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This CEO learnt it was OK to be an introvert

This CEO learnt it was OK to be an introvert


Sean Bilton is chief executive of aged care provider Estia Health and he loves challenging the status quo. He answers our leadership Q&A.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

To be myself.

There’s this characterisation of chief executives as being extroverted and gregarious. That’s not me. I’m an introvert. I do things differently. I think there are different points in your career when you try to modify yourself to be what you think you have to be to fit the characterisation.

Sean Bilton is an introvert, which he says, suits the aged care sector. Louie Douvis

I can’t actually remember who told me, but it really resonates: you can’t be anyone other than yourself. I can certainly work on certain elements of it, but ultimately, I’m never going to be anyone else.

I think how I operate as a CEO works for our sector. It’s the human services sector and it’s not a sector where people want ego.

They want to believe in the management team and know that management understands what it’s like at the frontline.

What is the secret to good leadership?

The biggest thing is challenging the status quo. I think companies and management teams can very quickly become stagnant and get used to doing what they’ve always done.

I reflected on a couple of experiences, particularly in the safety area.

Safety is key for us because we have 8000 employees, and we want them to come home from work well.

There’s been this acceptance in the sector for a long time that it’s aged care, and people get hurt. That’s what happens.

We’re probably behind some of the other sectors, like mining and construction. A leader I worked with early on helped us reset our expectations as a management team and back a zero tolerance on [people getting hurt].

In both organisations I have worked at in aged care, our “lost time injury frequency rate” has been around 70 per cent or 75 per cent lower than the sector average, and I think a lot of that is about resetting expectations.

For me, something that defines a good leader is someone who really resets expectations and challenges the status quo.

What’s the most important thing you look for when hiring someone?

For me, it’s definitely fit, particularly for our sector.

I’ve seen a lot of good people who are very successful in their careers not work out in aged care.

I probably drive the HR team mad because I don’t follow the interview templates around situational type questions. For me, it’s more about conversation. I’m looking for fit. Is it someone I want to work with? Is it someone who will match our values? Have they got a sense of connection to the purpose of what we do? You have to be resilient. It’s actually a really tough sector and a lot of good people have been spat out.

We have a really collegiate, supportive environment. It doesn’t tolerate ego.

What is your morning routine?

I get up at 5.30am and I do an F45 class. It’s efficient. It’s 45 minutes, and I’m home by 6.50. I get to the office at about 8.30. I have a few Weetabix at home before I leave.

How do you switch off?

I’m not very good at switching off.

I don’t switch off by sitting in front of the TV, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’ll mow the lawn, or I’ll go for a walk, or I’ll do some exercise. I’m not very good at sitting and doing nothing. I get on a plane and I’ve got to use every second of the plane trip.

I’ve got two young girls, nine and 12. We try to get them out of the house as much as we can on the weekends. They always groan on a Sunday when I say right: “Right, Dad’s worked out what our walk today is, so we’re all getting in the car with the dog, and we’ll park at Kirribilli [just north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge] and we’ll walk to Barangaroo [on the southern side of the bridge].” It’s a nice way to connect.

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Sally Patten

Sally PattenBOSS editorSally Patten edits BOSS, and writes about workplace issues. She was the financial services editor and personal finance editor of the AFR, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited business news for The Times of London. Connect with Sally on Twitter. Email Sally at

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