In recognition of Black History Month, healthsystemCIO asked John Henderson, CIO at CHOC Children’s to reflect on his accomplishments, share some of the most important lessons he has learned, and provide advice for others.
What has been your most proud career achievement?
That’s a tough one, but I’ll say being the first African-American male executive at Texas Children’s and the first African-American executive at CHOC (Children’s Health of Orange County). It’s important because someone has to be the first, so there can be a second and a third, etc., and eventually it can be norm.
What’s the best piece advice you’ve ever received?
There was a time when I was challenged with a few peers who I felt were not aligned with achieving the goals for our division. My interactions with them were becoming very short and terse. One of my close colleagues who had observed some of these interactions pulled aside and asked, ‘Why are you allowing them to impact your quality of life?’ It stopped me in my tracks. As I thought about those words, I could only come to one conclusion: he was right. From that point on I became more conscious of how I engaged and interacted with co-workers when there was misalignment of incentives to achieve the necessary goals. I was deliberate in focusing on what the individual(s) needed for us to move forward and be in alignment, if that was possible. If it wasn’t, I would not take on that burden and allow it to frustrate me. This advice helped me learn to turn challenging situations into opportunities to grow and sharpen my skills and techniques as a leader.
What advice would you give to people of color who aspire to leadership roles?
Make sure your reasons for wanting to be in leadership is not just about the title; make sure it feels more like a calling. There are a few keys to consider: 1) take every opportunity to learn about new areas and disciplines. The more you learn, the more well-rounded you become, and the more you’re able to use that experience to solve problems. 2) How you communicate is as important as what you communicate. You will have to take the time to understand the people you lead — what’s important to them, what do they like about what they do, and who they are as a person. Once people feel you’re genuinely interested in them (and you don’t just need them to complete a task), they will be more likely to go above and beyond, and they’ll buy in to what you’re trying to accomplish. 3) Listen more and talk less; you’ll be surprised at what you learn. 4) Find a mentor who will work with you to help navigate professional situations and develop your career.
What would you say to hiring managers about the importance of having diverse representation across all roles?
Hiring is one of the most important — if not the most important — things you do as a leader. It is imperative that you invest time in understanding whether your workforce reflects the community in which you work and the customers you serve. Having that understanding sets the stage for how you recruit diverse talent and make it a priority to have voices that can reflect perspectives, experiences, and knowledge that otherwise would not make its way into the strategies, services, and customer experiences you aim to deliver.