"Everyone has the ability to lead and inspire."
Though his official title is Georgia Tech Director of Community Relations, Chris Burke has made an impact not only in the office, but also in the classroom and the communities surrounding Georgia Tech. When he’s not performing his typical responsibility of developing relationships on behalf of the Institute with local governments, K-12 schools, businesses, non-profits and other non-governmental organizations, you’re likely to find him teaching a course or doing community outreach. For example, he leads an undergraduate course called “Near Peer Mentoring: An Experience in Urban Education” each spring and is co-teaching a graduate planning studio focused on workforce development in the neighborhoods west of Georgia Tech this semester. He also works with the Algebra Project to implement math literacy programs for middle school students in Atlanta Public Schools. Being able to juggle these different roles is no easy task, but Chris does it well.
Chris’s unique take on leadership is reflected throughout his work and helps to explain how he’s been able to effectively fill so many roles at Georgia Tech. He considers his personal leadership style to be compassionate, inclusive, and collaborative, stating, “The most important thing to me is getting to know those around me – colleagues, students, external partners – and contributing to their success. That’s the absolute best feeling in the world and most important leadership trait. If you have the ability to help others and you don’t do it, then you’re not leading.” But he also places emphasis on accountability, understanding that his success relies on people believing that he is reliable and can help them achieve their desired outcomes.
One major life experience that well prepared Chris to lead was growing up in a single parent household where he was largely responsible for taking care of himself, which also meant making more of his own mistakes, as well as accepting responsibility and learning from them. The old adage that one learns more from failure than success has always rung true for Chris. Being able to recognize that it is okay to fail sometimes and seek advice has given him a healthy sense of humility, which has ultimately enabled him to be a thoughtful and compassionate leader.
What is his advice to undergraduate students who want to become effective leaders? “You first have to understand what motivates you. You have to have compassion and a strong desire to help others first. Be honest, be thoughtful, and find happiness in the success of those around you. Everyone has the ability to lead and inspire.”