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In this episode Rob Stall, Executive Director of Internal Operations, and Andrew Gunther, Program Manager in Talent Acquisition, have a heart to heart conversation on what it means to transition from military leadership to leading caregivers here at the Cleveland Clinic.

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Veteran Episode: Let Them Fly

Podcast Transcript

Michelle Lampton:
Hello and welcome to Learning to Lead, a leadership development podcast from Cleveland Clinic. I'm Michelle Lampton. Today we're going to be continuing our series speaking with veteran leaders at Cleveland Clinic and learning more about how their service has impacted their leadership here. Andrew Guenther, one of my colleagues in Talent Acquisition and a marine veteran, sat down with Rob Stall, Executive Director of International Operations and an Army veteran. Here's their conversation.

Andrew Guenther:
Hey, good afternoon, Rob. Great to talk to you. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. I figured we'd just jumped right into it. Would you mind sharing a little bit about you, your time with Cleveland Clinic, and then kind of who you are?

Rob Stall:
I've been with the Cleveland Clinic for approaching 37 years now. I stepped out of the military in, oh gosh, 1984. I was a regular Army officer and stepped into the Cleveland Clinic and then had a series of positions starting with supply chain.

Rob Stall:
Then my first administrator position was with neurosurgery and then I went kind of a circuitous route. I was asked to be the financial manager at the time for the division of surgery. Even though I wasn't trained as a financial manager, but Dr. Joe Hahn asked me to step in.

Rob Stall:
Then there was an opportunity for an outpatient group of facilities that Dr. Lupe had in mind at the time. I spent about 13 years putting together Family Health Centers with a physician partner by the name of Dr. David Bronstein.

Rob Stall:
After that, I switched from outpatient to inpatient and became the president of Euclid Hospital, an orthopedic hospital located on the lake. Two years after that, we brought in a brand new hospital, Medina Hospital and I spent a couple of years there.

Rob Stall:
As the transition was being made to having physician CEOs for the hospitals, I stepped in for a brief period of time to South Point Hospital, which is an osteopathic hospital. Then from there became the chief of operations for all of the regional hospitals. Then had the good fortune, Dr. Cosgrove knew about my military service and asked me to step into the international position. Bill Peacock, Dr. Cosgrove had me step in as the executive director for international operations.

Andrew Guenther:
Outstanding.

Rob Stall:
At the same time, I stayed in the Army Reserves and worked my way up into several key positions. I was a battalion commander in Kosovo in 1999. Right after 9/11. I spent time over in Kuwait and actually helped plan the invasion of Iraq the following year.

Rob Stall:
Then was promoted into a brigade command position and I took a brigade and four battalions over to Iraq. Starting in Kuwait, and then jumping on D-Day, right into Iraq, and had the good fortune to detach from the Army and attach to the Marines.

Rob Stall:
Spent some time with a guy by the name of James Mattis and Jim Conway. Jim Conway became the commandant of the Marine Corps, and everyone knows about General Mattis.

Rob Stall:
Had a kind of a great tour of duty if you can call being in Iraq during the war and the aftermath a great tour of duty.

Rob Stall:
Then upon returning, I stepped into the General's rank. I was promoted as a brigadier general and spent time on the training side of the house. Then as a two-star, I spent time actually working with my counterparts in basic training.

Rob Stall:
I did that kind of in concert with my Cleveland Clinic job. Not a great deal of downtime, but I benefited from the leadership of both places. Winston Churchill said at one point, "You're twice the citizen if you're serving in the military and still being a citizen on the civilian side of the house."

Andrew Guenther:
Absolutely. Well, thank you for your service and what a wealth of experience and knowledge. That's pretty impressive and pretty cool.

Andrew Guenther:
I want to ask you one thing, you brought up how you didn't have that financial experience. I know I'm rewinding the clock here a ways, but when you came over from the Army and you joined Cleveland Clinic, how did you use those translatable skill sets from the Army to have and build a successful career at Cleveland Clinic?

Rob Stall:
You know, it’s kind of interesting. So, what the Army and the Cleveland Clinic has in common is a value system. The values we learned in the military from the time you step in is the values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless, service, honor, integrity, personal courage.

Rob Stall:
If you actually walk those through, they're very similar to the values that we find at the Cleveland Clinic. The values have modified a little bit over the years, but have essentially stayed the same. Its safety and quality, empathy, teamwork, integrity, inclusion, and innovation.

Rob Stall:
I found the transition or the flip back and forth a very easy one to make because they were both very much values-driven and they relied on a sense of what right and wrong is or what right ought to be. It was always devotion to something bigger than yourself.

Andrew Guenther:
Absolutely.

Andrew Guenther:
You talked about comparing caregivers and soldiers so I'd like to ask you, how has working with caregivers versus soldiers been different and similar when you look at taking those two careers and working them side-by-side?

Rob Stall:
I would say that the caregivers and the soldiers are very driven to do the right thing. They have a mission. Leadership has given them a vision and they really understand what the end state is supposed to be. For caregivers, making that patient the center of everything we do, and to make sure that we are providing the very best care for those patients.

Rob Stall:
Education's oftentimes involved, research is involved, and it's the same with the military as well. There's a great deal of education that it takes as soldiers rise up through the ranks and whether it's non-commissioned or commissioned officers, there's a whole series of educational plateaus that have to be achieved before you can move on.

Rob Stall:
As you get up into institutes or you get to the hospitals, you have that same chain of command that is very focused on our missions, our patients, our soldiers, and most of all on doing the right thing.

Andrew Guenther:
Absolutely. How do you feel your military experience has helped you to become a better leader? We've talked about values and education and things you can do to support others. How do you feel that that experience has translated and how has it helped you to be a great leader here at Cleveland Clinic?

Rob Stall:
Andrew, we stand on the shoulders of the leaders that we want to emulate. The great leaders in the military, the guys like General Conway, General Mattis others like Joe Dunford, Mark Milley et cetera. I had the opportunity to really see what great leadership was.

Rob Stall:
They were really focused on taking care of soldiers and making sure that the soldiers not only were taken care of but that they understood why we were there. If we were in another country or a combat center or what have you, or why training was so important so that we would be ready for the next time our nation would call.

Rob Stall:
Very similarly, when you step over in the Cleveland Clinic, think about the analogies it's really the same. I mean, we do a lot of education. We do a lot of training, and we train so that we can take care of our patients to the very best extent that we can. That we provide world-class patient experience, world-class safety, and quality from our physicians and our nurses.

Rob Stall:
It's very much the same environment. It's an environment that we don't cut corners on what that mission is or how we are going to meet that mission.

Andrew Guenther:
Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew Guenther:
What do you think is the single most important lesson that the military taught you about leadership here at Cleveland Clinic?

Rob Stall:
Part of the value that we hold very dear and near to our hearts in the military is integrity. Oh, by the way, it happens to be one of the values that is part of the Cleveland Clinic as well.

Rob Stall:
I think integrity is an incredibly important part of what caregivers do here. We spend a great deal of time, making sure that we examine when mistakes are made. As a result of the atmosphere of the Cleveland Clinic, we can have caregivers stop doctors if they feel that something hazardous is going on. I think that is very much part of our DNA here. I think if I would reflect, it's very much part of the military DNA as well.

Andrew Guenther:
Kind of in light of that, can you maybe share a coming of age moment from your career where maybe we can glean some pointers or some values or something from that experience?

Rob Stall:
In any given situation, there are times when your subordinates will come up and say, "I think there's a better way of doing something, or I think I would reconsider how we're going to do this." I think we give our soldiers the latitude to stop us if they feel that something is wrong. Whether it's morally wrong or there's a mistake about to be made.

Rob Stall:
I think that very much, we do the same here at the Cleveland Clinic. We spend a great deal of time in some of our leadership meetings talking about mistakes that were made and doing a root cause analysis. That is something that both organizations do fairly routinely.

Andrew Guenther:
Absolutely. I know I've been working with you on a few projects and we've done a few fun things together with the military Veteran Employee Resource Group and our Navy Training Project and Education Project. It's been fun to see that kind of relationship between just even you and I.

Andrew Guenther:
Where it's you've got the experience, the knowledge base, the support. I can go out, do the work, come back, and then we can work as a team to kind of find that best solution. You can see where I'm going down a path, and then you've interjected sometimes to say, "Hey, have you considered this? Have you thought about this?" And vice versa. I think that's been a great point and something that we find that happens quite often here at Cleveland Clinic.

Andrew Guenther:
Where it's you've got the experience, the knowledge base, the support. I can go out, do the work, come back, and then we can work as a team to kind of find that best solution. You can see where I'm going down a path, and then you've interjected sometimes to say, "Hey, have you considered this? Have you thought about this?" And vice versa. I think that's been a great point and something that we find that happens quite often here at Cleveland Clinic.

Rob Stall:
What I find at the Cleveland Clinic is that people's passion for their jobs is really part of the secret sauce. That when people from the outside come to the Cleveland Clinic, they're amazed at our red coats at the door. They're amazed at our young people who put as much time and effort into their jobs and really it's the passion, and it's the belief in the mission, and the vision, and the values that really drives the people, the caregivers, our employees to do as well as they do.

Rob Stall:
It's made us world-class. How do you have the Cleveland Clinic be number one heart care for 27 years? It's the passion of the physicians, and the surgeons, and the nurses, and it's the team. It has to be a fully coordinated team, which differentiates themselves than our competitors.

Rob Stall:
It's made us world-class. How do you have the Cleveland Clinic be number one heart care for 27 years? It's the passion of the physicians, and the surgeons, and the nurses, and it's the team. It has to be a fully coordinated team, which differentiates themselves than our competitors.

Andrew Guenther:
Absolutely. You talked about passion there, and I think you're right. I think that does drive a lot of the success that we share at Cleveland Clinic.

Andrew Guenther:
You were talking a little bit about your experience here with Cleveland Clinic and the various departments you went through. We have our values that drive us all as caregivers, but I'm sure that there's subcultures that happen and that occur in different with finance, or international ops, or if you're the president of a hospital. Different hospitals have different feelings and stuff to them about the workers there.

Rob Stall:
I spent a lot of time at Euclid Hospital and stepped in and very much like what I stated before. Gosh at the time I was a full bird colonel and stepping into Euclid Hospital. The physician staff, and there was a few folks, there's one gentleman who I will always remember, Dr. Tony Kosoglov. Tony is no longer with us, but Tony was certain that I would not fit in well because my expectations would be too rigid for Euclid Hospital. That I wouldn't be sensitive to what the culture, what the historical culture was of Euclid Hospital.

Rob Stall:
It took a while and several meetings with the staff to listen to what their needs were. To listen to what their concerns were. At the same time, spending time with facilities, and with the food service people. Every group, every cohort had its issues.

Rob Stall:
What you have to do is and you'll recall this Andrew, you can either be in mode or you can be in receive mode, but you can't be in send and receive mode at the same time. You have to listen and you have to show concern.

Rob Stall:
One of the ways we did that, one of the ways I always do that is usually when I have a meeting, if I can pull it off, I will go to that individual's office, or workplace, or wherever they are and meet with them there. Their office has their personal effects.

Rob Stall:
It has pictures of their family. Has pictures of their passion. Whether it's fishing, or bicycling, or whatever that passion may be. You can start by creating kind of a more personal relationship with that individual by just looking around the office. You will find that whether it is a surgeon or it's a member of the volunteer staff. You can create that relationship where when you then speak to them in a whole house meeting, they can relate to you because they related to you on a personal level.

Rob Stall:
What I found especially with the regional hospitals is it would take me a little while to get around to everyone, but listening and listening hard and creating those relationships at every level, paid huge dividends when you had to make difficult decisions that may not always positively impact one group or another.

Rob Stall:
There's always going to be a little friction, a little controversy, but if you've shown that you were empathetic to them at a one-to-one level, it went a long way to having to make those tough decisions. They may not always like those decisions, but they said, "I think he's doing what he feels is the right thing." It goes back to integrity and it goes back to being part of the team.

Rob Stall:
Even though you may be the leader of the team, it doesn't mean that you don't listen to every member of that team to make sure that you have a full perspective before you make those decisions.

Andrew Guenther:
Yeah.

Andrew Guenther:
It's such a diverse group here at Cleveland Clinic, and whenever you're working with people, it's an awesome experience, but you also have to, like you said, be in that send, receive mode. You have to be able to receive and listen and understand other perspectives by learning about people and learning about the issues at hand.

Andrew Guenther:
Similar again, to that joint service station where we've got our values in the Marine Corps, but if I'm talking to an Army officer like Rob, are we really that dissimilar? Or are we more similar than we think? I've found in my experience, both with the Cleveland Clinic and previously, the Marine Corps values of honor, courage, and commitment aligned pretty well. It's a nice paraphrase for most other organizations that are out there that have similar type values. Thank you for sharing.

Andrew Guenther:
To stick with the Euclid Hospital example. Were there any major differences between the culture from the Army and Euclid Hospital leadership, or were there similarities? Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

Rob Stall:
It's interesting, I took over from a person who then moved on to another organization totally. It was building trust.

Rob Stall:
I'm also reminded for about a year, I worked with NATO. In NATO, I had folks from Spain. I had folks from Holland. I had folks from Italy. I had the United Nations, which is really what NATO is all about.

Rob Stall:
Then building cultural ties. Building relationships with those folks, which nine of them were part of my staff on my team. It required a lot more skill and diplomacy. Some of those experiences stayed with me. Even stepping into Euclid because you're dealing with essentially all sorts of folks with all sorts of experiences and educational levels and all of that, but they're all absolutely critical. They are part of a team and every part of that team is critical to the performance and the operation of Euclid Hospital. Just like here at Cleveland Clinic at Main Campus.

Rob Stall:
You learn how to, you learn how to build relationships. You learn how to have empathy, and you learn how to have difficult conversations where it may not always go as well as... I mean, it's not a perfect world. We have to make some very difficult decisions sometimes that have adverse impacts to certain groups of folks.

Rob Stall:
It may influence whether they want to stay part of the team or not, but you have to have those conversations. At the same time, you have to have a degree of empathy where they understand that you don't have all the answers, but you're trying to do the best you can in kind of steering the ship.

Andrew Guenther:
How do you have those difficult conversations? What has the Army taught you about having a potentially difficult conversation with somebody on the civilian side?

Rob Stall:
You have to kind of share what the big picture is, but you have to make sure that you give them time to express their perspective, to express their point of view. You may not have all of the facts and as they start sharing their side, or their perspectives, you may find a totally different solution. and that's happened before.

Rob Stall:
Whereas we've gone along, there were a few critical pieces that were left out or a few pieces that were added in that allowed us to make a slightly different decision that was a little bit better for everyone. It doesn't always work that way, but I've learned along the way that every private, every buck sergeant should have their say and at a certain point of time, especially if you do debriefings afterwards, everyone has to be able to talk.

Rob Stall:
If they aren't talking, you may have to reach out and tap them and say, "I haven't heard from you. What is your perspective?" Because unless you get everyone talking, you could have a riff, or you could have an incomplete picture of what just happened. All along, the answer was there, but you just didn't ask the right questions or you just didn't let them have their time to explain their perspective.

Andrew Guenther:
Great advice. Thank you for sharing that.

Andrew Guenther:
Do you have any overarching advice for maybe leaders in this organization that anything that's really helped propel you through your time here at Cleveland Clinic or with the Army?

Rob Stall:
Yeah, I do. I would say that take the young people and give them responsibility. Give them responsibility for projects or put them in positions of greater responsibility and they aren't going to disappoint you.

Rob Stall:
Don't keep people tucked in the back rooms that merely work on projects, but don't get a chance to run projects. I would definitely say leadership is about training people not for today's roles, but for tomorrow's roles. Train them and put them in positions of increasing responsibility. Then don't step on them, let them fly. You can always correct the mistake, but you will train the leaders of tomorrow by doing that.

Andrew Guenther:
Well, Rob, I want to say thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for talking with me and to our caregivers about you, your experience.

Andrew Guenther:
Thanks have a great day.

Rob Stall:
Thank you. You have to good one too.

Michelle Lampton:
That's our episode today. Thanks so much for joining this conversation with our military veterans and Cleveland Clinic caregivers, Rob Stall and Andrew Guenther. We thank them both for their time, and more importantly, for their service to our country. Thank you to all of you who are veterans, to you who are currently serving, and to you -- our listeners, for spending time with us today.

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

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