Patrick Sutton

Creating A Legend In Your Leadership Instead Of A Unicorn With Patrick Sutton

PSF 65 | Creating A Legend


When taking a leadership role, you want to do something you will be remembered for, not only by your current team but even future generations. But you cannot achieve this just by becoming a unicorn – you have to go to the next level and start creating a legend. The People Strategy Forum panel chats with Patrick Sutton, who presents five tips on shaping yourself as an effective leader who would go down in history as a legendary individual who did monumental feats in team building. He explains why every leader should be vulnerable, relatable, and always willing to learn. Patrick also talks about pushing the DEI conversation forward without creating further biases or hiring individuals simply because of their appearance.

Creating A Legend In Your Leadership Instead Of A Unicorn With Patrick Sutton

We are happy that you are showing up and taking in, soaking up all this good valuable information. If you have never been to the show, we bring on a different guest speaker every episode. There are different topics that we cover and then we also have an expert panel of hosts to also jump in and carry the conversation. This conversation is all about why be a unicorn when you can be a legend. We are talking about how to become a legend in your leadership with Patrick Sutton who I will introduce in a moment.

Before we do that, again, if you are a first-timer here, you are exposed to us for the very first time, the show is all about engaging, energizing, and elevating your employees and company. Don’t just come now, keep on coming back because there’s always valuable information, not just from our panel but from all of our guest speakers. We change it up all the time. There’s never repetitive information, which is great.

To go onto our panel, to introduce everybody here, in case you don’t know them. I know for a lot of you out there, they are very familiar. We have Char who is an entrepreneur as she’s founded multiple companies in various industries and she is working on a brand-new business that helps the elderly. She is down in Mexico working on that, so that’s very exciting, but she is a former HR professional as well. She has a lot of that corporate background and knowledge and experience as well.

We have Sumit who is a people strategist. He is experienced when it comes to all things HR strategy. He helps companies transform what they were doing and helps them evolve into something bigger and better. We also have Howard who is an expert when it comes to compensation, systems, and helping companies go from the old school ways of doing things and transforms them by helping them instill new software and better compensation management.

We also have Sam, who is the Founder and CEO of CompTeam. He created the show a couple of years ago. We have been going a couple of years strong with this forum now and he is a pro when it comes to all things compensation, talent management, rewards, and strategies as well. That brings me to our lovely guest speaker. He’s got that bright yellow going on like a ray of sunshine. I’m sure we are off to a good start.

We got a nice color going on. Patrick is the Head of People at MainStreet. He has worked with a few different startups including DoorDash and he has many years of experience in learning and development. As a head of people, he oversees the whole people cycle at a company. Everything from employee relations to payroll, learning and development compliance. He has a lot of different skills under his belt. We are very excited to learn about how we can become better in our leadership or become legends in our leadership. Thank you, Patrick, for being here. We are so excited to learn from you.

Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here. What a great introduction. I should record that to jumpstart my day every day. Thank you for that. I’m excited to be here.

I’m not being a Miranda. I’m an okay host.

We are going to jump right in. I know some of you are probably thinking don’t be a unicorn, be a legend. Thinking about this and I am very much a visual narrative storyteller type of person, so I have to give you the origin story. Where did this come from? A few years ago, I was getting these calls from recruiters saying, “Are you this unicorn? We are looking for someone with these unicorn-like experiences.”

That was the buzzword. Unicorn. I appreciated that some of them are like, “We still hear this unicorn-like experience,” but I didn’t connect with the word unicorn. In the way that I like to show up as a leader in my leadership style, it made me process that a unicorn is a myth. To me, I looked at it as it’s unattainable. As we all know, as people leaders, we set goals every day and we have to set realistic and smart goals.

I was like, “I don’t want to be a unicorn in my leadership because I don’t want it to seem unattainable or something that’s not realistic.” As leaders, we are responsible for coaching and mentoring. There’s so much support that we help shape the careers of other people that we want them to know that it’s believable and attainable because they too will go on and lead other people at other organizations. One day, I want someone to be like, “Patrick was a great mentor for me. He was a great boss or a great manager.” If you think about that, we have all had someone that has influenced us and motivated us to be where we are and we talk about them. You talk about legends. No one talks about unicorns.

I said, “I want to be a legend in my leadership and in my philosophy adapting how I can be able to be that person that one day others will want to tell a story about. How to model those behaviors?” I started to think about what are five strong ways that I have been able to show up as that legend per se in my leadership way. The very first one. It’s so simple, but yet it’s a good one. It’s vulnerability. Vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness. I know right now we hear that you should lead with empathy, but legendary leadership encompasses being able to be vulnerable and leading with empathy. As we all know, the way we manage the way people show up at work, that whole workplace environment is completely different now.

Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Legendary leadership means being vulnerable and leading with empathy. Share on X

2020 was a reset on the entire atmosphere of how people show up, perform, and do the work that they do. As leaders, we have to be vulnerable. If you are in a remote environment or a hybrid, or maybe some of you might be coming into the office every day, there’s a different mindset that we all have when we show up. There’s a different way that we are showing up on Zoom right now. For me, it’s a little bit of making sure that my collar is right or that my glasses are on straight, but think about as you are leading your team. Think about that they are having to show up every day being on camera. How do you interact with them? What are you connecting with them? For me, that vulnerability shows up in how you are being truthful.

I don’t know the answers to everything and that’s okay. Despite having been in the industry for over fifteen years and I kept it at the fifteen plus because like a person of a certain age and I like saying that I’m over 21 and I stop it at that point. Fifteen years of experience, it’s all right to not know all the answers, but to be able to say, “As a leader, I don’t have those answers but I’m going to find them or we can discover it together.”

Being legendary means being vulnerable. People will remember that. Remember, people always say people will remember how you made them feel. That’s part of leading that strategy. Whether you are leading as an HR leader or if you are a chief people officer, whatever that leadership role is, you have got to be able to think about how you build that connection. You build it by being vulnerable. It’s the truth. It’s that empathy. It’s that connection that we are all looking for.

A few things on what leaders can do to demonstrate that vulnerability. What are some of the easy steps that managers can follow to open themselves up and become more human?

I drink coffee four times a day. Yes, I know that’s bad. When I have my fifteen-minute huddles or my check-in calls with whether it’s my benefits manager or my talent manager, the first thing I do when we are on a meeting is they know that I’m very honest with them. It’s like, “I know this meeting is an 8:30 meeting. I’m usually a 9:00 meeting type of person.” I haven’t had my coffee so I may not process it the right way. This is me being 100% honest. I may have finished coming in from a run. I still may have on a hoodie. I am letting you know this is where I’m at. What that is establishing is it’s just being honest conversation. It’s putting yourself out there.

I’m not always in a sweater and a nice shirt. There are moments when I do need to get it together and I think we all can relate to that. Maybe the pickup line, “Picking the kids up from school,” was chaotic. I show up and I’m like, “I’m not going to lie. The pickup line was insane. Someone cut in front of me. I need a minute.” That is something that could be relatable to people. We have all had different experiences and people need to understand that even though as a leader, we all have those moments. It creates relatability and it’s also showing that I’m vulnerable to let you know leaders have moments too like you. It’s okay to create space for others to recognize if you are on my team and you say that I was late because I had to go do X, Y, Z or this happened. I get it.

Talk about being vulnerable. I’m in the fifteen-plus category. When I was growing up, it was all about, “Men have to be strong and know all the answers.” That’s changing. It’s also difficult for people to make that transition of like, “I’m the manager. I’m supposed to be the strong one in the group and I’m supposed to know all the answers.”

Howard, we are fifteen years plus which still is good, but you are right. That’s what’s so important about why I said that 2020 was the global reset. The entire world went on a reset. Also, as leaders, that’s what we had to do in the business world. We had to reset how we approach everything. That’s why I wanted to say one of the things reflecting on my journey and experience is that being vulnerable is not a weakness. It’s a strength. It’s part of who I am and showing up like that. It’s a game changer for how we move in this new workforce or this new work world.

PSF 65 | Creating A Legend

Creating A Legend: 2020 can be considered as a global reset. Leaders had to find brand-new ways to approach everything in the business world.


It lets people know where your head’s at and that you are a real person with the same issues that they are probably facing.

I would love to tap into you, Jules, for a second here because we are talking about vulnerability. I’m thinking there are a lot of times when you get in front of the camera, you are expected to be perfect. There’s got to be a lot of pressure there. I know that being human, you can make errors here and there. How does vulnerability come into play in your world as an actress?

That’s the base of acting. It is being able to be vulnerable because you are taking on a character and you are sharing that character’s story. You have to be vulnerable. If you can’t be vulnerable, you can’t be an actor because that vulnerability allows you to relate to the character that you are playing. It helps you relate to the story you are telling.

Without that, you create this wall. The people watching you can’t connect. They talk a lot about that in acting class because that is such an important aspect of developing your character, connecting that story, and connecting to your audience. I loved what Patrick was saying about being honest. I’m sorry I’m going off on a point a little bit. It’s how he was saying when managers come in and say like, “I’m late,” I also think that’s good in a way because so many times, people come in rushed, stressed, or snappy and a lot of people take that personally.

They are like, “What did I do to them? Is something wrong?” They then take it personally. Having that open conversation as well, you go, “That has nothing to do with me.” You can let things bounce off more. It creates a better atmosphere because you are not like, “I’m scared of that person because they came in all snappy, short-tempered, or whatever it was.” I like that we are starting to open up discussion more being vulnerable and being more honest as well. I liked that point. I wanted to say that.

Jules, I want to add something that we didn’t get a chance to touch on from your performance. Talking about you as an actress. Part of the vulnerable part is showing up and being authentic and how I being a legend or becoming a legend in your leadership. I’m also a filmmaker outside of work and a screenwriter. For me, having taken Theater English major here and the drama of being vulnerable, it’s something I adapted that I used to do but it was contained.

It’s very similar to what Howard said. The philosophy used to be, “You can’t be vulnerable. You have to be like this,” which goes against what you learn about being vulnerable as an actor. As a leader, especially after we had this global reset in 2020, my philosophy and the way that I want to interact with people and show up for my team as well as my leadership style have to have vulnerability.

I have to be a human being and say, “This is me.” When you do remove that barrier, it further cements a connection with you and your team. They show up for you differently as well as the whole organization will see that, “This is our head of people.” Everyone can relate to having those moments. That’s the narrative that I hope to be able to continue to tell. Others, as they are on their leadership journey or becoming a legend, will think of what’s the narration of how I want people to remember how I showed up for my team and at work as a leader.

Leaders must present themselves as human beings. They must remove barriers between themselves and their team to cement a solid connection. Share on X

If you think when you watch TV or film, it’s the same thing. You relate to certain characters like, “I’m like that person. I have been through a divorce. I know what that person is going through.” You cry like I cry in dog movies all time. We are all looking to relate to something. TV and movies tend to be an escape for people too. You escape from what’s going on in your own world but it allows you to see aspects of yourself in those characters. That connection piece is so important. That’s cool. You are a filmmaker by the way.

I used to be an actress in high school. I used my acting ability throughout my life a lot, but I’m very happy to see like Jamie Lee Curtis getting her Oscar as a 64-year-old. That was out on social media. What I appreciate and I’m sure Sumit would agree is that we are seeing more diversity now more than ever. It’s every single category and I don’t need to list off every category. I am curious, Patrick, why do you think in the last two years or since the pandemic that the openness to diversity of all different types has suddenly busted wide open? Do you feel that some of the global crisis has sparked that and what’s your opinion? I use film as my example because you will notice that the film exploded in the same fashion. I’m curious about Mr. Production and Mrs. Actress.

I think you are right. One of the things that I did is I created this program called DEI More Than a Buzzword because, as you said, things are more diverse. There’s still a lot more work to do, but there was new accountability placed on all of us a few years ago. We have to get better. It’s a muscle that you have to continue to work in. In the tech industry specifically, there were a lot of and still conversations about the lack of representation in tech and there are diversity gaps. There were a lot of companies pledging to increase DEI initiatives and that needed to happen. There’s a new social accountability that people are aiming to want to see more diversity.

PSF 65 | Creating A Legend

Creating A Legend: Today’s world is more diverse than ever, but there is still a lot of work to do. Leaders have a new accountability to do better and continue pushing the DEI conversation forward.


Even with the Oscars a few years ago, people were championing, “Let’s get more diversity in here.” It did start to happen. We are now in a place where because we are still in a remote world, people are having time to think about things. They are creating their own businesses. They are a challenging thing in social media, whether it’s TikTok or LinkedIn. People are holding people accountable for not sticking to their DEI initiative. We are shifting the mindset and telling more stories to say look at the beauty of when you let diversity in. The show The Last of Us is the show that I started watching.

It’s sci-fi but there were some beautiful moments of diversity in there. For those who haven’t seen it. Episode three was about an LGBTQ couple. I didn’t even see that happening but it was like a love story. I’m not going to give a spoiler alert, but I was looking at it through such a lens of not even recognizing that this was a same-sex couple. I was seeing it as this is a beautiful story. This is a moment I hope that others that watched it could see themselves in the narrative of that story. It’s a long story short because I could talk about it.

You and I could probably chat forever because my stereotype is the Barbie doll stereotype. I consider dying my hair black so that I could be considered smarter but I could go on and on. We all face different types of stereotypes but I am so thrilled to see every category at least opening up. I’m sure there are some of us on this panel that might not think every category is opened up.

I think that we are now finally having the hard discussions and being vulnerable and saying, “I have made a mistake because I typecasted someone, made an assumption, or assume something.” Back to the unicorn. I also feel that this particular DEI topic is a big factor in that because, in the traditional sense of corporate, the unicorn didn’t look like diversity.

The unicorn looked like a certain personality type. No offense to the two White males on here. I feel that they also are facing the aspect of not being the unicorn because companies are so worried about being diverse and not looking at the entire skills, competencies, and skillsets of the whole person. I love having these hard conversations and they are difficult in any way. I will go ahead and quiet up because I’m sure you have a lot to say and everyone else has a lot to say on that topic.

What do you think, Sumit?

I always think of diversity. We can never have enough of it. The latest buzz in the market is around AI and ChatGPT. Before we went doing this, I took out an AI tool for a spin to see if I give it some prompts like CEO, carpenter, cabin crew, and secretary, and what other kinds of images it would generate. No surprises there. When I give it the prompt of a president, 2 out of the 4 pictures that were generated were of a certain person who had orange hair and was president of the United States, which will remain unnamed for now. Interestingly, I didn’t say American president and I did not indicate my political leanings at all, but 50% of the images corresponded to one particular set of beliefs let’s say.

Similarly, carpenters were a particular gender and race as well. I didn’t see too many people from different races or genders. There were zero folks with any visible disabilities as well. That’s the technology bias that we need to fight because bias is prevalent in the tech industry and it’s easy for biases to hide.

If you and I are in a conversation, it’s relatively easy for me to call that out and say, “I think we are representing a certain group in whatever it is that we are creating.” With AI, the coding is all happening in the backend. If I have conscious or unconscious biases, it’s easier for me to hide them. I would argue that unless we give AI a better prompt and unless we consciously make an effort, we risk going backwards in the diversity and inclusion journey.

I had a conversation about AI. The thing is technology is here so we can’t run away from it. It is the buzzword as they are introducing it into classrooms. You are right. There are so many biases that tend to creep in. I use the example of the film here because that’s my thing too. There’s a movie called Minority Report with Tom Cruise and it was using that artificial intelligence. They predicted that he was the one that committed the murder and it was a little bit tampered with. I use that as an example in my conversation. We will eventually have to absorb this new form of technology because right now, we are seeing all the bells and whistles. Also, how it will influence classroom learning and even employee experiences.

PSF 65 | Creating A Legend

Creating A Legend: Leaders will eventually have to absorb AI and machine learning since they already influence classroom learning and employee practices.


Maybe it will be able to predict what career you want or what’s the right roadmap for you. Unless it is addressed that there is a need for on the backend, the verse thoughts and the prevent out the unconscious bias. It could end up going far left and it’s a buzzword. A few years from now, we are not even using it or we are using it and it’s deconstructing everything that we have as established to try to push forward.

I think what we have to do is the DEI narrative and the marathon, it’s the marathon and not the sprint. It’s just pushing the conversation ensuring that these companies as they do hire and expand, not to just hire everyone that looks like a particular person. We are getting that diverse group of engineers, product leaders, and people so that as we are building more in the AI world, it is inclusive of all types and the neurodiversity or neurodiverse types as well. In that way, we can see the benefit to the tool and it’s not something that came in and went out like corduroy pants. Does someone wear corduroy pants anymore?

I’m keeping them in the closet for that perfect moment of return. Part of being a leader is looking at these tools and understanding them because leadership is almost inherent in the name. It’s choosing a path and leading people to that. I think that we need to be aware of our biases there. Patrick, what can leaders do to be more self-aware of the things that they bring and also to show the right path in leadership?

The key thing there that we talked about is self-awareness. It’s understanding that we all have some form of bias. We have to accept that we do. I have a bias towards Nike versus Adidas. I’m going to buy my Nikes over Adidas because it’s my thing. If I see someone in the gym with Adidas, I’m like, “You are probably not getting a good workout on the treadmill because it’s not a Nike running shoe.”

I know that’s more of a lighthearted way, but as leaders, we have to recognize that it’s the self-awareness of being able to accept that we do have these biases and to ensure that it’s when we don’t address the biases that we have. It’s affinity bias or if someone went to this school, “This person went to Harvard. Obviously, this is a person we need to hire.” We have all these different biases that influence our decisions and that can also create problems too.

It’s that self-awareness of accepting that it is the marathon and it’s not a sprint and that we do make mistakes. As leaders, we have got to do more to expand our learning about bias and diversity. There’s too much information out there for you in 2023 to not be familiar with different things around DEIB, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. As a leader, you yourself should be doing the work. If it’s after work or doing work, you should be going on whatever social media realms you want to go on. Go on YouTube. There’s so much information there where you can learn and be able to talk to your teams about it. If you are at a company that has a DEI team or if it’s a small team, if you are on HR, it may be in that umbrella.

Being self-aware of accepting that leadership is a marathon and not a sprint allows you to expand your learning about bias and diversity. Share on X

As Head of People, I do lead our DEI at work, but be able to expose yourself and your team to those conversations. Let’s have the conversations in your Slack groups. Let’s broaden people’s awareness of the different cultural differences and expressions. Host small forums. Be that leader that will take a step to say, “I don’t always get it right. Enlighten me. Help me to grow and be better when it comes to things that I missed the mark on.”

I have to comment about this. My background is working with huge major healthcare systems. I worked with the regional directors of DEI. I couldn’t quite understand why we were looking at the numbers of minorities, whatever word you want to use that we hired. Simply, that was the only data that I was seeing. I didn’t see any other data. As the Head of Talent Management Strategy, this is a while ago, I was wrapping my head around why are we not expanding about counting the number of minorities that we are hiring to something very deep and crucial. If I have a DEI team, it’s not going to be with the recruiting department.

In this one healthcare organization, there were six people under this individual that was the DEI team. All they focused on was recruiting. What I’m hearing from you, you are talking about going even deeper and going into another form of exercise. Me being what I look like, it was difficult for me to have that crucial conversation to say this doesn’t feel true diversity and inclusion, and then you take a decade later and it’s even more. You don’t need to get into the tactical logistics, but how do we open the minds of the leaders of DEI and the corporate community to stop looking at recruiting numbers and move beyond that to do what you are talking about?

I’m going to try to break it into a couple of compartments. It starts at the top as well being in that C-Suite reporting to the CEO like I do and having those conversations. Talking about allyship. Speaking of a few years ago, when I got into DEI, it was the D and I. We were only talking about diversity and inclusion. People were a little bit misaligned too of what that also meant. How we changed that narrative is by calling things out that aren’t correct. In the tech industry specifically, the couple of tech roles I have been in and companies I have worked for, one thing that I have noticed is that I didn’t see a lot of people that identified as female in engineering. Why do we not have female engineers? Why is the head of engineering not female? What are we doing to do that?

Not just the talent but what’s the compensation structure like between men and women. We know that there are gaps there. There’s still a fight for equality and fair pay for women. The whole DEIB structure is huge and it’s a lot to tackle. If you lead with the lens of making sure that we have a minority person hired or whatever, you missed the whole journey or the whole mark of what it’s supposed to be. It’s an entire exercise that inquires people to have. It’s an uncomfortable conversation. I have been in those uncomfortable conversations.

People sometimes feel a little like, “Can I ask this question?” You have to be able to create a safe space. Let’s get it all out there. Let’s talk about the biases that exist and what we are doing to change them. Are we partnering with community colleges or are we only looking at these top-tier Ivy League schools? There are so many tables in which DEI is such a bigger thing, Char. I would love to spend an hour with you and I talking about these things. It’s an education that you have to do. It’s an education opportunity that you have to do with your DEI team.

I have been in spaces before where I have had certain people leading DEI. There were some misalignments because I didn’t think that they understood the full spectrum of what the strategic goals should be and how to have that influence. If you don’t create the broader spectrum of what DEIB even looks like, you run the risk of creating a new bias as to people start to think that DEI is strictly where you hire that minority for a role, not how you grow and expand what that team should look like.

PSF 65 | Creating A Legend

Creating A Legend: If you don’t create the broader spectrum of what DEIB looks like, you run the risk of creating a new bias. People will start to think that this is only about hiring minorities for a role and not growth.


I will also mention that there is a challenge culturally even at the executive level. I have witnessed fourteen executives and a couple of Black team members so concerned about their own jobs and the bureaucracy happening in the organization. They are worried that they were going to get laid off if they spoke out. For some of us, I call myself the Joan of Arc because I have stood at the state. I have been laid off twice because I have tried to be honest about this particular topic.

Back to your unicorn, which is what we are talking about. To me, this is our legend. As legendary leadership, let’s stop looking for our unicorns. This is monumental right now. This is where we leave our legends. I will be the blonde female that stood in front of fourteen executives and put my job on the line to say, “This is not right.”

How do we help other people have the bravery and the strength to know that they may lose their jobs? Particularly HR people, talent management people, and DEI people have the strength to stand up and say, “We need to make a change here?” I threw a big bomb. It’s hard for us to be in charge of these programs.

It’s hard and I don’t think that it’s not a one-size-fits-all either. As a legend and have people tell stories like Joan of Arc telling the story about you. In your leadership, you have to be able to challenge the status quo. If you are in an environment to where you speak out against something, maybe that’s not the right place that you need to be at.

I totally get that it may sound bad because we all need our jobs, but what a toxic work environment does to a person is the mental strain that it can do to you. I’d rather stand on the principle and integrity of speaking out against something that was not right than to be silent, let it continue, be miserable, and let that eat away at me. That’s the power of having forums like this and being able to bridge a community of HR leaders. Also, for people to talk about what’s working, what’s not working, and how you continue to strengthen allyship.

It is better to stand on principle and speak out with integrity instead of remaining silent and tolerating miserable things that eat you away. Share on X

I have seen a little bit of it as myself. You have a choice to make and decide at that moment, “Will I be complacent and be silent or do I speak out against something that I know isn’t right.” For me, I have always chosen to speak out what’s wrong and I tell people why this is wrong. Do what you will with the information but I have told you that this is wrong. It jeopardizes so much. It can impact bad workplace culture and decreases productivity. It changes employee morale and everything with that.

You have to be willing to stand up. That’s what we have to do. I was about to call you Joan, but it’s not Char. We got to continue to build that community because it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not even going to happen maybe over 1 to 3 years. We have got to be realistic to say that this is a charge that we are continuing to work on. We have to celebrate the wins. They may be small wins, sometimes big wins, and we got to keep putting one block on top of the next until we can finally say we did it, which may not be in this lifetime.

You bring up a good point, Char, in saying that sometimes these discussions can be very sensitive and it can be very difficult. It takes a lot of bravery to bring them up and overcoming that fear of perhaps losing your job and so forth. One of the most powerful skills of being a leader, going back to the theater and acting in skills that we were talking about earlier, is storytelling.

We can tell stories in a certain way that can be very convincing. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to tell and we watch these on TV and sometimes they come through the news and so forth. Through that narration or visualization, we can better understand the human position behind it. Patrick, and your coaching of leaders, how do you guide them on the importance of storytelling, and also how do you lead them in developing that important skillset?

Transparency is always there. I always let them know it’s going to get murky. There are going to be moments where it feels uncomfortable. I’m letting them know that on this journey, I’m your accountability partner. I’m also here to help you. You can ask me questions. We are going through this together. As I stated, it’s not going to happen overnight. I remember at a company I worked at, a leader did not know what an HBCU was. It was one of those things where I did a one-on-one meeting with this leader. I could tell that you talk around a topic but I’m going to pretend that I know so I’m going to add more words. If I keep talking, you will forget that I don’t know what it is.

I remember talking to the leader and I say, “When they use the term HBCU, it means Historical Black Colleges and Universities. Some of the people that were talking about, they went to HBCU, that was the context of what they meant.” The leader was like, “Why was there HBCU?” I said, “I’m glad we are having this conversation. I am a product of an HBCU. The school was founded in 1869.” I could then see having that moment of that conversation. It was 1800 or 1869 because I was like, “People of color couldn’t go to the other schools, so they had to create their own.” It was the best 45 minutes conversation with this leader.

From that moment, we started to have more conversations as he wanted to understand more because it wasn’t his world. What happened in that experience is I too was learning. I was like, “How is it that you are in this bubble that you don’t understand?” He was like, “I don’t watch the news and all these different things.” I think we got to a place of where the uncomfortable part became less uncomfortable because I showed up for him and he showed up for me. It was, “Here’s some additional information. If you have questions, let’s talk about it.” How can you be more inclusive and understanding? Visit some of the local schools in your neighborhood and volunteer. This was before the pandemic and all the changes where you could go to a school and read at a school. What are you talking to your kids about?

This is how you broaden the scope and that increases that knowledge point. It’s showing up for people and creating a space where it’s a trusted space. As an HR leader, I strongly believe that you should be that trusted advisor. They should be able to come to you and have those difficult conversations. Also, your job as a leader is to show up and support them. That’s probably one of the biggest steps that you should do in your leadership. As an HR person, you teach, advise, coach, and help them to learn. It’s all about that accountability.

PSF 65 | Creating A Legend

Creating A Legend: HR leaders should play the role of trusted advisors. Employees should be able to come to them to have those difficult conversations.


If I can make one more comment quickly. As an HR leader, I took on an organization that did not have a healthy culture and I bit off a bit more than I could personally chew on my own little island with 9,000 employees. As an HR leader, I would love to see more support for HR leaders to build bravery, confidence, and coaching to learn how to, as Sam says, tell the story, have the confidence, and be able to go and explain. As I may look a certain way, I can go in and help your executive team make a difference, be the legend, and stop with the unicorn thing. That is a massive need in our country and globally as well.

One thing that I’d add to that real quick is the piece of even talking about the historic Black colleges and so forth. If we think about back in that time and reflect on that now, we are like, “That’s segregation.” The thing is it was a great step forward. At that time, it was imperfect action. We can say in hindsight that it would be nice if there was a better way of doing that, but there was an action that was taken. There was allyship. Somebody made the decision to do the right thing. Even though it’s not entirely perfect, they started chipping away at the stone to create opportunity. What do you think about that, Patrick?

I would agree but I would also say that it’s moments like that that it’s a part of our history. I look at the institution I went to and the opportunities that it created for me. I went to Tougaloo College but Tougaloo had a partnership with Brown University, which is an Ivy League school. I was able to go to Brown because of the partnership that they had with Tougaloo. I’m not going to give the dates of when I was in school, but that was early DEI type of training because here I was going to Brown University. Tougaloo College at that time had 900 students. It’s a small Liberal Arts school in Mississippi in the South.

I was going all the way to Providence, Rhode Island. I don’t know how many thousands of students Brown had at that time, but I remember walking around campus feeling like, “This is very different than when you are at HBCU versus now I’m at Ivy League.” You are trying to find your tribe or anybody that may look like you that you can build that relatability on.

It was such an experience because I got exposure and build relationships with all types of students. I became friends with Rockefeller. I would have never gotten that experience but it was through that partnership. It’s creating programs that allow for this thing. I want to say the purpose of having DEI is to create opportunity. Not just for a person of color, but it’s creating opportunities for women, Asian-American, and any marginalized community and person from any neurodiverse group to be able to be seen and have the same equal opportunities and footing. I keep saying we are up for a time, but that’s where I wanted to connect that story, Sam.

I do want to come full circle because, at the beginning of this discussion, we talked about five things. We have probably covered and touched on some of these pieces. Patrick, can you go through these five things quickly for the benefit of our readers?

The first is vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness. Your communication should be frequent and consistent. How you show up and talk to people on your team is important too. There’s an unspoken skill of writing. Make sure that you are constantly taking notes. Legendary leaders, we rely a lot on technology because technology tracks our calendars and all that stuff. If you want to build relationships with your team and with your C-Suite colleagues, keep a journal. I always take notes. This is my sidekick being able to write down notes. At one point, I had 25 direct reports. The only way I was able to be successful for the nine months that I had them was through having a journal to be able to keep track of it.

The other thing that I want to say too is lead an assumption as a leader. I say lead an assumption from a context of, “Believe that you can do the work and you are open to being able to grow.” Having the assumption that I don’t know at all but believe that things are going to go right. When they don’t go right, I can own it and say, “I haven’t made it to that point. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m being vulnerable about the carpool lane or the school thing.” Be open to that.

Last but not least, I call it NSL, Never Stop Learning. There’s too much technology out there for us not to know the answers to information. We have got to be able to hold ourselves accountable for wanting to stretch and grow our minds. When we put in that work, it’s a continuous process for us as leaders and for future leaders. It’s the last point and I didn’t want to make sure I forgot this. I didn’t even put the note down, but your method or your philosophy of being a legend is to think about what you said to them and that narrative. What does that story look like?

Never stop learning. Hold yourself accountable for stretching and growing your mind. Share on X

How do you coach, mentor, and champion the things that are right for the organization? How do you show up for people? You do it because you have to lead with a growth mindset. You do it because you want to make sure that they will one day go on to be VPs and execs somewhere else and they will come back and be like, “This is what I learned from Char, Howard, Sumit, Sam, or anyone.”

At the end of the day, when you have retired and you are in Cabo or Bali somewhere, you can say, “I have done a job well done because I have created the legend. I’m a legend.” The next time someone say, “Are you the next unicorn?” Someone said that to me. I said, “I’m not a unicorn.” What I am is working on being a legend because I want to be that leader that people will tell stories about and that companies will be like, “When Patrick worked here, he did these things and others followed suit,” and that is my talk.

What a great message. Thank you so much, Patrick. Jules, what are people saying out there in the cloud?

We have got a great session. Thank you, Patrick. We don’t have any questions. I think everyone has been tuned in and reading. You have had so many great points. I wrote the five points you made.

For our readers out there, if they have questions, how can they get ahold of you and learn more?

You can find me on LinkedIn, Patrick Sutton. I know there’s a ton on there but if you look up ahead of people, I should pop up. I’m the Head of People at MainStreet. I’m always looking forward to building that bridge of community and talking with others.

Thank you so much, Patrick, for being with us. It’s been a true pleasure. It’s a great conversation. I loved it.

Same here. It was so great to meet all of you. I got to get all of your information to follow. I know I’m going to see you on television, Jules, but I need to know the next time I see you on a show.

I’m sure Daniel will find me somewhere again.

Patrick, I will LinkedIn you.

If you want to connect with Patrick, Sumit said it would help to have a LinkedIn profile picked in yellow.

Thank you all so much for having me. This has been great. I appreciate it.

We appreciate meeting you too.

Have a wonderful week, everyone, and we will see you next episode. I’m going to be talking about creating a wonderful workplace. Join in and it’s going to be a great conversation.


Important Links


About Patrick Sutton

PSF 65 | Creating A LegendPatrick Sutton is an empathetic people leader with 15+ years of industry experience. He believes in fairness and leading with empathy to empower employees. He recognizes the importance of an inclusive lens for finding solutions and challenges the status quo.

As Head of People, he serves as a strategic advisor on HR matters, including Employee Relations, Compliance, Learning and Development, Policies & Benefits, and Payroll.

He is knowledgeable in employee laws and best practices in California, New York, Canada, and various states, supporting the entire organization.


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PSF 64 | Competencies For BusinessPSF 66 | Workforce Experience