Cynthia Augustine, Global Chief Talent Officer, FCB
Cynthia “Cindy” Augustine, is the highest-ranking Black woman at FCB, a global integrated marketing communications agency with more than 8,000 people in 109 operations in 80 countries. She leads HR, talent acquisition and development, organization design, change management, compensation, benefits, and diversity and inclusion programs for the network. A member of both the New Jersey and New York State Bar Associations, she’s known worldwide for attracting A+ talent and creating high-performance teams that leverage organizational strength and drive performance. She’s led teams at Scholastic, Time Warner and The New York Times amongst others.
What would you say is your biggest career failure?
I was a Senior Vice President of Human Resources and was on the Company’s Executive Committee. The company was facing rapid marketplace challenges and competitive pressures that required fundamental business model changes. The executive team was very divided on how to proceed as our alternatives advantaged some and extremely disadvantaged other members of team, while overall, confronted the company with a very uncertain future – in other words, there were no clear or easy path.
It was my role to help bring the team together with a forward vision for the company with team building, defining roles, incentives, etc., but I was unable to do so, and the change effort. As a result, the team became even more divided.
What did you learn from this failure and how did it impact your future career?
As many will say, the lessons are in the failures. I learned from a skill point of view, how to develop and implement a successful change initiative, how to navigate in a rapidly changing business environment and what makes for prosperous executive team. The real and true learning for me was personal. The most difficult, and this took some time on my part to realize, I had to look closely at myself to see what I did or didn’t do that contributed to politics of the situation. I had to determine why I was unable thrive in that particular situation. From this, I have learned how to lean hard into my own personal values, the non-negotiables, such as speaking truth to power and most of all learning resilience and coming back with grace and understanding, but most importantly, coming back strongly into my own power.
Is it ok to take the blame for someone else’s failures?
I have taken the blame for someone else and I don’t have a problem with it. I’ve done it at times when someone is not in a position of strength and power organizationally, but they’ve worked hard, tried hard, and I think they are talented and just somehow missed the mark or something went wrong in a particular project.
How do you know if you’ve successfully recovered from failure?
You’ll know if you have credibility and trust of your peers, your subordinates and your leaders – whether they entrust you to give you assignments to do the work that you’re there to do. If you’re able to articulate what went wrong, take responsibility for it, show what you would do instead, and you’ve had a good track record, chances are (if you’re working with a good group of people) you’ll have another chance – because no one’s perfect, we all make mistakes.
What responsibility do you find in failure and in making mistakes?
I think it’s all of our responsibilities to mentor and coach others, so I absolutely try to help people avoid mistakes that I’ve made. There are enough mistakes we’re bound to make getting through this life, let’s avoid the avoidable ones!
What would you say is your biggest career accomplishment?
Helping other people be successful. It’s the passion that drives me every day. My teams fuel my career success! I have fantastic teams and we work together hand in glove.