PadillaCRT’s Patrice Tanaka on the Power of Leadership Development

May 1, 2015

Patrice Tanaka
Patrice Tanaka

I recently sat down with one of the most inspiring leaders I know, Patrice Tanaka. She is the chief counselor and creative strategist at PadillaCRT and previously held senior leadership roles with the eponymous firms CRT/tanaka and Patrice Tanaka & Company (PT&Co). Not surprisingly, she was disarmingly honest.

Who are some of the most inspiring leaders you’ve ever worked for, or who have influenced your career, and why?

From my boss at my first New York PR job, I learned that if you really nurture and support your people, you’ll be more successful. But I learned this only because she didn’t support us. That’s when I decided I wanted to be her exact opposite. So you might say she was my anti-role model!

If you only make decisions based on what’s good for you, that doesn’t create a workplace community and a committed workforce. It’s our job as senior leaders to support our employees so that they can succeed wildly, allowing us to build bigger companies.

From Mark Raper, president of PadillaCRT and former CEO of CRT/tanaka, I learned the beauty of servant leadership. He never leaves the office without asking his colleagues if there’s anything he can do to help them go home earlier.

PadillaCRT’s CEO Lynn Casey has taught me the power of comporting oneself in a graceful and gracious way, in all situations involving colleagues, clients and business partners.

Is our profession doing enough to focus on leadership, and not just the business of communications?

I totally believe in the importance and the power of leadership development, including training and coaching.

As PR professionals, we strive to be valued counselors to our clients. This sometimes means telling them what they don’t want to hear, or that their thinking and decisions are flawed. That also means putting your client’s needs above your need for a conflict-free life, which requires leadership. And leadership requires courage.

Since you mentioned courage, would you be courageous and share your worst leadership moment, and what you learned from it?

Mine was when I had to terminate two of the founding shareholders of PT&Co. Our business had declined precipitously in the wake of 9/11 and a recession. We needed to substantially reduce staff costs, so eliminating only a few junior staffers just wouldn’t cut it.

What I learned from this decision is that you must always run a healthy and profitable business, manage expenses tightly and reduce staff costs.

Previously, my focus had been protecting the jobs of all the employees. But you can’t make this your biggest priority, or you’ll be out of business. There are recessions and major turndowns. If you want to survive, you must run a viable business and focus on what’s best for the group as a whole. Do so, and you actually protect more jobs. And if you must make tough decisions like this one, make them sooner rather than later.

How can we bring more leaders of color into the PR/communications business?

I’ve been involved on panels trying to answer this question for 20 years. Most agencies, I think, see the value of having a more diverse workforce. However, this is not a strong business imperative for most.  It’s more of a “nice” to have than a “need” to have.

On one panel, I suggested that the most efficient way to address this problem would be for the heads of communications of the top 25 or 50 Fortune 500 companies agree to not hire any agency unless its  professional workforce reflected the diversity of  the population at large.

Unless we have a real imperative, I don’t think you’ll see the diversity we want and need.

Today, beyond ethnic diversity, I would also define diversity in terms of gender, sexual orientation and age.

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website (www.jacobscomm.com) and contact him by email (ken@jacobscomm.com) or Twitter (@KensViews).

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