Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Positive of Negative Motivation: Thank you, Carla Harris.

I am a positive person. I would rather affirm that deny. I do what I can to make things possible, but occasionally it's just better to act, speak and think otherwise. For example, as a coach and a teacher, I know that "addition by subtraction" is much more than a catchy phrase. I cannot not tell you that's true. Quite often, less really is more. And thanks to Carla Harris, the recipient of the 2021 Laetare Award, I now know "negative motivation" is a positive approach—in spite of its name.

The Laetare Medal is an annual award given by the University of Notre Dame to recognize an individual who has displayed remarkable service to the Catholic Church, academics and society. At the commencement ceremony in May, the University will confer this distinction upon business leader, gospel singer, speaker and author Carla Harris.

As written in Notre Dame News

Harris currently serves as the vice chairman of wealth management and senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley and is on Harvard University’s and the Walmart Corp’s boards.

Throughout the course of her career, Harris has worked to promote women and people of color in business. She helped create Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab and oversees the company’s multicultural client strategy as a whole.

Characteristic of Harris’ approach to her own success has been a mantra that has carried her beyond many obstacles and naysayers: “Never count yourself out.” Harris coaches others with a “negative motivation” approach, leveraging what people say cannot be done into energy to prove them wrong. She likewise understands her successes as a responsibility to help others, saying, “We are blessed so that we may be a blessing to others."

Her approach caught my attention. Negative motivation? It seems contradictory. To me, motivation feels inherently positive. It is fueled by optimism. But it's also driven by desire and Harris' life is testimony of a truth that too many women, too many people of color, too many people encounter. Many doors aren't open. Ceilings are made of something other than glass. The world says "no way," or even worse "there is no way." Harris' stands before herself and others and says We can. You can. I can....or rather "you/we/I cannot not do this!." And why not?!

Yasiel Puig has always been my example for addition by subtraction. Talented but not a great teammate the Dodgers have fared better without him.

In math, the multiplication of two negatives results in a positive. Every language, has a construction in which two negatives make a positive. And so it is with a reality that many people face. When people tell you to count yourself out, use negative motivation and prove them wrong. I think Carla Harris has it right.

I speak about Carla Harris in Episode 17 of my podcast FaithFondue. You can listen here!

Photo Credits
Carla Harris

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