Morgan McKinley are delighted to welcome Cyndi Festa to our Women in Leadership series. With more than 25 years’ experience working with Dun & Bradstreet, Cyndi has led numerous Data Operations Teams across North America and Europe for the global organization (NYSE: DNB ).
Currently based in Dublin, Cyndi places a strong focus on developing relationships with both her internal and external partners to achieve successful business outcomes.
Recognized as an industry expert internationally, Cyndi has been a member of various national and international standards and policy-making groups. Cyndi is passionate about the integration of women in the workplace and has spoken to various groups regarding career progressions and women in the workplace.
Who is your role model as a leader?
The first person who comes to my mind is my mother. Though I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by many influential leaders, both male and female, from a very early age, it is my mother who has most influenced me. She is a woman of courage, strength and solid business acumen. Her independence and ability to run an emerging business are true examples of someone who defied the norms of what a woman was expected to accomplish several decades ago.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Personally, I am most proud of my two children. They have grown into generous and caring individuals who truly enjoy giving back to their community.
Professionally, I am most proud of my team. As a leader, to me, it’s all about the team and I invest heavily into developing the people I work alongside. So now, I work with a high-performing team that collaborates well and looks for innovative solutions while understanding that the work accomplished on a daily basis may have a material impact on subsequent businesses. We are a team that is accountable and responsible.
If you had advice for your 18 year old self what would it be ?
You don’t meet people by accident. Embrace each interaction, good or bad, and learn from it. Remember things will go wrong so you know when they are right. It’s how you respond to the challenge that builds strength and character. Set goals, have a social life, be open minded and listen twice before you speak once. Be confident and remember who you are.
What is the most valuable advice you have been given?
Be careful with whom you share your weaknesses. Some people can’t wait for the opportunity to use them against you.
What has been the greatest challenge/s in your career and how did you overcome it/them?
In early 2014, I left North America to pursue a career opportunity in Ireland with my existing employer. The role was overseas, in a new country,with different employment laws and a new team – what wasn’t to love? This was a ‘stretch’ role and the weight of the responsibility wasn’t lost on me, but I’ve never been one to walk away from a challenge.
So one day, I awoke in a country more than 3,000 miles away from home questioning if I had made the right decision. This exciting opportunity in a new country, with its new challenges, suddenly felt a bit daunting and I began to question my ability to achieve what was being asked of me. Upon reflection, I recognize that feeling as ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – that feeling that you are an imposter and about to be “found out” at any minute. I think of how I took the brave path and how I could have said no but I had made a choice to come to Ireland and I wasn’t about to give up. The realisation that I had been given an incredible opportunity to grow and develop was the turning point for me. I had worked hard for this opportunity. I gained domain expertise and the leadership skills to allow me to be successful. I recognized that in order to continue my career progression, I would need to adapt and evolve as a leader.
It was a challenging journey, but I made a conscious decision to be transparent, to ask for help and to surround myself with supportive people. As I gained confidence, things began to fall into place. It was through this journey that the importance of continuous development and open mindedness was reinforced. In order to continue my professional development, I needed to adjust my leadership style and be open to change to meet the needs of my new team. I remained true to myself and maintained my core values. This, along with my determination, enabled me to overcome this new challenge.
What are the challenges to female leadership?
The obstacles that women face are a combination of both a “sticky floor” and a “glass ceiling”. The media often portrays the “glass ceiling” as the barrier to female progression to the top roles. For my journey, I believe it’s a case of the “sticky floor” fuelled by “Imposter Syndrome,” which is that feeling that you aren’t good enough and that you’ll be “found out.” It is often times a lack of confidence that can be the most debilitating challenge for women as they progress through their careers.
So often, women don’t recognise the value that they add to their organisations and therefore, don’t raise their profile and apply for those “stretch roles.” This results in many women not progressing at the same pace as their male counterparts. Any step up in a career should cause you to “stretch” and force you to discover your maximum potential. Growing and developing is part of the attraction of a new role. It is important to keep in mind that every CEO or executive was once new at their position. They also had a first day in that new job. As women, we need to be confident and comfortable about whom we are and clearly articulate what we bring to the table. We need to accept that it’s ok not to be 100% comfortable about reaching for that next role and to be brave and embrace the uncertainty.
Can you give us 3 things on your 'bucket list'
I don’t actually have a bucket list. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals or a life aspiration. Life is not a dress rehearsal. I’ve made a conscious decision to live in the moment, embrace opportunities and be thankful for what I’m able to achieve. I find that if I focus too much on tomorrow, I miss out on the excitement of today.
Your definition of success? And/or your Mantra?
Success for me is being able to reflect upon the accomplishments of myself and my team and know that they have been achieved through hard work without compromising my values.
Regarding my mantra, I remind myself to “respond versus react”. Too much emphasis is placed on immediate reactive behaviour, which isn’t always productive. Taking time to consider and provide a response doesn’t mean you are slow, it simply means you are thoughtful in your approach.
3 key words to describe yourself?
Optimistic, Dynamic, Genuine
What would you like to achieve next?
As I'm currently on an assignment, I'm not sure what my next role will be. That being said, my aspiration for the next phase of my career is to expand my role as an influencer.
Having worked outside the US, I have developed a fresh perspective about what it means to be part of a global organization. What I have discovered, as I have worked with culturally diverse European workforces, is that I value diversification in the work force and enjoying seeing people grow and succeed.
I want to continue to focus on my strengths and do what I do best which is leading transformational projects and solving complex customer problems. I want to continue to create high performing teams helping people grow and develop as successful, confident contributors.