Leading From The C-Suite: Jacqueline Burls of Goddard Systems On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive

An Interview With Doug Noll

Doug Noll
Authority Magazine
10 min readJun 19, 2023

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I am relentlessly focused on personal growth, development and continuous improvement. Candidly, if I wasn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today, and I’d venture to say nearly every senior leader would say the same. Whether it’s leading a challenging project that pushes you outside of your comfort zone — I discussed one of those earlier when I made the decision to focus on quality over speed — or reading a book or taking a class, every day, every month and every year presents an opportunity to grow, learn and improve. Seize those opportunities.

As part of our series called “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive” we had the pleasure of interviewing Jacqueline Burls.

Jacqueline Burls is SVP and chief school support services officer at Goddard Systems, LLC, where she provides leadership on brand development, operational excellence and customer engagement to drive long-term growth for Goddard Schools across the U.S. Previously, Jacqueline served as chief operating officer in the Universities South division for Sodexo S.A., a global food services and facilities company, overseeing a $700M portfolio of 160 universities across 12 states and focused on curating industry-leading services to facilitate student success. She has held operations and franchise development leadership positions at Starbucks Coffee Company, Walmart, Inc. and 7-Eleven, Inc.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I come from humble beginnings, being the daughter of two immigrants who made the courageous journey from the Caribbean to New York City on a boat. My parents, despite being hourly workers, had lofty aspirations for their children, emphasizing the importance of education and instilling in us deep respect of our heritage. Their dreams for us fueled my own ambitions and set me on a path of growth and personal development.

Looking back, I am immensely proud of the journey thus far. Every challenge faced and every step taken has contributed to the wisdom and joy I experience today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending — to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. And I will choose how the story ends.” — Brené Brown

This quote resonates with me because it embodies the themes of courage, the power of choice and resilience in navigating life’s narrative. It also reminds me to embrace the truth of my experiences, make intentional choices and cultivate the resilience to create a meaningful and fulfilling life journey.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?

I am a Brené Brown fangirl and Dare to Lead helped me find a leadership voice authentic to me. In corporate environments of yesteryear where there were limited African American female role models, surviving often meant being stiff, armored and displaying unwavering intensity. Reading Dare to Lead coupled with self-reflection has evolved my leadership style to include my inherent drive for excellence along with being wholehearted.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

To me, Goddard’s steadfast commitment to building a strong social, emotional and academic foundation for each child in our schools across the country truly stands out. We often say that at Goddard, we teach skills children need to be successful in school and in life. One tangible way we experience the power of a child’s Goddard education is through our Anthony A. Martino Memorial Scholarship program. Each year, we recognize a high school senior who graduated from a Goddard program. It’s inspiring to hear these young adults share the impact of their Goddard experience and how it helped shape them into the individuals they are today. Equally inspiring are their aspirations and life goals — these are remarkable young people who will be shaping the future, and it all started at a Goddard School.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Three traits that are most instrumental to my professional success are giving trust, setting high standards and constantly raising the bar, and having the courage to prioritize my values over personal comfort.

Giving trust, praise and respect — Building a culture of trust within my team has always been a top priority. One example that stands out is when I delegated a critical project to a team member who was relatively new to the organization. Despite having limited experience, I trusted their abilities and provided them with the necessary guidance and support. Throughout the project, I consistently praised their efforts, recognizing their achievements and providing constructive feedback. This approach not only empowered the team member but also cultivated a sense of ownership and motivation, resulting in positive outcomes and reinforcing the importance of trust, praise and respect within our team.

High standards and constantly raising the bar — Setting and maintaining high standards has been a driving force behind my career. I believe in continuously challenging myself and my team to go above and beyond what is expected. An example of this mindset occurred when we were preparing for a major launch. Despite having sold plans to execute “the playbook,” I pushed the team to exceed expectations by refining the plan with our local customers in mind. It demanded extra effort and attention to detail, but our commitment to raising the bar resulted in a launch that not only impressed our customers but also solidified our reputation for delivering exceptional quality.

Courage: my values matter more than my comfort — Throughout my career, I have learned the importance of standing up for my values, even when it may have been easier to remain silent or take a less principled path. One instance that highlights this value was when I had to make a tough decision that went against popular opinion within the company. Despite facing resistance and potential backlash, I chose to uphold my values and make the decision that aligned with what I believed was right for the organization’s long-term success. This act of courage not only maintained the integrity of our company’s values but also earned the respect and trust of my team and peers.

These traits have not only shaped my leadership style but have also positively influenced the culture, performance and overall achievements of the teams I have had the privilege to lead.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?

In my career, I have had to make a difficult decision between prioritizing speed or maintaining high-quality standards. At a prior company, I had a tight deadline to deliver a critical project, and there was immense pressure to expedite the process to meet the timeline.

While the urgency to deliver quickly was evident, I recognized that compromising on quality could have detrimental long-term effects on our reputation. Rushing the project without ensuring thorough vetting and attention to detail had the potential to result in errors, subpar outcomes and ultimately dissatisfied stakeholders.

Despite the pressures and competing demands, I made the conscious choice to prioritize quality over speed. I believed that delivering a superior product that met or exceeded expectations was paramount, even if it meant slightly extending the project timeline.

While much was learned during these challenging times, prioritizing the interest of stakeholders was my guidepost.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?

Taken from Frances Frei, a professor and Harvard Business School author, and overall badass, leadership is about empowering other people as a result of your presence and making sure that impact continues in your absence. Impactful leaders can ingrain a set of values, skills and attitudes within their team long after the executive has left the room.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a C-Suite executive? Can you explain what you mean?

A myth to dispel is that executives are always overconfident. In reality, the best leaders I know exhibit both humility and genuine curiosity, constantly seeking to validate or challenge their beliefs. They understand the importance of staying open-minded and continuously learning, striving to uncover the truth rather than assuming they already have the answers. This mindset fosters a culture of growth, adaptability and innovation within any organization.

What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Underinvesting in peer relationships is a significant leadership mistake when joining a new organization or leading a team. It limits thought partnership, support and collaboration. By neglecting peer relationships, leaders risk creating a culture where individuals feel isolated and disconnected. Alternatively, by prioritizing connections with peers, leaders tap into diverse perspectives, ultimately enhancing personal growth and team performance. Two and half years ago when joined Goddard Systems, I made it a point to invest time getting to know my peers personally and professionally.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Delivering clarity of purpose. It is vital to provide clarity of purpose for an organization’s team members. When individuals understand their role and purpose, it brings meaning to their work. This clarity aligns efforts, inspires motivation and fosters effective collaboration. With a clear sense of purpose, team members feel valued, engaged and driven to contribute towards shared goals. This ultimately leads to a positive team culture and propels organizations towards success. Every year, I collaborate with my leadership team on refining our North Star or developing annual Big Bets. By doing so together with my team, we establish a shared ambition and rally commitment throughout.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

I love this question and am going to repeat a few of the traits that I’ve already mentioned. In short, my five things you need to be a highly effective executive are authenticity; giving trust, praise and respect; setting high standards and constantly raising the bar; having the courage to prioritize values over personal comfort; and a focus on growth, development and continuous improvement.

I went deep on three of these earlier in our discussion, so I’ll focus on the other two here: authenticity and growth, development and continuous improvement.

To me, you can’t be an effective leader if you aren’t an authentic leader. If you’ve built teams comprised of smart and skilled individuals — and we all strive to do that — then they are going to see right through inauthenticity and it’s going to severely limit your ability to lead and the team’s ability to perform. Display your true self, lead through example and stay true to your principles. While every connection is an opportunity to show up as your authentic self, it is especially important to do so when forming new relationships. I am intentional while building new partnerships and focus on being open and approachable to accelerate trust.

I am relentlessly focused on personal growth, development and continuous improvement. Candidly, if I wasn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today, and I’d venture to say nearly every senior leader would say the same. Whether it’s leading a challenging project that pushes you outside of your comfort zone — I discussed one of those earlier when I made the decision to focus on quality over speed — or reading a book or taking a class, every day, every month and every year presents an opportunity to grow, learn and improve. Seize those opportunities.

In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture?

Throughout my experience, I have learned that there are three key personal characteristics that leaders can embody to create a vibrant work culture: credibility, authenticity, and compassion. When team members trust that you can drive organizational objectives and improve business performance (credibility), when you genuinely display your true self and ensure your words align with your actions (authenticity), and when you genuinely care for the success of others (compassion), the state is set for an exceptional work culture. These qualities, when embraced and practiced sincerely, can transform the workplace into a thriving environment where everyone feels valued and inspired to excel.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-).

If I could start a movement that would bring good worldwide, would be to address food insecurity. Food insecurity is a pressing issue that affects millions of individuals and communities across the world, preventing them from accessing nutritious and sufficient food for a healthy life. While addressing food insecurity is a complex and multifaceted issue, it is solvable with collective action and commitment.

How can our readers further follow you online?

www.linkedin.com/in/jacquelineburls

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

Award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and now podcaster.