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Bossing It: Balancing Transparency and Carefulness with Lizette Santos

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FCB Manila CEO on being real, the importance of acknowledging failure and taking inspiration from everything

Bossing It: Balancing Transparency and Carefulness with Lizette Santos

Lizette Santos, CEO, FCB Manila has 20 years of advertising and marketing experience

Responsible for the overall direction of FCB Manila brands. A seasoned advertising professional who worked in different departments like media, account management, but found her niche in strategic planning. Worked in different agencies like Lowe Philippines, Campaigns and Grey, Harrison Communications, FCB Jakarta but found a home in FCB Manila.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership? 

Lizette> I didn’t know it back then, but I was given many leadership opportunities even when I was a junior employee. It would happen that my boss left for another job, or I would be thrust into a new account alone and I would have to lead the account. 

I could not say I was thrilled by what had happened at the moment, but looking back, I am grateful that I went through all of that. 

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Lizette> The HARD way! (LOL) 

I found out as I worked with many different leaders in my career. I have learned that I wanted to be a Human first with everybody, treat everyone with compassion and kindness as much as I can. Be real with them because I also want them to be real to me. 

LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Lizette> The moment when I realised that I was the last say. 

I had to make a decision that would make an impact on every single employee in the company and that was scary. But it was necessary for me to decide and I did. 

Everyday I am still learning different lessons. I am just thankful that I have a great team to work with. 

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Lizette> At school, I was always given leadership positions, I didn’t really seek it out, but I realised that maybe people ‘saw’ it in me. 

I was happy to do my best in anything, even in leadership but I didn’t necessarily want to be leading all the time. In fact, there were times in my career that I didn’t relish having a leadership position because of all the problems that come with it. 

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Lizette> For me, most of the skills of leadership can be learned. In my experience, the way I know how to be a leader was shaped and honed by what I see and how my bosses have led me, how they have decided on key issues. I always wondered, what would I have done if I were in their position. 

But, one of the most important parts of leadership is largely because of your personality and values, and it is the kind of leader you are. It is true that pressure will bring about your real character and power will magnify it. A person has to have their values intact in order to lead a team in the right direction. 


LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Lizette> For me it’s the realisation that every decision can impact every one that keeps me up at night. It’s always hard to know what is the decision that will be better for everyone in the long run. But what I do is to seal it first in a mental box, do something else and then come back. That way, I can look at it in another light. 


LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Lizette> Definitely! I have failed countless times. But what I did was to pick myself up and tackled it head on. If I hurt anyone in the process, I made sure that I apologised and explained to them. I think the best thing when you have failed is to acknowledge it, learn from it and then move forward. This is the only way you can grow as a leader too. 

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Lizette> The best way is to balance transparency and carefulness. I did grapple with this issue but I realised that you need to be transparent to people because this is the way that they will understand the decisions that are made. I want the team to feel included in our thought process, because at the end of the day, we are better when we work together. 

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Lizette> I had a leadership peg, I wanted to be very much like Mariles Gustilo who was the president of Lowe Philippines when I was there. She became my direct boss when I was still a very young accounts person. She is a very measured person, always classy and always gave a very well thought out opinion. I always had a sense that she had the best interest of everybody at heart. That’s why she could reason with Client the way she did. That was a very important lesson I learned from her. 

On mentorship, I don’t really decide to focus on one individual, but more like I try to coach the team when I comment or give feedback. I want to demand excellence from everyone but at the same time, give them the support they need. 

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Lizette> I was just promoted this year and have had many challenges ever since!

Honestly, I owe it all to the team at FCB Manila. They have shown me support and trust day in and day out, I just want to do the right thing for all of my teammates, our Clients and at the end of the day, we also want to move hearts and minds forward in the right direction with our work. 


LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Lizette> Recently, there were some issues that came out in our industry on sexism, fat-shaming and I was very pleased to see that our 4A’s dealt with it swiftly. 

As a leader, I really try to lead by example. Being inclusive is important because we are centred on being a team and working together. 

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Lizette> I think culture is 50% of the success of the business. For us, we keep in touch with one another and try to keep things light even during important meetings. We share with each other on a daily basis, even the things that aren’t necessarily business related. It’s important to connect on a human level with everyone. 

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Lizette> There are lots of people you can follow online, and I am sure a lot of leaders follow them. But for me, the experience of being with people, working with them day to day and even just talking with them have helped me in my leadership journey. 

Everything is an inspiration and a lesson, so I try to immerse myself in many different interests so I can learn from all of it. 

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FCB APAC, Tue, 12 Oct 2021 09:24:46 GMT