Danielle Devine’s Journey to Leader at Johnson & Johnson

February 1, 2017

I first met Danielle Devine when I joined Marina Maher Communications in 1994. It was clear to me that she was a born leader. Levine,who is the global leader, enterprise strategy and communications at Johnson & Johnson, has graciously imparted her wisdom at various PRSA New Jersey Chapter events, and I’m delighted to share her thinking on leadership with you.

When did you realize you had made the transition from PR/communications practitioner and manager to leader?

I have always viewed myself as a leader. Even when I was an entry-level manager, I tried to set a strong example through work ethic, curiosity and commitment to a good work product. Many people wait to “become” a leader, and the reality is that you can be a leader at every point of your career. Being a leader is something that takes focus, nurturing and dedication.

When it comes to truly leading people, what do you know now that you wish you had known then?

When I was first promoted into a role leading a team of more than 20, I thought I needed to act like a leader, and forgot to act like myself. I spent time researching inspirational quotes and memorizing rah-rah talks. Not surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy it, and it wasn’t breaking through.
To be a leader, you must be authentic. People want to see that you are human, that you make mistakes and, most important, that they can be their authentic selves with you.

What steps have you taken to connect who you are with how you lead?

Two of my long-standing team members and I attended J&J’s Human Performance Institute, which is designed to help us connect who we are as people with our professional leadership missions. Through coaching, we learned to bring our authentic selves to the workplace because it’s just too difficult not to do so. We focused on how to have honest conversations about what you want, and what you can and cannot do. It reinforced that one of the greatest things we can do as leaders is acknowledge that those we lead are humans.

Equally important, we learned to use meditation to manage stress. That’s critical for communications pros who have the very hard job of managing through the sustained drumbeat of chaos.

Before you joined J&J, you had an estimable agency career. What were the biggest differences in leading for a corporation rather than an agency?

I learned invaluable lessons during my agency life. The ability to support myriad clients, and gain an understanding of how they drive growth in their business and behave during a crisis was invaluable. Serving my clients gave me a focus on flawless execution, and I developed a strong drive to get things done and anticipate business needs.

However, my focus was relatively short-term and was on a particular brand or challenge. In my current role, my focus is long-term: often on strategic planning and program development that will make an impact over a three-to-five-year horizon.

Share your biggest leadership faux pas.

I am a proud Iowan, and a big part of my Midwestern upbringing was to avoid acting “too proud of myself,” as my grandma would say. It was instilled in me that recognition for good performance should be in private and, preferably, for a team versus an individual.

Because of this, I wasn’t good about publicly congratulating or spotlighting high performers on my team. I was thanking and congratulating them privately. I didn’t realize until later in my career that most people aren’t like me. They want, and deserve, a public acknowledgement of their good work. 

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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