A common trait that I see in the leaders that I interview is the ability to build a high trust organization. Stephen M.R. Covey wrote a bestselling book on this topic titled “The SPEED OF TRUST, The One Thing That Changes Everything.” In particular, I like Covey’s statement, “The first job of a leader — at work or at home — is to inspire trust. It’s to bring out the best in people by entrusting them with meaningful stewardships, and to create an environment in which high-trust interaction inspires creativity and possibility.” In my own experiences as a business consultant, I have found it virtually impossible to build a high performance company in a low trust environment. The topic of “trust” was a recurring theme in my interview this week with David Burckel, CEO of Southern Bone & Joint Specialists, P.A. (SB&J), a leading health care organization based in Hattiesburg.
Burckel is a native of Mandeville, La., and earned an undergraduate degree in engineering and an M.B.A. from the University of New Orleans. His first job out of college was with Chevron, but he soon landed his first health care job with National Medical Enterprises. Burckel learned of a position in Hattiesburg with the Orthopedic Clinic (predecessor to SB&J), and in 1987 he moved his young family to Hattiesburg where he has been ever since. At the time, the clinic had seven physicians and 18 employees. Today, SB&J has 15 physicians, over 150 employees, an imaging center, surgery center, a physical therapy facility and three satellite locations. Burckel has navigated the organization through a period of tremendous growth and seen the industry dramatically changes in his 27 years.
Amidst the stress and challenges of managing a thriving medical practice, Burckel maintains a calm demeanor. He shared, “I try not to take things personally. I try to find the best in everyone and every situation and try not to back people into a corner when they are throwing out opinions about something.” He strives to create a structure where everyone wins. He noted, “There is no need to have winners and losers. I try to get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction.” Burckel has great skills in building consensus, but he also acknowledged that sometimes you can’t please everyone. In those times where “no” is the answer, he is able to keep everyone united because of the trust he has developed in the organization. They know that he is fair and has the organization’s interest as the priority. Under his leadership, SB&J has never lost a physician except for health reasons, and they have a steady stream of physicians who seek to join the practice.
For future leaders, Burckel emphasizes the importance of integrity. “Doing the right thing will never disappoint in the long term. In the short term, it might hurt a lot, but not in the long run.” Burckel acknowledges that sometimes it’s hard to know what the right thing is especially dealing with other employees. He shared, “I think about it and pray about it and try to make the best decision that I know how.” Burckel is a leading health care executive in this state and the success of Southern Bone & Joint under his leadership is a great example of the importance of integrity. As leaders, we can all grow in our ability to build real trust in our organizations in order to accomplish great things.
» Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.