is we are being forward-thinking, we are being innovative and we work with such amazing, brilliant, talented people that it feeds me every day.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           Absolutely, we are fortunate. We are fortunate.

Kara Underwood:            We are fortunate.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           I'd like to get your thoughts on how do you cultivate self-awareness?

Kara Underwood:            If you aspire to a big job in an organization, for-profit or not-for-profit, I think self-awareness. If you aspire to be a great leader you must build the muscle of self-awareness. And over the course of my career, what I have found is that folks who aren't aware of how they are coming across and received by others can oftentimes find themselves with limited upside. The other thing I'd say is, from a self-awareness perspective is, know how to read the room or in our virtual environment, read the Zoom.

                                                And I found it really interesting to hear how many people will take some time just to scroll through the screens when we're in big meetings and watch the non-verbals of how individuals are reacting to information or how they're carrying themselves. And I recently had a situation where my manager called me out on something and said, "Yeah, I know you're not happy about X, Y, or Z." And I said, "How do you know that?" And he's like, "I can tell by your body language on the Zoom, Kara." And I was like, "Wow, that was really good."

                                                The other piece in building yourself awareness is, who's invested in you? Who standing behind your work? Who's taking your calls? Who do you reach out to to bounce ideas off of, and also who's reaching out to you for perspectives and advice? The reality is we don't have the luxury of being able to pitch the perfect job, the job that is perfectly suited to our super powers, our strengths, and our skill sets. And being self-aware we need to know when we are positioned with something that is playing to our strengths and then leverage it to the hilt.

                                                And if we're put in situations where we need to perform on something that may not be playing to our strengths, do you have the people around you that you can call into service to help bridge those gaps? Know what your blind spots are, and as you are building a team make sure that you've got strong allies and individuals who can play to things that you are less skilled at.

                                                And then finally I close out with saying that I think being self-aware requires a lot of reflection, and reflection can take many forms for us and pick the form that works best for you. It could be a walk, it could be journaling. Mine I do knitting, and that's a way for me quieting my mind and then I start to reflect and step back and start to see patterns. Find what works for you and build in a regular discipline of reflecting on how things are going. Honestly, how you're showing up and how you could show up in new and better ways that drive greater impact for you.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           That's self-awareness muscle. Kara, thank you so much for joining us today for this bonus episode. I can't think of a better way to close the season than to have a conversation with my amazing boss and a real champion of this project of the series, so hank you. And I consider myself lucky to get to speak to you every day and to have conversations like this. Thank you so much.

Kara Underwood:            Stacie, thank you for your leadership and your vision in crafting this series. It was very easy to get behind and I'm so proud of what you have built. There are jewels here for everyone to benefit from.

Stacie Hoffmeis...:           That was Kara Underwood, Head of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Diversity & Inclusion and Home Office Talent. Thanks so much for joining us on this episode and throughout the first season of Come in, Let's Talk. Come back soon for season two featuring all new guests, all new topics, and more real talk with women who have made it to the top. Come In, Let's Talk is produced by Sarah Hartong, Strategic Communications for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Diversity & Inclusion, along with the team at FreeTime Media. Our music is by John Palmer. I'm your host, Stacie Hoffmeister.

Kara Underwood is consistently sought out for career advice and guidance. With her lens strictly focused on others’ talents, she’s created an indelible brand of her own. As our season wraps, Kara talks about learning the importance of self-awareness and using it for growth.

In this season 1 finale, Kara Underwood, Managing Director and Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Talent at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, shares how she learned the importance of self-awareness and channeled it into growth. Kara talks with our host, Stacie Hoffmeister, about how she found her own ‘leadership brand’ by leaning into what she knows how to do best: listen. Kara and Stacie explore what you sometimes have to leave behind as you grow in your career, and how that can be both challenging and liberating. They explore the self-awareness muscle, and how critical it is to lean into and cultivate.

Kara leads the Diversity and Inclusion and Home Office Learning teams for Wealth Management and is a member of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Operating and Management Committees. Kara has played a key role in shaping the learning strategy within Wealth Management and strategically defining and driving a culture of belonging across the business.

Stacie Hoffmeister, our host, is Managing Director, Head of Home Office Talent and Diversity for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.