Longtime executive Robert Burgess enjoyed a distinguished career leading multiple healthcare and telecommunications firms throughout the Greater Baton Rouge region. We were fortunate to host Robert recently at the Success Labs office for a wide-ranging discussion about leadership with a group of emerging leaders and supervisors.
Robert has recently retired, but he served as CEO of St. Elizabeth Hospital and interim head of Woman’s Hospital. Before joining St. Elizabeth, Robert served as president and COO of Eatel from 2005 to 2011. He held the same title with Gulf Coast Wireless from 1999 to 2005.
Robert fielded questions from the participants in the Success Labs’ Essentials of First Line Leadership program and offered insights into his leadership style and experience. Here’s an overview of what he shared.
You’re Always Auditioning
A native of Lafayette and a veteran of the U.S. Navy, Robert worked in the telecommunications industry for 40 years, beginning with South Central Bell in 1972, before transitioning to the health care field late in his career. Over the years, Robert says he’s learned that he was always being observed by someone.
“You are always auditioning, someone is always watching,” he says. “You don’t know what the audition is about, you don’t know who is watching. But you got your job today because someone watched you. People saw you on the job and decided they’d take a chance on you.”
Robert says throughout his career he has always been careful to consider how he was presenting himself in and out of the office — and how he was interacting with people up and down the organizational chart. “Are you always working, are you always happy, how do you treat people?” he says.
Earning the Right
Robert urges business professionals to always be looking for ways to improve. “If you’re not working on another degree or certification, start it,” he says. “If you don’t have a bachelor’s, start on one. If you have a bachelor’s, start on a master’s. Take one course at a time.”
“At some point you’re going to want a certain job and it’s going to require an advanced degree — and that’s not the time to go get it,” he adds. “You also get as much credit working on the degree as having the degree. They see your work ethic, your discipline, that you’re looking at the future.”
This lifelong thirst for learning aligns with Robert’s philosophy of “earning the right” to be considered for the next level of job. “If you want the next job, you need to have all of the qualifications before you can even aspire to have that job,” he says. “Get ready for it, act like you’re in the job, prepare for it, so that when the time comes — it doesn’t mean you’ll get it — but you’ve earned the right to be considered.”
Robert says his leadership style is heavily dependent upon listening closely to his employees and treating them with respect. “Listen to what your employees are telling you because they’re on the front lines and they know what’s happening,” he says.
When it comes to employee satisfaction, Robert says that as a leader, you can’t always give workers more money, but you can always give them respect and be tactful in your interactions with them. That goes for everyone at every level of your organization, he says.
“You’re talking to an adult, not a 3-year-old kid,” he says. “So you treat people how you want to be treated … and they’ll do great things for you. They’ll follow you anywhere.”
Finally, he says your job as a leader is to always give credit to everyone else on your team. “It’s all them, and if something goes wrong, it’s all you,” he says. “It’s that simple.”
Contact us to learn more about our in-house leadership training series that can be tailored to fit your company’s needs.