Women Who Rock: Dansko’s Mandy Cabot on Being ‘Adaptively Authentic’

Dansko CEO Mandy Cabot Women
Dansko CEO Mandy Cabot.
Courtesy of Dansko.

Mandy Cabot has spent the past 25 years building Dansko into a comfort giant — and along the way, she’s learned a lot about leadership.

Here, the exec talks about developing her own style and encourages young women to go outside their comfort zones.

The importance of evolving your leadership style: “Entering this industry, I faced both external and internal challenges. Externally, I had to learn how to navigate the hurdles and expectations of an industry in which I had no prior experience. Internally, I had to evolve my leadership style from COE (Chief of Everything) to CEO, from two employees to two hundred, to maintain the right balance of approachability and authority, closeness and distance, consensus-building and decision-making, and I’ve continued to do that over our company’s 25 years.”

Advice for newcomers: “Be yourself, until being yourself gets in the way. Authenticity — or being true to oneself — is a popular buzzword in management these days, but too literal an interpretation of that message can undermine your growth and limit your impact. Be adaptively authentic. Get comfortable doing things that don’t come naturally, like assertively selling yourself and your ideas, or using your charisma to inspire and motivate people. Try out different leadership styles and behaviors. Set goals for learning, not just for performance.”

On learning every day: “I have no single mentor, but I learn a lot — every day and with every interaction — from the women I come in contact with. I think it’s important not to copy just one person’s leadership style, but to create your own collage by borrowing selectively from various people, tapping various role models that you can modify and improve.”

On how to network: “I recommend the WIFI [Women In Footwear Industry] networking group for its active mentoring program, pairing women who are new to the industry with seasoned professionals to discuss and seek advice on reaching both personal and professional goals. L.I.F.T. [Leaders In Footwear Tomorrow] is another Two Ten networking group that offers both formal and informal leadership development programs. L.I.F.T. is not exclusively for women, but it’s a great way for women to interact and bond with both male and female counterparts early in their careers.”