About This Episode
Serial Entrepreneur and PR legend, Patrice Tanaka, knows how to achieve the most impactful leadership style possible. In our final episode of our Leadership season, she shares how defining her life purpose and pursuing it with courage not only influenced the evolution of her leadership style, but how it’s essential for all of us in order to become the best leaders possible in our work and lives overall.
About Patrice Tanaka
Patrice Tanaka is a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded three award-winning, PR & marketing firms, including the largest, employee-owned PR agency in the U.S. Her agencies have been recognized as the “#1 Most Creative,” “#1 Most Esteemed” and among the “best places to work” in PR. After a successful, 35+ year PR & Marketing career Patrice started Joyful Planet, a Business & Life Strategy Consultancy, working with individuals and organizations to discover and actively live their purpose to unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, in their professional lives and in their communities. Life purpose and organizational purpose are the subjects of Patrice’s best-selling books, Beat the Curve (2016), co-authored with renowned management consultant and coach, Brian Tracy, and Performance360(September 2018), co-authored with visionary entrepreneur Richard Branson and other leaders. Patrice has been honored by many organizations, including PRWeek (2016 Hall of Fame inductee), PRSA Foundation (Paladin Award), Public Relations Society of America (“Paul M. Lund Award for Public Service”), The Holmes Report (“Creativity All-Star”), New York Women in Communications (“Matrix” Award), Association for Women in Communications, Asian Women in Business, Working Mother magazine (“Mothering that Works” Award), Girl Scouts of Greater New York (“Women of Distinction” Award), University of Hawaii (Distinguished Alumna), among others.
For longer bio on Patrice Tanaka visit http://joyfulplanet.com/about-joyful-planet/
In her words…
“What I’ve learned over the years of leading- being a bad leader, bad manager, and evolving into a better one- is to take care to find the very best talent that you can. Not just people who have the skills, expertise and talent to do the work, but also people who are very purpose-driven in their lives and know that what they want to do is leverage their talents, their expertise, and their passion, in service of other people and our planet. So, if you can find those people, you have a much better chance at doing great work together. What I’ve learned later in my career, is once you hire really great people, then you kind of want to get out of their way, and not micromanage and allow them to really grow in the work they do, and to have ownership and to innovate, and to get excited, and to inspire. That’s where the greatest work is going to be done.”
“Purpose for me is about leveraging your talent, your expertise, and passion, in service of other people and our planet. It takes time, work and thought to determine what your individual purpose is. Everybody agrees, that yes, I should know my life purpose, but most people also procrastinate about determining what that is. They somehow believe that knowing their life purpose is a good to know, but not a need to know. I consider discovering and having the courage to live your purpose is the single most efficient and powerful thing that we can do to unleash our leadership potential, and greater success, fulfillment, and joy.”
“If high school students, from juniors on up, and certainly college students, were informed by their purpose in life, it would inform everything for them going forward, including what their major should be. What they might want to do as a job, or a career, or what groups they might want to get involved with, just to see if it’s a fit. And their purpose at that particular time in life, when they’re the most vulnerable and susceptible to influence by other people who want the best for them, is really key. Because a lot of times, if you don’t know your own purpose, it’s easy to be persuaded by people who love you that say you should do this, even though it’s not really what you really want to do in your heart of hearts.”
“When you say to someone ‘what is your life purpose,’ or ‘have you thought about your life purpose?’, they immediately gravitate to their job, or career. Purpose isn’t merely about your job or career. A life purpose overarches your entire life. You live your purpose, in part, through your job, or your career. But it’s only in part, because you can live your purpose- and you should be living your purposep- in your whole life. So, I would caution people who immediately think that ‘life purpose’ means ‘what am I doing in terms of my professional life.’ It’s not limited to just that.”
“I want people to not be scared about discovering their life purpose- thinking they might have to quit their day job, and limiting a life purpose to just what their job is. I want them to think more about a life purpose as something that will help you accomplish what’s most important to you to accomplish in your life, whether you live for another six months, or another 60 years.”
“I’m somebody who, if I’m in, I’m all in. I believe in being all in, in whatever you do. Same as your job, be all in. Bring your whole self to the party. Especially in our industry, in PR, there’s so much we can leverage in terms of life experience, knowledge, the research that we do. If we bring it all into the workplace, and not just bring our professional selves in. Women do this more than men. It’s like we want to be purely professional. So we only bring the professional me to work, and we leave home the personal me that has a lot of richness, and flavor, and experiences, and fabulousness. We leave that at home. So we’re actually bifurcating our power by bringing only half of ourselves to the office and contributing only with half of our superpower. Bringing our whole self to work is our superpower. Don’t we gravitate to people who we see being their authentic self?”
Vanessa Wakeman: Welcome to The Social Change Diaries. The show that looks behind the curtain at everything you want to know about the social justice and nonprofit landscape. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman.
Welcome to The Social Change Diaries. I am your host Vanessa Wakeman. This is our final episode of the season on leadership. As I reflect and think about all of the guests that have been so generous with us this season, and shared their expertise, I’m really grateful for all of the information that has been shared, and the different perspectives that we’ve gotten to familiarize ourselves with and really think about the many options for leadership. Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Patrice Tanaka. Patrice and I are both profiled in a book, Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership, which highlights the stories of leaders of color in the PR industry. I wanted to talk to Patrice because her career highlights courageous choices in her leadership, that I think that all of our listeners can learn from.
Patrice is a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded three award winning PR and marketing firms. Including the largest employee owned PR agency in the US. After a successful 35 plus year PR and marketing career, Patrice started Joyful Planet, a business and life strategy consultancy, working with individuals and organizations to discover and actively live their purpose, to unleash greater success, fulfillment, and joy in their personal lives, in their professional lives, and in their communities.
Life purpose, and organizational purpose are the subjects of Patrice’s best selling books, Beat the Curve, coauthored with renowned management consultant and coach, Brian Tracy. And Performance 360, coauthored with visionary entrepreneur Richard Branson, and other leaders. Patrice has been honored by a host of organizations, including PR Week, as a 2016 hall of fame inductee, The Holmes Report, New York Women in Communications, and Girl Scouts of Greater New York. I am absolutely thrilled to have Patrice on today.
Folks, today I am super excited to have the legendary, the legend in the PR world, Ms. Patrice Tanaka with us. And we’re going to talk about leadership. Patrice, welcome to The Social Change Diaries.
Patrice Tanaka: Oh thank you. I’m excited to be here today, and talking to you, and reconnecting after many, many years, as we discussed earlier.
Vanessa Wakeman: Yes, yes, yes. So, Patrice I wanted to talk to you. I feel like so much of your career, and your experience sort of weaves throughout a number of different issues that are top of mind in offices, or coffee shops, or around kitchen tables. So there’s the leadership question, there’s the diversity and inclusion and equity question, there’s the purpose and joy question. And so if you will allow me to sort of take us on a path around a number of questions that I have, I’d love to get your insights about a couple of things.
So I know that you are one of the 40 leaders that is profiled in the upcoming book Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership. Collaboration between the PRSA foundation and the PR museum. And I guess, when we’re talking about leadership, I’d love to get a sense from you of how would you describe your leadership style? You’ve been so successful, and so I’d love to get a sense from you just how have you been able to navigate that as a leader?
Patrice Tanaka: Well I think what I’ve learned over the years of leading, being a bad leader, bad manager, and evolving into a better one, is to really take care to find the very best talent that you can. And not just people who have the skills, and the expertise, and the talent to do the work, but also people who are very purpose driven in their lives and know that what they want to do is to leverage their talents, their expertise, and their passion, in service of other people and our planet. So if you can find those people, you have a much better chance at doing great work together. And what I’ve learned later in my career, is once you hire really great people, then you kind of want to get out of their way, and not micromanage. And allow them to really grow in the work they do, and to have ownership and to innovate, and to get excited, and to inspire. Because that’s where the greatest work is going to be done. And I had to overcome my obsessive micromanaging tendencies to finally learn that this is the best way of collaborating with people.
Vanessa Wakeman: I think that’s great advice. And when we think about the collaboration, Patrice, what first comes to mind based on your response is about people who enter your organization, and so you see the skills that they have, and the passion, and what they can contribute. And sometimes I know as a leader, at least for myself, I can sometimes see the arch and the trajectory for someone beyond what they see in that moment for themselves. I’m like oh my gosh, with some support and development, they could really play a pivotal role in X. How do we create … I guess there’s a lot of conversations now about the talent pipeline, and how do we prepare people to take certain kinds of roles, and particularly for women or people of color. What do you feel is the responsibility of the leader in developing talent as we’re trying to make sure that there is equity among racial and gender lines?
Patrice Tanaka: Well I think first and foremost, you have to help people, and you have to help yourself to attract the right people for your organization. And the best way that I think organizations can do this, is to proactively communicate what their purpose is. Not just their vision and mission, but their purpose, and how they are trying to serve the greater good. And if you can communicate this plus of course your values, which is foundational to your culture, and to be able to achieve your mission, and to deliver against your purpose, and ultimately work towards that greater vision that we all have. If you can layout all of these things, then prospective employees can see if that actually aligns with their own interests and values, and the direction they want to go in.
If it doesn’t then they’ll walk away. And if they’re really attracted to what you’re trying to do, that will come out when you speak with them. And if you hire them, they know what you’re trying to do, and it’s easier for them to engage with the purpose of the organization. And they also should be purpose driven individuals so their purpose can help to drive forward the purpose of the organization. So I think being purpose driven whether as an individual, or as an organization, is the key to everything. I mean you know how in business we never start a project, an assignment without first articulating the goals and objectives, and the strategies, and the target audiences. We want to know what the budget is, the timeframe for delivering the results. And we also want to know what results are expected of us. If we have all that information we can then develop and implement a plan that will help us to achieve and exceed those original objectives.
In our personal lives, people don’t usually take the time to do this. But it’s equally important in our personal lives, if we really want to accomplish what matters most to us in the precious time that we have here on earth.
Vanessa Wakeman: For sure.
Patrice Tanaka: I think it’s a starting point for anyone. Purpose is, for me, key to everything. And central to my life, and certainly the work that I’m doing right now.
Vanessa Wakeman: So talk to me a little bit about this idea of purpose driven. So for the leader who’s listening, or the entry level professional that’s listening, and is like, hey, my purpose is to keep this job, per se. Like how do we sort of help them to understand like how much more fulfilling, or what the opportunities are for them, when they are approaching their work, from a standpoint of purpose? Because sometimes people are thinking about their work as, this is a job, and it’s not supposed to … There needs to be some pain. I’m not doing this right if I’m not miserable. How do we sort of reframe those conversations around, if you’re working in a place of purpose, and as that passion and joy that sort of comes into alignment, that’s what we should be striving towards? So talk to me a little bit about that.
Patrice Tanaka: Yeah. I think if we each individually are clear about our purpose in life, then it will help inform all the choices that we make. Including, whether to work for this organization, or that organization. And so purpose for me is about leveraging your talent, your expertise, and passion, in service of other people and our planet. And it does take a little bit of time, and work, and thought of course, to determine what your individual purpose is. But once you do, and what I communicate to people … Because everybody agrees, that yes, I should know my life purpose, but most people also procrastinate about determining what that is. Because they somehow believe that knowing their life purpose is kind of a good to know, but not need to know. I consider discovering and having the courage to live your purpose, is the single most efficient and powerful thing that we can do to unleash our leadership potential, and greater success fulfillment, and joy.
And the reason that I know this is because I’ve actually, unbeknownst to myself, proved it out to myself in my own personal life and in my business. In early 2002, so 16 years ago, I was forced by an executive coach who I went to see, to rethink my purpose in life. And I was really annoyed when I heard that, because I was exhausted, totally burnt out from having built my first agency, with 12 other partners. We had an employee owned agency. And I had been caring for a husband who had a brain tumor, and he had been suffering with that, at that time for 16 years. And I had a lot of obligations, professional and civic, like we all do. And I was just totally burnt out. And my coach wouldn’t let me off the hook.
Vanessa Wakeman: That’s a good coach. That’s a good coach.
Patrice Tanaka: Yeah, really. She said to me, “I can help you feel better, but only if I know what your life purpose is. Because if I can help you live your purpose, this is how you will live a happier life.” So two weeks later, my next coaching session, I told her that, okay, I had kind of considered and rejected many life purpose statements, but the only one that really didn’t sound like BS to me, was this. And you have to know that this is my purpose, and the time that I went to see the coach was five months after 9/11. And like most New Yorkers who lived through that, it’s still hard to kind of wrap your mind around the fact that nearly 3,000 people went to work on 9/11, and didn’t come home to dinner that night.
Vanessa Wakeman: For sure.
Patrice Tanaka: And our office was on West 13th street, we could actually see one of the twin towers before it crashed, from our window. And so not too far away, nearly 3,000 people who went to work that morning, and thought they were coming home that evening, didn’t. And the thing that always struck me was, those people ran out of time. Because I think if they’re like most of us, they probably were banking on living long enough to do the things that mattered most to them. We always think we have time, whether it’s this evening, or next weekend, or next summer, or when we retire, or whatever. But sometimes you run out of time. So that factored into the purpose that I came up with, which I shared with my coach two weeks later.
And I said to her, “My purpose in life is simply to choose joy in my life every day, to be mindful of that joy, and to share that joy with others.” It was a three part purpose. Choose joy, be mindful of it, and share it with others. And I told her that if I could live every day this way, I think I could be good to go. Even if I were one of those people in the twin towers that day on 9/11. Because everyday leading up to my death I would be living my purpose. And she immediately said, “That’s great. So what brings you joy?” And I had to kind of stop her and say “No, you told me what is my purpose for the rest of my life. Because the reason I came up with this purpose, is my life at the moment is the opposite of joy. But I want my future to be more joy filled.”
And so she said “Okay, well If you can’t name one thing that’s bringing you joy right now, tell me something that has brought you joy in the past.” Which is how I came up with, without even thinking, I said “Well, I love to dance.” And I was kind of surprised that was the first thing out of my mouth. And in talking with her, I remembered that when I was eight years old my dream was to dance like Ginger Rogers. And in fact, growing up in Hawaii as an eight year old, and watching those movies starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, my life in Hawaii was nothing like what I saw on the silver screen. I wanted to be like Ginger Rogers dressed in an evening gown, and dancing in the arms of Fred Astaire, and dining at some swank supper club. So that was my drive since I was eight years old. I’ve got to get out of here and get myself to Manhattan so I can dance, and dress, and dine at swank supper clubs, like Ginger Rogers. So funny what drives you.
And so because of that simple articulation of my life purpose at the moment, it led me to so many things over the previous 16 years that I tell people that I’ve actually done twice as much in the past 16 years as I’d done in the previous 32 year. And I don’t think I was a slacker at any point in my life, but it just goes to show the power of purpose, because over the next 16 years I took up ballroom dancing, became a ballroom champion, wrote a book called Becoming Ginger Rogers: How Ballroom Dancing Made Me a Happier Woman, a Better Partner, and a Smarter CEO. Because of the lessons that I learned from ballroom dancing, I actually co-founded two additional PR agencies. The last one being Padilla CRT, which at that time was the largest employee owned PR agency in the country with 200 employee owners. Then thinking about, what would I do, if I wasn’t doing PR, which lead me to think about, well if I looked back at my life the single most important thing I ever did for myself was to discover and articulate and then actively live my purpose.
So then I thought, I’m going to help people discover and live their purpose. And I’m going to help organizations do the same. And so that’s when I started Joyful Planet, my consultancy in September 2015. And since then, I’ve been working with a lot of individuals and organizations to do just that. And I’ve written two other books, all focused on individual and organizational purpose. And yes, my life is more joy filled than it ever has been before. And so when I look at my own personal experience, I know the power of purpose. So to my way of thinking, if there’s one thing that I can do to help as many people as possible, including, and especially women of color, people of color, to get ahead. Because I truly believe that discovering, and living your purpose is a competitive advantage. And we women, we people of color, need every advantage that we can get. Really just by helping people do that one thing, my life kind of took off on an unexpected trajectory that was totally unknowable and unknown to me at the time that I shared my purpose with my coach.
And that’s the exciting thing about a life purpose, you don’t know where it’s going to take you, but it is going to be the life that you truly want to live. And I feel the same way with business purpose, because I didn’t know it at the time, but when I met a group of 12 colleagues in a management buyback from ChiatDay Advertising to start my first agency, PT and Company, in 1990, I realized that oh my god, we’re like a no name startup agency in a city with thousands of established PR agencies. And in a country with tens of thousands of PR agencies. So how can we distinguish ourselves from every other agency out there?
And I realized that we couldn’t do it based on the clients, or the capabilities, or the offices we didn’t have. So it would have to be what we were committed to doing as an agency. And the way I articulated our purpose was this, PT and Company is committed to creating great work, great workplace, and great communities that work, i.e. healthy sustainable communities. And those three things are linked as we all know in agency life. You need to create work to attract and retain top talent. But you also need to create a great workplace to attract and retain top talent, to produce that work. And then finally, really talented people have choices. They want to go where they can make an impact, where they can do meaningful work. So our promise to them was come to PT and Company and help us to create healthy sustainable communities within and beyond our workplace through the campaigns that we created for clients.
And so, that simple articulation of business purpose, to create great work, great workplace, and great communities at work, helped us within eight years to be named the number one most creative PR agency in the country, not just New York City, and the number two best place to work among all agencies in the country. And then two years later to be named the number one most esteemed PR agency in New York City, and number three nationally. Now were we all those things? I don’t know that we were. But we were certainly committed to, and convinced that this is what we were. And that is the power of purpose. A group of people within an organization, within an agency, who subscribes to great work, great workplace, great communities that work. All of the recognitions we achieved tracked back to those three parts of our business purpose. And I’ve done a lot of research, subsequent to realizing that purpose was key, and there was power in purpose, and that’s why I am focused on this chapter of my career after a 35 plus year career in PR and marketing. To focus on life purpose and organizational purpose.
And why, I was focusing for a while, just primarily on people in the workplace, millennials through boomers until I realized, that oh my god, if high school students from juniors in high school on up, and certainly college students, if they were informed by their purpose in life this would inform everything for them going forward, including what their major should be. What they might want to do as a job, or a career, or what groups they might want to get involved with, just to see if it’s a fit. And their purpose at that particular time in life, when they’re the most vulnerable and susceptible to influence by other people who want the best for them, is really key. Because a lot of times if you don’t know your own purpose, it’s easy to be persuaded by people who love you that you should do this, even though it’s not really what you really want to do in your heart of hearts.
So in self defense, we must know our purpose so that we’re not constantly defined by what other people want for us. So anyway, clearly I’m passionate about purpose, but-
Vanessa Wakeman: Clearly. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. So earlier you talked about the importance of having clarity around your purpose and how helpful it’s been for you as a leader. Are there sort of like three specific outcomes that you can sort of attribute to this, for leaders who are listening? So I’m thinking about what should a leader come to expect? Like if they are operating from a place of purpose, are there any sort of surprise things, even for yourself, that you didn’t realize were going to happen, or maybe you’re processing and understanding about how you were approaching work shifted, after you were connected to purpose? Are there any sort of unexpected outcomes that a leader could sort of, expect to see when they are focused, or sort of operating from a place of purpose?
Patrice Tanaka: I think that when you say to someone, what is your life purpose, or have you thought about your life purpose? They immediately gravitate to my job, or my career. And purpose isn’t merely about your job or career. A life purpose over arches your entire life. And you live your purpose in part, through your job, or your career. But it’s only in part, because you can live your purpose, and you should be living your purpose, in your whole life. So I would caution people who immediately think that life purpose means what am I doing in terms of my professional life. It’s not limited to just that.
The other thing that I would caution people, there’s a lot of fear I’ve discovered, a lot of reticence for people to want to really take the few hours, and really that’s all that it takes to really think through the questions that will lead them to their life purpose. Because they’re afraid that once they know their purpose they might have to quit their day job, and then how would they pay the rent? Again, I say that your life purpose isn’t about your job. It’s really about what is most important for you to accomplish in life. Through your job and outside your job. So if we can determine what that is, then we can make better choices. And the job that you’re in may be perfectly fine, but now that you know your life purpose, how can you change the nature of what you do at your job to make it more in alignment with your purpose?
So I really want people not to be scared about discovering their life purpose, and thinking that they might have to quit their day job, and limiting a life purpose to just what their job is. I want them more to think about, that a life purpose is something that will help you to accomplish what’s most important to you to accomplish in your life. Whether you live for another six months, or another 60 years. This is another things that a lot of times people come to their life purpose, or think about okay, I’m now going to think about my life purpose, when their life falls apart. Some life event, oftentimes a very challenging one, like a divorce-
Vanessa Wakeman: I can totally agree and cosign on that. Yes.
Patrice Tanaka: Or death of a spouse, or loss of a job. Then they start thinking about, what is my life about? Now, that’s a good time to think about your purpose. But anytime is a good time to discover and start living your life purpose, because even if you’re 60 years old, that’s still a good time. Even if you’re 70 or 80 years old, that’s still a good time, because you don’t know how much longer you have to live. If you’re going to live another 10, 20, 30 years, wouldn’t it be better if you’re actually living your purpose? The reason that I love working with young people, especially in college … And my dream is to work with a college or university that wants to be the first one to graduate all of their students, not only with a degree, but with the full knowledge of what their life purpose is. Because that is the greatest gift that you can give a young person, I think.
If they start out knowing what their life purpose is, they will likely have many, many more years to actually live their purpose, and accomplish what matters most to them. So starting earlier is optimal, I think.
Vanessa Wakeman: I have some suggestions on that, that we could discuss offline. I have some school ideas for you.
Patrice Tanaka: Great, great.
Vanessa Wakeman: Shifting gears a little bit, back to Diverse Voices. I haven’t read the entire book yet, but I was looking at your chapter, and one of the things that you mentioned is the importance of people of color bringing their whole selves to work. And so that’s one of the things I talk a lot about when I’m speaking to women and groups, about how sometimes you feel that the only way to be accepted is sort of to be in that one dimensional space of like what you think is acceptable, as opposed to sort of bringing all of yourself, which is much more comfortable, and authentic, and the real you. And there’s so much value to that experience. So tell me a little bit about why you feel that’s important, and if there’s any connection there to purpose, by all means, sort of include that as well.
Patrice Tanaka: Yeah. Well I’m somebody who’s, if I’m in, I’m all in. I believe in being all in, in whatever you do. Same as your job, be all in. Bring your whole self to the party. Especially in our industry in PR, I mean there’s so much that we can leverage in terms of life experience, knowledge, the research that we do. If we bring it all into the workplace, and not just bring our professional selves in. And I think women do this more than men. It’s like we want to be purely professional. So we only bring the professional me to work, and we leave home the personal me that has a lot of richness, and flavor, and experiences, and fabulousness. We leave that at home. So we’re actually bifurcating our power by bringing only half of ourselves to the office and contributing only with half of our superpower. Because I really think that bringing our whole self to work is our superpower. Because unfortunately not everybody does this, but for the people who do do this … And we know this too. Don’t we gravitate to people who we see being their authentic self?
Vanessa Wakeman: Absolutely.
Patrice Tanaka: And they’re the same self at work or after work. We like those people. We trust those people. Because they’re not a different person in two different environments. When people are two different people it’s like who are they? Which one are they? And you can’t really build trust. And you need to build trust in order to build support and in order to importantly build advocacy for yourself. And that’s what we need, we women of color, people of color, we need to have as many advocates as we can. But if you’re not bringing all of yourself to work and making that knowable to others then you’re doing yourself a disservice because people, in order to support and advocate for you, they have to first know and like and trust. And then they’re willing to stick their necks out for you.
So I say do not hold back, do not pull back. You need to be seen and heard in all of your glory. In every area of your life.
Vanessa Wakeman: And I agree with that 100%. I want to play angel’s advocate for a second and say what about those situations where a person’s made to feel like all of themselves is too much? We’ve both heard, I’m sure, many times from different people about their experiences in the workplace where they brought their whole self and it was misinterpreted or they didn’t feel seen and heard or they were silenced. So I want to make sure that people listening in who have had those experiences or who are afraid to sort of bring their whole selves, I don’t want them to feel like they have the responsibility beyond being them whole selves. I also want to put some of the responsibility for managing and accepting that on leaders or people who are in power.
So what advice from a leadership perspective would you give to the person who is managing that person who is bringing their full selves? Or maybe from a diversity standpoint, they haven’t had that much experience and so they don’t know what to do with that person bringing their full selves to the workplace.
Patrice Tanaka: That’s a good question. I would hope that managers would welcome people who are who they are authentically in all of their glory. Because you know what you’re dealing with. It’s sometimes what you don’t know that can bite you in the butt. So I’d rather know. And if somebody’s exuberance in bringing their whole self to work or expressing their whole self is a little jarring, I would hope that person would say “Hey, can I talk to you? Did you mean to say this? Because that’s kind of how I took it.” And if you didn’t mean it, you can explain and you can have a discussion and in that conversation you can come to a deeper understanding of one another. And that’s how you build trust.
So I say to employees and to leaders, have difficult discussion. If you’re upset with an employee or an employee if you’re upset by your manager or supervisor, have a conversation. And come to a better understanding. Because if you don’t have the courage to have those discussions you really can’t move ahead. And certainly that relationship can’t move ahead. So I think it’s less about people bringing their whole selves to the office and it’s more about people kind of speaking up when they feel not understood, not heard, invisible, or when they feel, if you’re the manager, feeling overwhelmed by somebody who’s maybe bringing too much of themselves to the office. Have the conversation, please. Those are the most valuable learning experiences of our lives. I’ve learned so much when people have dared to tell me “You know, people were really upset when you said this. And I know you didn’t mean that but that’s how it was taken.” It was like oh, “No. Of course I didn’t mean that.” “Okay. Well thanks for giving me a heads up so I can kind of address it.”
But we need to have courage. You know when people say “What’s the most important thing that you look for when you’re hiring?” Apart from obviously the skills, the talents, and the right attitude, and someone who is purpose driven, I’m looking for courage. Because you can know your purpose but if you don’t have the courage to live your purpose, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a nice statement that’s in the drawer not doing anything for you. In fact, sometimes I have workshops and I ask people to raise their hands if they know their purpose. And usually not many people do and sometimes I’ll say “Great. So what is your purpose?” And they don’t know. They did the exercise but they can’t really remember it. But they have to look in the file.
I’m sorry. If you can’t remember your purpose and you have to look in a file to remember it, it’s not driving you to accomplish what matters most. Anyway, I went off on this other jag that was important to me. But courage is key. It’s fundamental to everything. To getting anything done. Because if somebody is not willing to risk displeasure or push back or a no, that’s not really helpful. Especially not in an agency because we’re constantly in the position of having to present, defend our proposals to clients. And if you shut down because the client says “No, I don’t like this”, and you know that this is the best thing for them to do and you say nothing, then you are not a good counsel, and you’re not worth whatever money they’re paying you to service their account.
We’re not being paid to just yes a client to death because that doesn’t help the client. So I’ve cried in meetings sometimes when I’ve been so frustrated with a client because they are willfully ignoring what it is that we’re recommending because they want to do something else for a different reason. Because I want them to know it really matters to me that we think that this is the best way to help them with their particular business challenge. You have to show that you care enough.
Vanessa Wakeman: Right. I agree with that. We are almost out of time so I have one or maybe two questions for you. I know that when you first started in the PR industry, in Diverse Voices you talked about how you attended a lot of the black PRSA meetings because you thought it was important for people of color to band together. So right now in our time in history there are a lot of conversations that are happening around this idea of intersectionality beyond diversity and inclusion, there’s also the intersectionality question around how women are supporting one another. So what do you think … Sort of thinking about when you first started and this whole idea around banding together and how do we work together to help one another, what do you think is needed now around intersectionality for women to support women of color or just women in general to make sure that there are opportunities around? I know in the PR industry women make up the majority of the workforce similar to the nonprofit industry, which is most of our listeners of this podcast. So curious to get your thoughts about what are some things that need to happen around intersectionality so that we can sort of push and make sure that more women are getting those opportunities for leadership.
Patrice Tanaka: One, if anyone who watched the Kavanaugh hearings lately, don’t understand and don’t believe that women have to be represented proportionally at every leadership table so that we are not allowing other people, not us, to fight for our rights. I think that we need women leaders at every leadership table. And we need equity. I mean that’s really my big thing in life. And my whole life has been about getting more women seated at every leadership table. I’ve been on the board of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York for 22 years. I’m the longest serving board member. Because this is the largest girl serving organization dedicated to leadership development and our next generation women leaders. It is so important that we have more women seated at every leadership table. And we women have to support other women in order to succeed. And we have to enlist allies, other men, who want and believe that there should be equity and that equity is a good thing for all of society. Not just for women, but for everyone. Because like it or not, we women, I’ve found we’re much more solution oriented.
Because we want to get together, solve the problem so we can go back and take care of our family and children and parents. We have a lot of other things that we need to accomplish. So it can’t just be about spending time arguing over how to address a problem. We need to come up with a solution that we can all live with so we can move on. And that’s why I think that women, it’s important to have our voices and our energy and our kind of orientation to solving problems in a bipartisan way.
Vanessa Wakeman: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Like I said at the top of this interview, I could talk to you all day but since I can’t-
Patrice Tanaka: We’ll continue this conversation beyond the podcast.
Vanessa Wakeman: For sure, for sure, for sure. Why do you think a book like Diverse Voices is important and necessary now in 2018?
Patrice Tanaka: Because I think that the idea that people of color can succeed is an idea and we all want it and we all want that to happen. And I think the power of individual stories like the 43 individual stories of diverse leaders in the book Diverse Voices is really powerful. Because young people and even older people in public relations can see the different paths to success because everybody had a different journey in this book. And everybody succeeded in a different way. There are like 100 different ways to succeed. And that’s what this book actually lays out pretty clearly.
And I read over the weekend Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming. Oh my god. I guess I wasn’t thinking that I would read it because I feel like I know and love her and do I really need to know more about her? I can’t feel better about her. But I read it anyway and I was surprised. It was so beautifully written because she started as a young girl growing up in her home on the south side of Chicago and she took us on that journey that took her to the White House. And all of the things that she did in between. So that was like oh my god, she shared … And she’s very open and very generous in her sharing. Where she made a misstep, maybe she shouldn’t have played it so safe. And all the things that we all kind of think about and question and feel that we should have done it a little better. We all go through this. But the fact that she laid it out makes it for young girls reading this, oh my god, they’re going to be able to point to her book one day as to the reason why they’re successful in the future.
And that’s why books like Michelle Obama’s and Diverse Voices is really, really important to furthering diversity and inclusion in the PR field and beyond.
Vanessa Wakeman: Beautiful. It was an absolute pleasure to chat with you and I appreciate you so much for sharing your wisdom. I am now going to be going back to my team tomorrow and sort of talking again about our purpose and are we living on purpose and working on purpose and so I thank you for that reminder and the importance of joy. And I look forward to continue our conversation.
Patrice Tanaka: Thank you. It was pure joy for me today. Thank you so much.
Vanessa Wakeman: You are absolutely welcome.
I think that purpose is so important in leadership. So I thought Patrice would be the perfect person to talk to on this topic. And I originally wanted to talk to her about the Diverse Voices book. And while we touched on that, the overwhelming theme of purpose took center stage in our conversation and I’m happy that it did because I think it’s so important and a critical component to how we’re thinking about leadership and just our work and contributions in the world.
Patrice’s energy is incredibly infectious and her passion for her work is evident. She’s the poster child in my opinion for someone living their purpose. And while Patrice is not in the nonprofit sector, the gems that she shared today can be adopted by anyone in any role. Working in the nonprofit sector, and I’m an observer that’s closely connected to the sector, I find it to be so challenging and exhausting. And I see many people doing incredible work and many leaders often head down focused on creating change, and I wonder what would change if we took a step back and thought about how we want to contribute to the sector by putting purpose first. Just a thought I want to leave you with or a question.
This is our last episode of the season. We’ll be back early next year, I believe it’s the first week of February, after a brief holiday break. It is a great time to catch up on episodes you’ve missed or listen to your favorites again. I’m going to make one final plug and ask you if you’ve enjoyed this podcast to please leave us a review on iTunes and share it with as many people as you think would find it interesting. I thank all of our listeners for another great season. Have a happy holiday and I look forward to connecting with all of you in 2019.