Authentic Leadership Means Revealing Your Whole Self | Net Impact

Authentic Leadership Means Revealing Your Whole Self

For this executive, a winning hand meant leaving her poker face behind.

“You’re doing great but…”

Why is it during a performance review, you only hear everything after the “but” and forget everything that came before? No matter how glowing the review, it evaporates when the other shoe drops with a thud. My own thud was followed by a boss explaining to me early in my career that I needed to work on my “poker face.” If I wanted to be successful in business (and of course I did), he suggested I’d have to stop wearing my emotions on my sleeve.  So I set out to bury those emotions in, up, and under my sleeve – heck, cut the whole arm off if I had to!   

Sounds crazy, yes? Even crazier when you consider my Meyers Briggs personality type is an INFP (Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling and Perceiving) – about as warm and fuzzy as it gets. Growing up, my friends would tell me I had three reactions to everything – either I love it, I hate it, or its stupid. No in between and no holding back. So it was like trying to bake a cake without all the ingredients when I tried my best to “be successful in business” without my emotions to help me communicate and engage because they were now hidden behind my newly mastered poker face.

Needless to say, this was not a recipe for success, at least not for my success. I felt like I was leaving something at the door; and that something wasn’t just a little piece of me, it was the core of me. Ironically, it took being on stage in front of a couple thousand people to realize that my emotions are one of my greatest professional assets.

I shared the story of my company’s work with waste pickers in Brazil on the main stage at Sustainable Brands 2013. We had been working with a cooperative called Futura to help them achieve certification for an international labor standard called SA8000. The fact they achieved the certification was amazing in and of itself, but the real story was in how the workers’ lives had been transformed as a result of becoming a productive and viable partner in the recycling supply chain. It’s the kind of story that is hard to tell with a dry eye. And while I may have been nervous that my voice cracked as I spoke, the audience received it with open ears and hearts. Afterwards, people I did not know went out of their way to thank me for sharing the recycling cooperative’s story (Phoenix Project) in such a heartfelt and authentic way. Even in the airport on my way home, someone came up to me to tell me they loved the story and how it made them feel. 

I was so excited that I told my family all about it – even the part about the person in the airport. It left an impression because a few months later when I was in the airport on vacation with my children, and a colleague saw me and shouted my name, my son turned to me and said, “Wow, Mommy, you’re famous in this airport too!” Despite what my 7-year-old son might think, I am hardly famous, nor am I an expert on leadership. But this INFP has learned to work with, not against, her gifts and to leverage every tool in her toolbox, including the emotions that make me, well, me. 

Do you leave a part of yourself at the door when you arrive at work? If you didn’t leave that part of yourself at the door, do you think you’d be an even better, more authentic leader? Perhaps if we left our poker faces at the door instead and put all our cards on the table, we might find we had the winning hand all along.

Join Paulette's leadership session at this year's Net Impact Conference to explore Four Characteristics of Radically Effective Impact Leaders.

About Paulette

Paulette Frank currently serves in the role of Vice President, Sustainability for the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies. In her role, she provides thought leadership and strategic direction to advance the organization’s sustainability mission across the breadth of its brands and product portfolio. Paulette has been working in the fields of environmental stewardship, employee health & safety, and sustainability for over 23 years.

She is on the Board of Directors for Net Impact and will be speaking at this year’s conference at Four Characteristics of Radically Effective Impact Leaders in the Career & Professional Development track and Millennial Marketing Challenge: Care to Recycle…In the Bathroom in the Corporate Impact track.

The conference is over, but you can watch video highlights, including many of our keynote speeches