President of National Foodservice and On-Premise for The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) and WFF Board Member, Kathleen Ciaramello, has learned over her 32-year career with the world’s most recognized brand that she, like many women, had a tendency to sell herself short. Today, she knows smart risk taking has its rewards.
“Early in my career, I often aimed too low,” Ciaramello said. “When approached about a new role, I worried I wasn’t ready. Then, I’d move into the position and hit the ground running. That may sound like a good thing, but I came to realize over time it actually meant I had waited too long. I could have moved up sooner.”
The risks of playing safe
Today, as one of the most senior female leaders at Coke, Ciaramello encourages her team, especially women, to embrace career risks and trust that they will quickly grow into new challenges. There is good reason for that. Smart risk taking has its rewards.
An online survey of more than 10,000 leaders and professionals by Leadership IQ found that top executives are 66% more likely to enjoy taking risks than frontline employees. Informed risk taking can open up new ways of doing things and new opportunities. Of course, unbridled risk taking doesn’t make sense. But playing it safe holds risks of its own. You can get stuck in positions for which you have become overqualified and miss out on opportunities for growth.
Take the long view
One approach Ciaramello uses to counsel team members against aiming too low is to focus less on their next career move and more on where they want to be at the end of their career. “I understand people may feel unclear about exactly what they want to be doing in 10 or 15 years and that plans can change. But, even if it’s just for your knowledge only, putting a stake in the ground about your desired future provides a valuable lens through which to evaluate career opportunities,” she said.
Without a big picture view of the future, you may aim too low and choose positions that are too similar to your current role rather than expanding your skill set, perspective and value to the organization.
A mentor and sponsor helped Ciaramello avoid just such a mistake in her own career. “I was offered a lateral move that I really did not think I was interested in and I saw as a possible diversion from my ultimate goal of leading Foodservice,” Ciaramello explained.
“Fortunately, two mentors reached out to help me see how tackling a job in a new area would actually prepare me for the job I ultimately wanted,” she said. “They helped me understand the benefits of taking a risk on a role that was very different from what I had been doing and would expand my skills and vision.”
Champion your cause
Ciaramello also urges women to advocate for their own advancement. That includes making sure your manager is familiar with your long-term goals and being willing to push for more responsibility, stretch opportunities and high-visibility assignments that help your boss achieve his or her goals as well.
“You may also need to cast a wider net and develop relationships with company leaders beyond your immediate manager,” Ciaramello advises. “Even if your manager is an excellent champion for your career, relationships outside your immediate area can open new opportunities to take your career in exciting directions you may not have anticipated.”