Thank you for submitting an application!
We will be in touch with you shortly.
John Berger is CEO of St Bartholomew’s House, a not-for-profit that assists the homeless of today to rebuild their lives, and acts to prevent the homelessness of tomorrow. He is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program.
Helming St Bartholomew’s House for almost five years, John describes the journey in tackling homelessness as an ever-evolving problem. St Bart’s was established in 1963 as an outreach program of the East Perth Anglican parish, who had noticed there were men sleeping under nearby bridges.
St Bart’s is now independent of the East Perth Anglican Church but is still dedicated to the same cause, and continues to evolve in response to the changing demands of the community.
“During the 80s, one of the committee members identified that a lot of the men were getting older. With the emergence of aged care and aged care facilities, he asked, ‘why shouldn’t men who have been homeless not have the opportunity for aged care?’ And so, St Bart’s became a registered aged care provider and had an aged care hostel for men.”
“50 years ago, we were probably looking after 15 to 20 men. Now, on any given night, we’re supporting about 500 people. ”
“Approximately 12 years ago, we also had the opportunity to enter into the area of mental health supported accommodation because we know a lot of people who experience homelessness have mental health issues.”
While St Bart’s has helped many people over the past 50-plus years, John is under no illusions as to the complexity of the task of eliminating homelessness.
“Homelessness is symptomatic of a lot of things including personal or individual factors, and structural factors like unemployment, unaffordable housing, poverty, lack of education. Each story is different.” he says.
“We know there are three things we have to address in an individual’s situation. The first is their life skills to live independently. They might have had a relationship breakdown, so we’ll help them learn how to have healthier relationships with their family or people within their community. It might be learning to better manage their finances, or what it means to be a responsible tenant.”
“The second area is health – both physical and mental health. If you can address that successfully, whether by a referral to a GP or being able to address a chronic health condition, then people can stabilise.”
“The third area is connection to the community. It’s one thing to put someone in a house. It’s another thing for them to feel part of the community.”
“If we can address all of the above, they end up in long-term, stable housing. Their quality of life has improved, and often they can probably go back to some form of education and work.”
“And the reality is, I’ve not seen anyone where that has not been possible, irrespective of the circumstances from which they’ve come. Our vision is to eliminate homelessness. How do we go about that? We do it one person at a time.”
Given homelessness is a problem that is symptomatic of other issues, John believes the best response is a multipronged approach.
“There’s a lot of community support to address homelessness, both within the corporate sector, philanthropic sector, and from the general public. Often, though, it’s very patchy and piecemeal: people trying to do a little bit over here, and a little bit over there. We need to bring it together.”
One example is St Bart’s working closely with the City of Perth and other service providers to see how they can be better coordinated to provide a better outcome. But, while there are more effective ways of co-ordinating services, John says there must also be better community understanding of the issue.
“I feel as a society we tolerate the notion of homelessness. We need the community to understand that no one deserves to find themselves without a home — that there should be a pathway out of homelessness.”
One program to help tackle this issue with community understanding is the West Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, which is a joint effort from CEOs, executives and community leaders.
“We’ve developed a 10-year strategic plan because we realise this problem won’t be resolved in a three-year political cycle.”
“If we want to resolve this issue, we need to demonstrate what we’re doing at a community level, so the community can understand and support us.”
Before St Bart’s can change the community narrative of homelessness, or affect government policy, John decided they needed to understand their own measures of success.
“I came to St Bart’s in 2013 for an interim period after the previous CEO resigned. There were challenges and a bit of turmoil in the organisation at that time.”
“I had been a senior executive manager at Anglicare WA. I found my experience working in a larger organisation and understanding systems, policies, procedures, would be beneficial to St Bart’s. So, I put my hand up for the CEO role.”
As CEO, John first addressed how the different services – aged care, mental health support, community housing and homelessness services – could work closer together.
“I’ve been working very hard to bring greater integration of our service activities, so that when people come to us, they come to St Bart’s and we respond in an integrated way. They don’t just come to our mental health program or to our aged care service.”
John has also focused more on working with the community.
“When I first came to St Bart’s, it was focused inward, looking at the way we delivered services on the ground, and not really thinking too much about what’s happening more broadly. That’s not to say that our services weren’t working with other service providers, but we weren’t addressing homelessness at a broader level.”
“Government is now asking for organisations to work in partnerships. No longer is it just a single service provider delivering services; they really want to see multiple services coming together. People have multiple needs, so how can services come together more formally to ensure we successfully address particular individual needs?”
As an example, St Bart’s is in a consortium with the Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, the Wirrpanda Foundation, and Centacare to address the re-integration of people coming out of prison to prevent homelessness.
“We’re coming together to ask, ‘as people come out of prison, what is it that we can do as a partnership, as a group of agencies, to address people’s return to community and work?’”
St Bart’s is also deeply involved in the 50 Lives 50 Homes project, which is a collaboration of both 27 government and not-for-profit agencies working together to identify who are the most vulnerable in terms of homelessness, and then finding accommodation and providing support. Over the past 18 months, the project has placed 150 people in housing. Evaluation shows that 88% of the people have remained in housing for more than 12 months.
“If we were still working within the old system, I don’t know that we would achieve that sort of outcome. People would be falling in and out of services.”
John is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program. He graduated in 2008.
“The Program elevated my thinking as a leader beyond my immediate role. Up until that point I saw my leadership role as leading a group of staff in delivering services. The Signature Program made me think, ‘I’m a leader in the community, so what is my role as part of a broader community? What can I bring, and how can I work with others to deal with issues more broadly within the community?’”
“It also introduced me to a network of people that were beyond my normal work environment. I was meeting people in government, meeting people in the business sector, and I realised people are passionate about issues like domestic violence and homelessness. All of a sudden, I had a network of people I could call upon when something was happening or when I was looking to progress with a particular issue.”
“There are very few meetings or places I go where I’m not bumping into three or four people who I’ve met over the years, and many of them connected to the Signature Program.”
This network of people has been vital in helping establish and maintain relationships with St Bart’s corporate partners.
“For the past five years, BHP has sponsored the Youth Foyer in Oxford Street, Leederville. They’re now supporting us in the way we address homelessness, towards that more Housing First approach.”
“It’s about how we work together. How do we educate their workforce and get them to learn and understand what it means for people to experience homelessness? We do awareness-raising sessions with their staff, and they come and volunteer.”
As a final question, we asked John how can St Bart’s ensure they’ll be ready to keep responding to the problem of homelessness as its root causes inevitably change over time.
“The same principle applies in business: you need to know your customer. You need to know what drives your customer, and for us, we need to know what’s driving homelessness?”
“About three years ago, we were starting to see older women present at risk of homelessness — women who have brought up families and have successfully housed themselves all their lives. Why are they finding themselves homeless?”
“We found there were an array of issues, some health-related, some of them being relationship breakdown, sudden death, financial poverty and major health issues.”
“We set up the only service in Western Australia that responds just to older women’s homelessness. We thought we would need about up to 12 months accommodation for them, based on our experience with men. That didn’t turn out to be the case. Often, it was only five to six months that they needed support. They need a place where they can regroup, feel safe, be assisted to find a suitable accommodation again, and then supported to reintegrate into the community.”
“The problem does change over time, and this organisation has had to go through a number of review points about what’s driving homelessness. That’s why the evaluation is critical.”
“And if you get that right, you can help people on their way.”
Applications are now open the 2019 Signature Leadership Program.
Nick Wood is COO and CFO of the Telethon Kids Institute. He is Chair of Gowrie Western Australia and an Alumni of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program.
As COO and CFO of the Telethon Kids Institute, Nick Wood gets to go to work every day knowing he’s helping with what he sees as one of the most worthy social causes: discovering causes, cures and treatments for the illnesses and disorders that afflict children and young people. However, he’s not wearing a white coat in the lab; he’s behind the scenes, working with a dedicated team of professionals that support some of Australia’s best and brightest child health researchers.
The Telethon Kids Institute is a world class medical research institute located here in Western Australia. With more than 700 researchers and professional staff, the Institute is at the forefront of global child health research and has the track record to prove it.
Since joining Telethon Kids at the end of 2014, Nick has worked closely with the Board and senior executive team to lead an organisational transformation process with the objective of becoming the ‘medical research institute of the future’.
“Telethon Kids exists to undertake great research that improves the health and development of children. Delivering on our mission requires outstanding researchers that are leaders in their fields, supported by high calibre professional staff. We also need world class research facilities and access to cutting edge technology. And we must be financially sustainable.”
Achieving long term financial viability is one of the significant challenges facing the medical research sector in Australia. Changes in the funding environment have meant that income is increasingly hard to come by and research institutes can no longer depend on government grants to sustain their operations. More and more, the focus is on revenue diversification and cost management.
But it’s not only medical research institutes that are grappling with this issue. According to Nick, all not-for-profits are faced with the same challenge and must take control of their financial destiny if they are to deliver on their mission. Such a task requires a new way of thinking for boards and senior management. Good business strategies, building commercial acumen, developing new income streams and creating operational efficiencies are now critical areas of focus.
One of the first obstacles for not-for-profits is changing the culture within the sector that has traditionally viewed profit as a dirty word.
Being not-for-profit doesn’t mean not making a financial surplus; rather it is a reflection of where retained earnings are deployed – reinvested back into the organisation to continue carrying out its mission. For not-for-profits, making money means staying open for business in the long term. And it also translates into having the capacity to maximise their social impact and relevance to the benefit of the community they serve.
A further challenge confronting not-for-profits is addressing the power imbalance between those that provide funding and those that seek it to deliver quality community and social services. Misconceptions within government and the private sector about the costs of delivering services by not-for-profits often result in systemic underfunding of the sector. It can also lead to funders seeking more outcomes for less funding. Many not-for-profits have been complicit in validating these misconceptions by participating in bidding wars for funding, driven by the fear of missing out on vital funding. Typically, this mindset is borne out in a race to the bottom on price when competing with other organisations for the same pot of money. This mentality more often than not results in critical services being delivered through an unsustainable financial model that leads to zero or negative net margins.
“Sadly, preconceived notions about the true costs of delivering services by not-for-profits remain pervasive in government and private sectors, which has weakened the third sector and jeopardized the ongoing survival of many organisations. Ultimately, the dysfunctional cycle of underfunding not-for-profits is to the detriment of the wider community given the increasing reliance on these organisations to help in resolving serious social problems and satisfying unmet community needs”.
“Changing the incorrect perceptions within funding organisations about the costs of delivering services by not-for-profits involves the whole sector working together, shoulder to shoulder, to advocate for sustainable models of funding. It also requires greater transparency by not-for-profits in terms of what it actually costs to deliver quality services. And not-for-profits must gain a deeper understanding of their cost structure and resist the temptation to pursue funding which is unsustainable.”
Nick’s role with the Telethon Kids Institute is as diverse as it is challenging. A particular focus of his job is building the financial strength and operational capacity of the Institute to achieve its goals. Luckily for the Institute, Nick is up to this task. Since joining Telethon Kids, he has worked to improve the Institute’s business strategy, to diversify revenue streams and to increase operational efficiency in order to ensure that there are sufficient resources to enable the Institute to accomplish its purpose.
“Telethon Kids continues to strengthen its financial sustainability by maintaining a strong focus on developing new income sources, improving cost management and investing in strategic procurement. This has been greatly helped through building strong partnerships with leading corporates and individuals that share a commitment to the Institute’s vision. With strategic allies like Telethon, BHP, Wesfarmers and Minderoo in our corner, the Institute has been able to take giant strides forward over the past five years towards becoming a sustainable research organisation which has the ability to make a tangible difference to the kids and families of Western Australia.”
Nick is also Chair of the Board for Gowrie Western Australia, a community-based organisation which delivers high quality child care and learning opportunities for children, families and the community.
“I first went to Gowrie in a pro-bono capacity as a fellow of Leadership WA to assist them with reforming their governance model. They were going through a tough time with a raft of significant challenges that were negatively impacting on their financial viability.”
A short time later, he was on the Board of Directors and as Chair was responsible for leading the organisation through a tumultuous period of essential change that was necessary to revitalise what was a dysfunctional business model and a declining organisation.
“Like many not-for-profits, Gowrie had been stuck in survival mode for a very long time, eking out an existence on a month by month basis. Constantly going from deficit to surplus and back again was like being stuck in a revolving door. Not breaking this cycle meant that Gowrie would never have the financial capacity to genuinely thrive because it was always struggling just to stay afloat.”
“Gowrie had also lost focus on its core business and consequently, was no longer a leading organisation in child care nor the place that child care professionals actively sought to work.”
With a unified Board and a new CEO, Gowrie undertook a significant transformation that returned the organisation’s focus back to its core business, created major cultural change and saw the implementation of a new business strategy.
“The organisation went from running consecutive deficits and being very close to shutting its doors to having substantial operating surpluses for five out of the last six years. Gowrie is now able to re-invest its own funds back into the organisation. Service levels have dramatically improved, the organisational culture is strong and Gowrie has re-emerged as a recognised leader in the child care sector”.
Now at the Telethon Kids Institute, Nick is applying his skills and experience to an important cause that he is strongly passionate about.
“In terms of my life values, I feel very much aligned to organisations that are in the space of trying to make the world a better place by addressing an unmet need that has a massive impact on the lives of people, particularly the most vulnerable in our community.”
“I count myself very fortunate to work for an organisation like Telethon Kids, one with such a noble and incredibly vital purpose. Having a very effective Board, an outstanding leadership group and a remarkable team of leading researchers and professional staff certainly make my job that much easier and rewarding.”
“What I love about the Institute is the strong heart and mind connection to our vision for child health and wellbeing that is strongly embraced by researchers, professional staff and valued partners. We are building the medical research institute of the future here in Western Australia, one which is and will continue to make a tangible difference to the lives of sick kids and children with developmental challenges.”
Nick is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, which he completed in 2005.
“Leadership WA stoked a fire in me. It showed me that genuine leadership was vitally important in all organisations as well as the community. It inspired me to want to do something with my career that strongly resonated with my personal values and helped make the world a better place.”
“Leadership WA provided an intimate interface with real life leaders that had, and were still on, significant leadership journeys. These leaders had experienced the highs and lows of leadership and enjoyed great successes as well as painful failures. They’d learned from their experiences, both good and bad, and had grown and evolved as leaders. They possessed a profound wisdom that only comes from having a diverse leadership experience.”
We asked Nick what other professionals could do who also felt the desire to apply their professional skills and experience to organisations with missions that connected with their personal values or passions, but who didn’t know whether working for a not-for-profit would be feasible or the right direction for their careers.
“Doing pro-bono work for, or joining a board of, a not-for-profit is a great way to connect with a cause that you care about and make a meaningful contribution. It can also be the perfect litmus test for figuring out whether actually working for a not-for-profit could be part of your future career.”
“There is significant personal and professional growth, as well as a great sense of satisfaction, that can be achieved through community leadership, by becoming involved with an organisation which has a purpose that matters to you. Not-for-profits are crying out for pro-bono technical expertise, for board members with relevant professional experience and for individuals that have a passion to take on voluntary leadership roles.”
“There are so many not-for-profits in Western Australia that are of vital importance to the community but which are often lacking the resources, expertise and know-how to become sustainable organisations.”
For Nick, working for the Telethon Kids Institute is a great privilege and has been incredibly satisfying.
“When you get an opportunity to work for an organisation that you would gladly volunteer your time with, you know that you’re working in the right place.”
“Is there anyone who wouldn’t strongly resonate with a cause where the end goal is ensuring that children everywhere are able to lead long, healthy and dignified lives? I get to work with an organisation that is doing just that all day, every day. Honestly, I can’t think of a more rewarding job.”
Applications for Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program 2019 are now open.
Cate Rocchi is a former finance journalist and current owner of Perth Media, a strategic global public relations company. She is also Chair of Linkwest, the peak body representing Neighbourhood and Family Centres and Community Resource Centres in Western Australia, and she is an Alumni of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership 2017 Program.
Cate began her career as a journalist at the Kalgoorlie Miner, then worked covering financial markets in London and Hong Kong, before establishing Perth Media. She is also the Chair of Linkwest – the peak body for the vital network of Neighbourhood and Family Centres and Community Resource Centres (CRCs) across Western Australia. There are more than 200 centres.
In all roles, leadership has been a key feature.
“As a reporter, you learn to be very empathetic. You learn never to judge by appearances. When I was a very young reporter, the news room would say something like, ‘This is the story. Go and do this.’ Then you would start asking people what’s going on and a totally different story would emerge. When choosing and then writing a news story, you need to show leadership. You are also assessing what is important for the public, your audience. If you’re a good journalist, you’re not just interested in the views of corporations. You are trying to find information for the public interest. That is also very important in the not-for-profit space, and to do that you have to be able to listen.”
This sense of empathy and public interest is vital in her role as Chair of Linkwest.
“At a board-level, I value each and every person for their different views: male, female, different experiences, different education, different cultural biases. It is also important to empathise with our members.
“With Linkwest, during the past four years, I have tried to go out on the ground, as much as possible, and find out what’s happening with our members, listening and asking about what they wanted, and learning what were they actually doing. What did they want from their peak body now and in the future and how can Linkwest help them? If you talk about leadership models, then that is leading as a servant.”
After working for the Kalgoorlie Miner, Cate went on to report on finance, banking and hedge funds in London and Hong Kong.
“You learn how to be adaptable, but you also understand that you can never lead at the front on your own. You are part of an industry, you’re a voice of an industry, but you also are dependent on support of others around you.”
“Not for profits will have to be adaptable in future, as WA changes then Linkwest’s members’ needs will evolve. Linkwest has recently established a Federal Government Sub Committee with the aim of arguing the case for fair support of community resource centres and other Linkwest members assisting with Federal Government service delivery.”
Initially, upon Cate’s appointment to Linkwest board, she thought her role would be limited, assisting with media strategy. But, after three years on the board and then stepping into the chair role, it has become a more complex role. “There have been some big funding cuts and many members are innovatively finding solutions to keep their doors open and thrive, but it has been an extremely difficult time.”
For her efforts in promoting diversity on boards, Cate recently won an award from the Engaging Young Leaders On Aged Care and Community Boards program.
“It was totally unexpected, because I had been going into rooms in the not-for-profit space saying things like, ‘it’s great that you have got your Aboriginal engagement plan and your theoretical policies about Aboriginal people, and that actually is on the agenda, that’s all good. But before we actually write these policies and before we actually start these programs, has anyone actually met an Aboriginal person?’”
Cate also saw a lack of gender diversity in the community centres and has advocated for more men to be involved.
“I was looking at rooms full of women and thinking, ‘this is not the future for us. We need to be half men, half women.’ I was championing that in the boardroom. Our board is fortunate to have James Jarvis, CEO of Nintirri Centre in Tom Price which runs the magnificent Karijini Experience (a global tourism event) and John Rich at South Lake Ottey Family and Neighbourhood Centre, who has just managed to secure funds for a fantastic bike track and basketball court adjacent to the centre. I am not saying a woman coordinator would not have done that, but men bring important diversity.”
Cate believes that with more male involvement on the boards of community-focused non-profits, more young men in the community will be reached.
“If young men at risk come into that community space to play basketball, for example, then they might come in later and do a literacy program, or some other community work that might then lead them into higher education.”
As far as the changing media landscape goes, Cate looks to overseas media and PR firms for good practice and leading trends. “Those that are at the forefront in this space, are providing superb content that tell the stories of businesses and organisations cleverly. Our innovative business model at Perth Media is tailored to client needs. It is flexible and seeks to provide support when required. We deliver a wide range of services but focus on our strengths: extensive media networks; creativity and first-class writing skills film scripts and blogs, as well as graphic design, and upskilling in media training. While there is a broad service list available, our knowledge in-house is focused on finance, mining, renewable energy and agribusiness. Our expertise, in many ways, has mirrored WA’s strengths, because we are part of the growing service sector to those big global industries.”
If you talk about business leadership in the changing media landscape, it has been about timely delivery, attention to detail and adaptability. That has been the key to Perth Media’s growth.
Cate is an Alumni of Leadership WA’s Signature Program, which she completed in 2017. Due to her experience as a reporter and a small business owner, she was used to working alone, but the Program helped her see the value in collaboration.
“The experience taught me not to be that leader at the front on your own. Some very wise people in our group were just enormously supportive and I hadn’t actually understood what I could do until I did the Signature Program.”
“I also realised is that everyone has got their own struggles. Everyone in that room – and they’re all senior executives – has their own battles, own struggles, own weaknesses.”
“I think the difference, long term, is how do you manage those things? How do you manage your rational behaviour, your decision-making, your ability to produce high-level work consistently?”
“Also, we all make mistakes. As you mature, it is important to reflect and review, so you improve. One of my life leadership lessons was a few years ago as a netball umpire. It’s a tough job. You need to be calm in a crisis, but also it crystalized everyone is individually responsible for their own best practice and should operate with integrity at all times. In my view, if you are not going to try your best, you should get off the court.”
Applications are now open the 2019 Signature Leadership Program.
Dr Nicky Howe is the CEO of Southcare, an aged care and community services based not-for-profit. She is also a leadership and management coach and is involved in numerous other non-profits as a board member. She is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s 2016 Signature Program.
Dr Nicky Howe’s leadership style is like the organisation she runs – she’s all about building up people from the ground up. And like the people who work in her team, the community members that Southcare serves are diverse.
“Southcare is a community-based organisation that is really about addressing the needs of people, and those needs can be quite diverse. The biggest need that we address is really supporting seniors to stay in their own home in their own community. Basically, community aged care. How do we help Mrs Jones stay in her own home? That can be a range of things, right from starting with her doing her garden, and maybe just helping doing a little a bit of cleaning, right through to being at the dying stage and we’re offering nursing services which may include palliative care.”
But Southcare’s remit goes even further than just aged care. It also includes aboriginal family support, financial counselling and emergency relief.
Given Southcare is an eclectic community organisation, it’s important for Nicky to keep a business-focus on what the organisation is doing.
“I hold a view that at the end of the day, I am a business woman, and I’m running a business. We do have a clear mission, and that mission would be different to somebody that’s running a for-profit business, but the numbers do have to add up. If the numbers don’t add up, then you’ve got to do something about it.”
One such example of a project that had to be closed was a low-cost food shop.
“We were doing emergency relief, people were giving food. But it wasn’t ideal just giving people food. We wanted to give dignity and respect and let people choose the food they wanted to eat. So we started a little shop. We started in about 1983, and we closed the shop in 2017.
“We closed the shop because it was no longer relevant, and you do have to do that. Sometimes it’s not easy, because there’s a whole load of emotion caught up with that, but you do have to stand back and say, are we actually getting the outcomes? Is that the best use of that money?”
“The reality was no, because Coles, Woollies and Aldi can do it so much cheaper. Southcare is here to address emerging needs. When that no longer is needed, we step away and do something else.”
A vital part of leading a non-profit is understanding exactly the opportunities and limitations of the sector.
“There are fewer resources in the not-for-profit sector, so you’ve got to be a lot savvier. When I say resources, I don’t just mean buildings and infrastructure. The reality is we don’t pay the salaries that get paid in the private and the public sector.”
But while non-profits don’t have the resources of most for-profits, they do have one invaluable resource: volunteers. When Nicky made the decision to close the low-cost food shop, she was careful to make sure that the volunteers were kept on.
“Those volunteers are still with us. We’ve just put them somewhere else in the organisation that played to their strengths.”
“Some of our volunteers are themselves struggling, and this is their work. We get people from Centrelink who are in receipt of Centrelink payments, and that means they’ve got to do 15 hours of service a week. We are their community, we are supporting them, we are helping them with their self-esteem. We’re giving them a reason to turn up every day.”
This commitment to community isn’t just lip service. The Southcare offices aren’t in a CBD high-rise; they’re nestled in the community, amongst the people they serve and work with.
“We want to be place based and the people we serve want us here. They don’t want us in the city. We want to be here because we attract locals who want to volunteer for a local community group. They want to walk down the road, we want to walk down the road. We know all the other groups and community groups that are around.”
Building up people, and being consultative, is key to Nicky’s leadership style.
“My leadership style is very much about using a coaching and mentoring approach. If one of my team wants to be a CEO, how do I get them to be the CEO? I’m always thinking about how I can develop someone, care for them, and support them.”
“I’m also pretty direct. If things are not going well, I’m going to respectfully tell people. I like to keep inspiring people to be better, have better behaviours, and strive for better action. That is why I will give feedback where I say, ‘Look I think you might have let yourself down a bit there.’ Or, ‘Is that the best? You know, could we just arc it up a bit?’”
“You want to create a situation where they know they didn’t do their best work, and what they can do to step it up. What support do they need? Who do they need to go and talk to? Have they got a mentor? What training do they need to do? How can I help them? How can I be of service? What am I not doing?”
“As a leader you do have to be able to communicate. You’ve got to be able to stand up in a room and connect with people and get across a message.”
Ever looking to hone her skills, Nicky has been working on her communication skills by teaming up with a storytelling business coach. She also believes in the importance of a leader maintaining equilibrium in the organisation.
“No matter what’s going on around us we have to maintain equilibrium. It doesn’t matter what I’m feeling. Now, that doesn’t mean that inside you’re calm, but you’ve got to show up, you’ve got to have energy, you’ve got to be positive, you’ve got to connect with people. And, you’ve got to do that every day, because if you don’t do that every day they don’t trust you.”
Does this mean that you can’t show vulnerability to your staff?
“I think that you do have to show your vulnerability at times.”
“Recently, I was doing a session with our support workers. I wanted to talk to them about grief and loss, because our customers die, or our customers go into residential aged care. So, a support worker may have looked after Mrs Jones for four or five years, and then Mrs Jones dies. How does the support worker cope with grief and loss?”
“I was running the session because of my nursing background. I told them a true story about a patient I’d had. As I was telling the story, and I didn’t expect this to happen, I got very emotional. But I wasn’t going to hide the fact that that emotion came up.”
“That is opposed to another situation last year when we were trying to get a development application through. We all expected to get it approved, and we didn’t. I was devastated, and I had to go back and tell everybody that we didn’t get planning approval. I thought ‘I’m not going to go back now in this state’. So, I rang the Chairman for a coffee and talked it through. When I got back to the office, I maintained that equilibrium.”
“We are emotional beings, there’s no doubt about that, and I think for us to not show our emotion is false. There is a balance between keeping equilibrium and showing our emotions. As a leader, you don’t want to have moods that are up and down. That causes staff to feel uncertain. Then they don’t trust you.”
“As a leader you are a representation of the mission, the vision, the values. If you don’t demonstrate those values, your staff are onto you.”
The development of Nicky’s leadership style began on day one of her career as a nurse.
“I left school at 16, thinking I was dumb, not sure of where I was going. My mum encouraged me to apply to nursing, which you didn’t need year 12 for.”
“It was a good decision at that point in time, but I realised quite early on how I was very limited by the fact that I had not finished school and I hadn’t gone to university.”
But this limited position was vital for Nicky’s development as a leader.
“I learned an awful lot about hierarchy and how it is very debilitating if you are the person that is down at the bottom, and how it stops people from contributing.”
“That’s always informed my thinking: you need to make sure that everyone in the organisation can contribute no matter where they’re at.”
One of Nicky’s most significant achievements as a leader is the establishment of the Engaging Young Leaders on Aged Care and Community Boards Governance Program. This program aims to place young professionals on Boards, an arena traditionally populated by older generations.
The continuation of the program means confronting numerous challenges.
“I’ve got to raise that money every year if we want to keep running the program. The other challenge is ageism. From my perspective in an aged care not-for-profit, I can see society is quite negative about seniors. But now I’m trying to get young professionals onto boards in aged care and people are going, ‘Oh no, you can’t put a young person on a board, they’ve got no experience.’”
“It’s a mindset. People can be stuck in a particular way of thinking, and the challenge as a leader is to try to get them to see it from another perspective. You’re trying to flip their thinking.”
Nicky is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s 2016 Signature Program. When she applied she was already a CEO, but still felt she had more to learn.
“When I said to people I was doing Leadership WA, I know a few people sort of looked at me like, well why are you doing that? I said because I wanted to learn, I wanted to get better. I always want to improve.”
“I didn’t go into the Program thinking I knew everything about leadership, because I don’t think that at all. People that I knew that had done it were really positive about it. For many people, they found it quite life changing.”
Nicky had been at Southcare for five years when she did the program, and she questioned whether it was time for her to move on to another role.
“Leadership WA gave me the reflective space to ask if I was in the right place? Were my values aligned? Am I doing the work that I love doing? Am I playing my best game?
“I was on the bus one time and I was looking out of the window and it was like yeah, I’m where I want to be. I’ve still got a lot more to offer, I think there’s a lot more challenges for me. It was good for me to come back and say to my chairman, “Well, thanks, I think I’m in the right place.”
As a final question we asked Nicky what she would change about leadership in our state if she could wave a magic wand.
“I’d go right down to the basics. People want a job and they want a house, and they want community. If we think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they’re basic things. I don’t understand why we have so much homelessness in Australia. I don’t care what anybody says, there is no need for homelessness. There is enough work for everybody, and there really is enough money for everybody. So, I think we don’t pull the right levers. I don’t see us really going to the core of solving those problems.”
“If I had a magic wand, I’d be changing mindsets, that’s what I’d be doing, because if I could change people’s mindsets about how they see the world, we could see the world and actually do things very, very differently. That’s what you’d do. You look around the world, and you look at different communities and societies, and you think, well they’re solving that problem. How come we don’t? Oh, because we don’t think that way.“
Expressions of interest for Leadership WA’s Rising and Signature Programs are now open.