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In this episode on inclusive leadership we talk with Louie Hendon Department Administrator at Main Campus who shares his tips on how to be a successful leader across different industries. In this conversation Louie discusses the importance of relationship building, mentorship, and his experience as a minority male in the health care industry.

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Inclusive Leadership: Owning Your Seat at the Table

Podcast Transcript

Michelle Lampton: Welcome to Learning to Lead, a leadership development podcast from Cleveland Clinic! I'm Michelle Lampton, and today we're revisiting our Inclusive Leadership series. There is so much to be learned about how leaders live inclusive leadership, and this will be a topic we will come back to often.

In this episode, my colleague within Mandel Global Leadership & Learning Institute, Stephanie Price, spoke to Louie Hendon, who is a department administrator with the Neurological Institute and sleep center - and we hope you enjoy the conversation.

Stephanie Price: I want to take the time to thank you for taking the opportunity to meet with us. You and I have partnered before. I thought "Who better to come and talk?" You're at the forefront of diversity for our organization. I guess I'll start by asking you to share a little bit about yourself.

Louie Hendon: Sure. Well, first I want to say thank you for the opportunity. It definitely is an honor to be a part of something that I think is very important when we're talking about leaders and leadership and giving that opportunity for our enterprise to really delve into some real world experiences with our caregivers. So thank you very much. Who is Louie? Well, I am a father. I have three wonderful children. We call them our three presidents, Reagan, Jackson, and Kennedy. Those are my two daughters and son. My wife, Alanna, and I have been living in Cleveland. I've been living in Cleveland all my life. I went to school here, a graduate of John Adams High School here in the inner city of Cleveland, stayed here for college, went to Case Western where I studied mechanical engineering, had three minors, business, sociology, and music, and went straight from Case Western into LTV Steel. I was a maintenance manager in LTV Steel. So I got my feet wet as a new graduate and I was managing individuals who had been on the job for 30 and 40 years.

It was a very enlightening experience for me and I was in the plant for a little while and realized it was impacting my health. So I went to HR and said, "Is there an opportunity for me to move into another area?" Because I wanted to stay with the organization. I really felt that I wanted to learn more. They had just started developing a program where you did not have to have a master's degree in order to go into their purchasing department, which previously you had to have an engineering master's degree. So I was one of the first to do that. I became a commodity manager for mechanical and rotating equipment, and I had a budget of over a million dollars. So it was a great opportunity. I learned a lot, then moved from there into training. I became the training coordinator for the entire enterprise for mechanical and electrical employees.

So that was another eye-opening experience because now I was working, not just with the individuals on the front line, but really understanding what the needs of the organization were. That gave me my first glimpse into the C-suite. So spent some time there until LTV closed down and I was out of a job and it was my first time. I had my first child and it was very, very difficult, but kept praying and pressing on and ended up at Tri-C Corporate College. There, I started their Lean Six Sigma University, developed that, and eventually grew into the role of the director of quality programs for Tri-C Corporate College. One day, a vendor actually called me and said, "Hey, we want to hire you and you can work from home." So I was working from home before the pandemic, before all of this happened.

It was an online training company. I was manager over all of our customer support. So I did that for a while. Of course, that's when the economy crashed. When the economy crashed, I lost my job again. I found myself laid off and it was another opportunity for me to really explore who Louie was and what I wanted to do. The good thing is I was still contract teaching for the college. So I had the opportunity to continue the Lean Six Sigma program there while I was looking for a job. Low and behold, one day I had a Cleveland Clinic employee in my class who said, "Hey, we're looking for a person to fill a role." I didn't even know that the role that I was going to be applying for, I had just met the director over continuous improvement at the time and had unofficially made him my mentor, really started to follow things that he had done. When I walked into the interview, we both kind of looked at each other, like, "What are you doing here?" The rest is history. I was a CI specialist and a senior CI specialist.

Now, I am the administrator over the sleep disorder center here at the Neurological Institute and also the continuous improvement administrative director for the Neurological Institute, and co-chair of the Black Heritage Employee Resource Group. So pretty busy. That was my journey, learned a lot, and really grateful for all of those twists and turns through my career.

Stephanie Price: Wow. I mean, your resume is pretty extensive and it seems like you jumped right into leadership straight out of undergrad. That's really not an opportunity that a lot of people get, but you have also had some hurdles.

Thinking about the shift from one industry, from LTV Steel, to the college, and then now to Cleveland Clinic, how would you say those experiences impacted how you lead today?

Louie Hendon: With every industry, they have their nuances and it's really important for you to understand how things operate, understand how relationships work in different industries. It's a very different culture for each of those, but when it comes to being a leader, the leader has to have the ability to really look beyond just their present current situation and really look at how are all of those nuances going to help you grow and develop not just yourself, but also those you're working with. So I would have to say for me, looking at all of those different industries and shifting gears each time, it was very important, number one, to learn the business and then learn the culture. Then you can start to look at the situation and say, "Okay, what kind of impact do I want to happen? What kind of things do I want to see?" That's really what I had to do with each of those positions.

I didn't necessarily always have the knowledge or the experience prior to, but what I would bring from the previous culture or the previous experience, I think really helped me to understand the people that I was working with, to understand how to reach those goals, and it gave me more of an open view of the differences and the different ways to approach a problem, to approach a new task or a new goal. I will say that the continuous improvement part has really stuck with me in all of the positions that I've been in.

I actually started in continuous improvement when I was at LTV. I was part of the statistic process control group. So it’s all about process. It's all about those basic understandings of inputs and outputs. I really had to use that in every situation, in every leadership role that I'm in, whether it's we're talking about widgets, steel, those kind of things, or we're talking about people, you really have to understand what are the inputs and outputs and how do I get to those results? So those are the things that I would say I take from each and every one of those positions.

Stephanie Price: I heard you talk about getting to know people and how you intertwined that into your leadership style. How did you do that? For someone coming up through the ranks, how did you learn the culture? What did you do?

Louie Hendon: Yeah. So for me, and the crazy thing is I'm an introvert. So it's very difficult for me to put myself out there with people and things of that nature. But I remember, and I take this with every new opportunity I get. I remember when I was at LTV, I walked out onto the shop floor one day and I had a gentleman who had been there for over 30, 35 years. He came to me, he said, "Louie, if you really want to get the attention of your group and get the respect of your group, find the one person you would call the alpha voice and you befriend them. Then you don't have to speak to the entire group. You speak to that one person and they'll speak for you." So I began to do that because I was fresh out of college and I didn't know a lathe from a drill. It was very difficult at first. I've taken that with me and really found the individuals that are the high performers or the people who have the voice of the group.

I would also say just sitting back and understanding that everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses. I don't look at the weaknesses as the things that I keep people away from. I look at those as opportunities to develop them. So I utilize their strengths, but I also help them understand, "Okay, here are some opportunities and let's develop them together." One of the things that I'm asking my current group, "I know we do IDPs. We do OKRs for the year, but let's think about five years. Where do you want to be in five years? Let's talk about that. Let me help you develop in those five years. Hopefully, you'll develop in those five years still with us and still in our department and still with the Cleveland Clinic, but we always have to look beyond." That's the role of a leader. We look beyond just where we are. We have the big picture view. So I think it's very important for all of us when it comes to the people capital, to invest in one another, invest in those relationships.

I've never had an official mentor. I've had plenty of unofficial mentors, people who I just developed that relationship because I knew that they had the knowledge that I needed. I knew that they had insight that I did not have, and picked their brains. Every opportunity, ask the questions. Every opportunity, watch them, see how they respond to challenges, see how they respond to successes. That's really how I've managed my career moving forward. I have to honestly say, there's very few opportunities I went after. I think most of them came after me. That's because of the relationships that I developed and built with people where someone would call me all the way from Atlanta, Georgia and say, "Hey, we want you to come work for us”. I wasn't even looking for a job, but it happened.

Stephanie Price: Well, I think that holds true to really most industries is aligning yourself with the right people. You talked about being an introvert and what I think some people don't understand is you don't necessarily have to be the loudest person in the room or the most outspoken. You do, to some degree, have to be a good observer of people and be good at building relationships. Do you think that being a person of color has changed your leadership journey or your experiences in leadership in any way?

Louie Hendon: Absolutely. I'm typically in an industry or typically in a room where no one really looks like me, and that is a challenge. We have to understand that from our perspective, that we sometimes feel that we have to work 110% at every turn. We have to give 110%. When you even delve deeper into that, being a black male, we sometimes have to work 150% to get the same notoriety that someone working 70% would get. So it definitely has shaped... It's something that I have to keep in mind. I remember there was a day that I came face-to-face with the idea that no one else in the room looked like me, but that was not going to hinder me, that wasn't going to stop me from doing my job because I'm qualified. I have to always remember that I'm qualified and I take opportunities to learn, I take opportunities to utilize my personal experiences, my personal successes to build and to help. But the truth of the matter is it is something that I have to be mindful of, which is why I'm part of the Black Heritage Employee Resource Group.

Because I think that there has be a resource, an opportunity for individuals who have those questions, like, "Because of my background, because of my race, how do I respond? How am I viewed?" I want people to understand that at the end of the day, we're all caregivers, we're all human. I think allowing myself at times to be reminded that I'm viewed a little bit differently, only motivates me to be even better, motivates me to even try harder. That's just the journey that I've accepted and you have to accept it. You have to accept the responsibility to be you and I will never shy away from that. I'm proud of who I am. I'm thankful to be here at the Cleveland Clinic because I want my three presidents to see people that look like me when they come up in the ranks.

Stephanie Price: What advice would you give someone who is dealing with some of the similar things that you deal with, being the only person of color in the room, trying to navigate their way through leadership?

Louie Hendon: Number one, I would say take advantage of every opportunity and that's every opportunity. It doesn't even matter if no one like you has done it before. If there's an opportunity, take advantage of that opportunity. When there are opportunities, seek after them, even when you don't see that there's opportunity, seek them, ask the question, "Can we do this? Am I able to?" Then I would have to say one of the most important, and one of the biggest challenge for us is be visible and be confident, be visible in the room, command the presence. The color of my skin does not set the standard for whether I can speak up or not. It's what's inside. It's what I know. It's my experience. I need to be able to share that experience. We used to say, or we say it when we teach classes, "There are no dumb questions. Only the ones you don't ask." We have to take that mentality that you have something to give, you have something that you can share, you have something to contribute, and you need to know that.

Be confident in what you know. Other people may say it different than you, but be confident in what you know. Why? Because you've done the work, you've gone through the trials and the tests, the journey. You've had the ups and the downs. Be confident in that and use those experiences to help shape and mold the culture where we all feel welcomed, we all feel appreciated. So those are some of the things, the advice that I would give minorities in the Cleveland Clinic, there are opportunities, seek after them. Where you don't see the opportunity, ask the question and then be confident and be visible. If you're in the room, you were invited for a reason. Make sure you live up to that reason.

When Cinnamon Dixon and I were invited to share some thoughts in a certain meeting, certain environment, and one of the things that we determined that we were going to speak up and we don't want to just have a seat at the table. We want to own the seat at the table. Don't just invite me to the table. I want to own that seat. That is my seat. I've worked hard. I've done the due diligence to be here. Now that I'm here, I have to make sure that I'm confident and visible while I'm in the room.

Stephanie Price: I love that. You know what? I'm going to leave it right there. I think it's a good stopping place. I've enjoyed this conversation.

Louie Hendon: Thank you. Thank you so much again for the opportunity.

You know what? The thing is, we need to have more of these conversations right. Sometimes we don't take the time to walk back through our journey and you learn to appreciate the things that you learned, the things that were challenges, and barriers, like you said, barriers, but you're here. So that means you either removed the barrier or you broke it up. One or the other, you're here now.

But thank you so much.

Stephanie Price: You're welcome

Michelle Lampton: And that's our episode today. A huge thank you to Louie Hendon for being so open about sharing his experiences at Cleveland Clinic. Thank you as well to Stephanie Price, program manager extraordinaire! And most importantly, thank YOU for your time and willingness to join us as we Learn to Lead.

Caregivers, if you're curious to learn more about Inclusive Leadership, head online to Connect Today and visit the Office of Diversity and Inclusion's site or the Learner Connect page for more content from Mandel Global Leadership & Learning Institute.

That's it for us at GLLI. Stay curious and keep learning!

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This podcast is designed for Cleveland Clinic caregivers looking to develop their leadership skills both personally and professionally. Listen in with leadership experts on the topics that matter most, and what makes our culture what it is at Cleveland Clinic. We'll hear from aspiring leaders to seasoned experts on hard lessons learned, best practices, and how to grow and develop. No matter where you are in your journey, this podcast is for you.
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