One of Fara Palumbo’s secrets for success is pretty elementary: Never stop learning.
Palumbo, one of Cary Magazine’s 2017 Women of Western Wake, is the senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and she loves coaching others.
“Career development is huge for me,” she said. “You can have all the benefits in the world, but if you are not focused on challenging work, leadership development — all of that is critically important.
“That’s what gets me excited: Creating a culture where you are learning, you’re taking care of yourself, and you have opportunities for growth.”
In her more than 20 years at BCBS, Palumbo has helped create an environment where employees are supported, engaged and learning. In 2006, BCBS made Working Mother magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies, and it has remained there for more than a decade.
Palumbo takes mentoring seriously, saying she has been given many leadership opportunities, and it’s her responsibility to give back. While each mentoring relationship is unique, she shares these principles which have guided her life and career:
- Be willing to take risks.
Just a few months out of college, Palumbo was offered a managerial role at Citibank in New York. Astonished, she declined at first, but after urging from her supervisor and her parents, she accepted the role.
“When I reflect back on that moment, I realize that had I not said yes, my entire career would have been completely different,” said Palumbo.
- Have confidence in your abilities.
Palumbo, a breast cancer survivor, returned to work after her treatment, and her supervisor immediately presented her with more responsibilities.
“I just felt so supported by that,” she said. “Some people would say, ‘My God, it’s more work.’ But to me it was a validation — as if he were saying, ‘This is a cancer diagnosis Fara, it doesn’t change your capabilities as a leader.’”
- Stay passionate about what drives you.
“What gets me excited and keeps me excited is the coaching aspect of my job,” said Palumbo. “I love the idea of coaching people and developing really great talent to be even better than they are — to be the best they can be.”
- Take advantage of nontraditional leadership opportunities.
Palumbo volunteered for many years with the Triangle Youth Ballet and the Caring Community Foundation, which provides financial support for cancer patients. Palumbo currently serves on the board of the regional affiliate of the breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen.
“Being on these boards gives you the opportunity to step outside the workplace, yet still use your leadership skills, your strategic planning skills,” she said.
- Never stop learning.
Palumbo says while you are investing in your career development, don’t forget about those who work for you and around you. She depends on those who report to her to share their expertise with her.
“If you’re naïve enough to think you know everything, you’re going to get in big trouble,” she said.
- Never forget where you came from.
This guiding principle is Palumbo’s personal mantra. When she sees someone she doesn’t know in the office, she will make a beeline to introduce herself with a smile and a handshake.
“Everyone has something to offer — to teach you or help you,” she said. “So treat everyone with respect and dignity, and give them your attention.”
Hear more from Palumbo and the four other Women of Western Wake honorees, at the 10th annual Women of Western Wake Luncheon, set for Oct. 27 at The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary.