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NEW Leadership Academy discusses ‘risky’ business

Monday, March 10, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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A record-setting audience of more than 500 Network of Executive Women members learned how effective leaders take intelligent career and business risks during the second NEW Leadership Academy 2014 webinar, March 7.

Members from across the country and Canada — many meeting in "Lunch and Learn” sessions with colleagues — heard from Elizabeth "Betty” Uhrig, general manager of aviation services for Chevron Corporation, and Valerie Oswalt, vice president of sales, West area, for Mondelēz International, who shared their insights during the one-hour webinar, "Purposeful Risk-Taking.”

The webinar, faciliated by career coach Jo Miller, CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, was the second NEW Leadership Academy series to feature industry leaders live via webcam.

Related: "NEW Leadership Academy offers strategies to stay motivated"

Uhrig, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, was the first woman to graduate from the Coast Guard's Aviation Electronics School and was hired by Chevron in 2000 as its first female pilot. "It was risky to be the first woman in a very male-dominated society and workforce,” Uhrig said. "But the greater the risk, the greater the reward.”

While the men in aviation she worked with — and later managed — had little, if any, experience working with a woman, Uhrig said the professional risk paid off personally and for women in general. "I could be a good example for the women who came behind me, and in some regards, I could teach the men I worked with that it’s not so bad, that we’re not an unknown. We can do just as good, or better, job.”

Most women tend to shy away from risk, Oswalt said. The executive’s first big personal and professional risk was a move from Deloitte in New York to Kraft Foods in Chicago in 1996. At Kraft Foods, she moved into five new roles in a few years. "Instead of focusing on the risk,” she said, "I focused on my transferable skills.”

Today, Oswalt encourages her team to take well-thought-out risks. "If you’re not taking risk, you’re actually creating more risk for yourself.”

Personal risk-taking can build leadership skills, she added. Two years ago, despite her fear of open water, Oswalt committed to participating in a triathlon. While swimming lessons helped her prepare, cold water conditions nearly stopped her from finishing the triathlon. When a fellow swimmer cheered her on, saying, "If I can do it, you can do it. Just start moving!” Oswalt found the strength she needed. "Don’t let your fears own you,” Oswalt urged. "A head full of fears has no space for dreams.”

When considering a risk, Miller said, women often:

  • Overestimate risk and underestimate opportunity,
  • Exaggerate what might go wrong,
  • Underestimate their ability to handle consequences and
  • Discount the cost of inaction.

Taking risks is uncomfortable, Uhrig acknowledged, "especially if you haven’t done it before. It doesn’t feel good and people like to feel good. Look forward. Where do you want to go and what do you want to accomplish? It will be there if you work hard for it.”

"You need to be okay with not having all the answers,” Oswalt said. "Do the appropriate preparation. Start by understanding what the risks are.”

Recovery from failed risk is essential to professional momentum, Uhrig added. When a failed team-building proposal led to stronger working relationships, Uhrig was able to see the positives of a "failed” situation. "I don’t like the word ‘failure,’” she said. "I like to look at it as ‘I didn’t get the desired outcome that I thought I would get.’”

"If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning,” Oswalt agreed. "The only time it’s a failure is if you haven’t learned from it.”

NEW Leadership Academy Study Hall
View Mondelēz International "Lunch and Learn” photos on Facebook and Twitter

A team from Mondelēz International's Phoenix office participated in
the NEW Leadership Academy webinar.

Colleagues from Mondelēz International's Cincinnati office learned
to take intelligent risks to advance their careers.

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