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7 Questions on Leadership with Paul Burgis

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Name: Paul Burgis

Title: Principal

Organisation: PLC Sydney

Dr Paul Burgis trained as an English and History teacher.

He has work

ed as Head of History in a school in Harare, Zimbabwe; Deputy Principal of Hillcrest College, QLD; he ran the Master of Arts in Education Program at St Martin’s College, Lancaster University, UK; and he has been Principal of Inaburra School (2006-10) and PLC Sydney ((2011- current).

He has a PhD from UNSW. He is married with three children and five grandchildren. He worships in Drummoyne.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Paul's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Some of the actions a leader needs to take cannot, for good reasons, be articulated to everyone. As a leader who likes to communicate I find it challenging when I can’t explain the whole truth.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

By providence or by being in the right place at the right time. I became Head of History in Zimbabwe when the previous incumbent ran off with someone. I became a deputy when the school I was at grew and it needed a new person.

Qualifications helped me be ready for new roles. Reading widely is critical. I have taken risks.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I work 70-80 hours each week. When I get home I take off my work clothes immediately and seek to be ‘present’ at home. I arrive at work at 7am and attend to the day’s needs.

Planning ahead is critical, as is being seen at all kinds of events. The leader needs to be a calm presence. I rest one day per week - often 1pm Saturday until 1pm Sunday.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Always be aware that everyone will make their own judgment of your actions. Whilst numerous people are supportive and engaged, there will inevitably be some who are not fully franchised. Turn the other cheek by relaxing into all relationships and circumstances.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Alasdair MacIntyre: AFTER VIRTUE (Clarity note: link clicks through to the book on Amazon. As an Amazon affiliate we receive a small commission if you purchase through this link).

It outlines how the contemporary world came to value ‘coercing others whilst not permitting others to coerce you’. It’s insights into how to build a belief and value based organisation are profound.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

In your early years you will face some kind of crisis. Embrace it as a wonderful opportunity to learn to lead. Don’t fear or regret it.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

School leadership must be redemptive. When students misbehave badly I suspend them to school in the holidays. I tell them, however, that once the discipline is complete I will treat them completely normally.

I will always smile towards them. I expect them to treat me and others well. On numerous occasions young people step up. The goal of the action I take is the growth of the student.

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