Over 22 Years, ‘I Have Grown Up’ at My Company and Been Supported During My Journey, From an EVP

Sponsored by Navy Federal Credit Union

Kara Cardona

Photo courtesy of Navy Federal Credit Union.

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Fairygodboss
June 20, 2024 at 12:28AM UTC
How does someone become an executive vice president at the world’s largest credit union? Well, to start, it takes a company with processes in place for career advancement, a supportive culture ready to help you grow at every step and plentiful opportunities for mentoring — a place like Navy Federal Credit Union.
It is in no small part thanks to Navy Federal’s culture and opportunities that Kara Cardona became their Executive Vice President in the Greater Pensacola and Contact Center Operations (“Big title, I know,” she quips). Reflecting on her career, “I like to tell people that ‘I have grown up’ at Navy Federal because I truly have,” says Cardona. “I have been on this journey for over 22 years now and have embraced and appreciated each and every new and unique opportunity that has challenged me to grow both personally and professionally.”
When asked about the opportunities she’s received at Navy Federal, Cardona tells us that there are, “too many to count!” “Navy Federal is truly an organization that provides ample opportunity for those who want to take it,” she explains. 
For example, a pivotal moment in her own career path was being selected for Navy Federal’s two-year Executive Development Program. This program, “prepares high-potential leaders to assume roles of wider scope and broader responsibility by expanding their capability to think strategically, manage complexity, drive change and take a holistic approach to problem solving in order to lead the organization through tomorrow's challenges,” she says. 
Before she was in this program, Cardona had been in the same department for twelve years. But, thanks to the program, she got to try out a new role. “It was a real period of growth for me because not only was I learning from the course curriculum, I also gained insights and exposure from across the organization that prepared me to be a better leader,” she shares. “I was quite nervous and maybe even a little scared to change, but it taught me a valuable lesson. You can and should always be willing to try your hand at new and different things in your career. Doing so will push you to perform beyond your own perceived limits!”
Now, in her current role, Cardona is motivating people with her own career experience and is “serving as the site leader for Navy Federal’s largest campus in Pensacola, Florida while also leading our 24x7 Contact Center teams,” she says.
In this article, Cardona shares her tried-and-true leadership advice and how mentorship has changed her career path. Read on to be inspired!

What’s one management strategy you’ve used that’s been effective? 

I have had the opportunity to lead a variety of teams throughout my career. It’s important to always be transparent in where your own strengths and areas of opportunity are. My philosophy has always been, “those that you lead are your greatest teachers”. I say this because, while I have worked for some incredible leaders, I always find that I learn the most from the individuals or teams that I have led. They are inspiring, often subject matter experts and have a host of skills and talents to share.
I do not think I have ever stepped into a position where I did not acknowledge that I was going to rely on them to teach and guide me. I find this effective because it’s not only me showing my vulnerability, but also that we are in it together and together is what will make the team work.

How do you think about making sure your direct reports feel well-supported in their lives, both in and out of the office?

I once read that most individuals spend over 70% of their life at work. When you think about that, it gives you real perspective. What that tells me is that most, if not all of us, may ultimately spend more time with our coworkers than families. 
I am always genuinely interested in my team members, their families, personal interests and aspirations in life. And, likewise, I like to share my own story, which I think helps create a relationship where they feel the support. When you’re open in this way, your team knows that you are a “real” person, too. It is easier for someone to say, “hey, I need to leave early to get to my child’s soccer game,” if they understand that you already know what being there means to them and their child. And, the next day, I always want to know how that game went! We build our own family at work, and what do families do? They support each other.  Knowing your team members personally helps to better engage them as a leader. Showing that you care is the greatest gift you can give your team.

How has mentorship enriched your own work experience?

I currently serve as a mentor and have had great mentors myself. I believe that you can craft mentorship experiences to benefit both the mentor and mentee since mentorship works both ways. I learn just as much from those that I mentor as they do from me, and the relationship that can come from it is so important. I still frequently reach out to previous mentors of mine for advice and counsel, and, likewise, I am often in contact with those I have mentored in the past. This has certainly enriched my work experience because as my own philosophies grow and change, so do those that I have those relationships with. 
Being willing to listen and lean on others for insights and inputs on how to tackle or prepare for challenges makes you all the more objective as a leader.


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