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Pat Royak: “Leaning In” for the Next Generation of Women Leaders

July 1, 2013

An instant best-seller that has been compared to Betty Friedan’s ground-breaking “Femnine Mystique”, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” has become a rallying cry for those who seek to re-engineer the workplace.  While some will approach this from a system perspective, others will seek to apply lessons on an individual level. Pat Royak shares some of her thoughts as a coach and mentor to staff who aspire to leadership roles in their own careers.

Pat Royak, SVP and Managing Director, International & Donna Karan, Maidenform

Pat Royak has spent her career building iconic lifestyle brands on a global basis, including Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein, and Levi Strauss.  Across a variety of functional and general management roles, she has led a broad range of businesses in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific.  She currently serves as Senior Vice President & Managing Director of International and Donna Karan for Maidenform.

Royak holds a degree in business administration from Salisbury University and serves on the Advisory Board for the Purdue School of Business.

What is your take on Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”?

The book is a great reminder that in order to reach your dreams, leaning in is necessary. There is a fine line between boasting and exhibiting quiet confidence to self advocate. Many men and women are not type A’s and leaning in is not natural for them. It is also critical to have a partner who complements your weaknesses — someone who can serve as a sounding board to ensure you’re covered 360 so you do not tip over.  Many of my friends and work associates (men and women ) have read it and we agree it’s worth the read!

You no doubt serve as a role model for junior female staff. What specific “lean in” advice and counsel do you offer them?

Consider the path less traveled:  take on the challenge of a small turnaround that will help you quickly learn how to change direction to improve sales and profits.

Be collaborative and creative in your problem solving:  people want to be around a passionate brain-stormer, not a whiner. It is the EQ (emotional intelligence) that separates the leaders from the managers.

And as they rise to more senior roles?

Staying focused and even tempered is important, but being inspirational is critical to attract and retain the talent you need to win in a competitive environment.

Surround yourself with people who you enjoy being with and who share your values. If a team member is not in the boat with you, they are an anchor around your neck pulling against your drive to reach the company goals.

Evolve your leadership style and take the high road particularly as you move up. Think beyond your role and team to the greater good of the company. Put yourself in the shoes of others so you can customize your message to the audience. This will inspire trust and belief in your vision.

You’ve worked globally for many years. How have the cultural and language challenges impacted you?

Culture is more difficult than most people realize:  there are many nuances in each country, just like the regional and local difference within the US.

English-speaking cultures like New Zealand, Australia UK, Netherlands and Singapore are ones that I personally found very open to all types of people and cultures.  The language barrier and process to assimilate to English-speaking countries and schools for children is smoother to adapt and learn. In my experience, my son flourished at the British school in Den Haag (the Netherlands) way beyond our hopes.

The ability to speak face-to-face accelerates business development and builds trust. Communicating clearly and with speed is even more important in multi-cultural teams, especially when the messages must pass through a language filter, and where meaning will be absorbed at a different pace.   The reality is that many companies struggle with communication, even when everyone speaks English!

What might “leaning in” look like in a place like Japan?

The Japanese tend to build understanding of a concept by starting with the detail vs the big picture. An associate once described it to me that it was like a forest: Westerners see the big picture and start there, while the Japanese start with the vein of the leaf on the tree, work their way to the branch, then the tree, and lastly the forest.

The process and road map are critical, and you need visual metrics or milestones to keep leadership and teams aligned and focused.


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