Leadership Western Australia shines the spotlight on one of our alumni or partners.

Based in Perth, Leadership Western Australia runs experiential Leadership Development programs and courses. This Spotlight series which is first published in the Business News, shares the amazing social impact which our Leadership Western Australia Alumni have in the community.  Many of our leaders and alumni are community leaders, leaders in a Government agency or department Head; CEO of an organisation; Directors of Not-for-profit organisations in Perth and regional Western Australia.

Leaders who are creating meaningful change in communities are often not recognised and are quietly getting on with making that difference. We like to highlight the excellent work and achievements by these people, working towards making Western Australia a better place to live in the future. Leadership Western Australia develops resilient, courageous leaders to be able to solve challenges and problems in the future.

We value diversity and ensure each cohort includes diversity of thinking.

Spotlight on John Berger

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.

Spotlight on Nick Wood

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.


Spotlight on Cate Rocchi

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.

Spotlight on Nicky Howe

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.

Spotlight on Mal Cooke

For 22 years, Mal Cooke was a lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills. He was made a partner in 2006 and focused his career on commercial dispute resolution until his resignation earlier this year. He is married with 2 teenage daughters and is Chair of the Boards of Shenton College and Riverview Church. Mal is a graduate of Leadership WA’s 2012 Signature Program.

In this interview, Mal reflects upon change, and leadership of self.

For Mal Cooke, a job title does not make a leader.

“Leadership is centred around change – shifting yourself first, and then perhaps others, an organisation, a project or a community to a preferred place. That’s where innovation fits for me – finding better ways to create shift.”

Mal came to the view that the best way to grow was to embrace a significant personal change, which is why, after 12 years as a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, Mal stepped away from the role in March 2018.

“I’ve had 22 rewarding years in the one firm. Most of what I was taught and read about leadership over that time focussed on leading others. This decision is about leading myself better. I don’t want nervousness about change to have a hold over me. This is as an opportunity, and I’m curious about how I will respond to it. I just haven’t worked those muscles yet.”

“It was a moment of clarity – and it’s probably an obvious concept to most people – but those who I observe are really good at innovation have almost uniformly been through a really significant personal disruption of their own. Whether on their own initiative, or by circumstances they didn’t choose.”

“Those people come to wrestle personally with how they respond to disruption, and have stripped away many of their fears of change. I wanted that same freedom.”

Mal believes he needs to be confident that he can lead himself well through change to have any right to help others. He anticipates that stepping out of his role will involve a time of decompression and reconstruction.

“I know it’s going to be uncomfortable. I’ll make more mistakes. But I’m pretty confident that it will be valuable and will make me a more effective leader.”

This idea is central to Mal’s experience. “Recognising the inevitability of change provided me with a clear choice – will I bring it on or run from it?”

“I’m a massive fan of Herbert Smith Freehills and the team I worked with, so it was a bit of a shock when I admitted to myself that I was getting a bit stale. I’m 45 and I looked ahead and thought, ‘I’ve got another 20-plus years of my career to go. Can I see myself doing the same thing?’ And I just couldn’t get energized by the idea. I couldn’t personally see a way that I could continue to keep the same learning curve, the same levels of engagement, continue to grow and contribute as I hoped to.”

“There were some people that helped me create a shift. The first was through a question I heard at our church. It was a New Year’s message about making choices.”

“The pastor said, ‘I cast myself forward and I ask, in five years’ time, what decision will I wish I had made back then?’”

That helped Mal face the decision to make room for something new with more confidence, recognising that it will take time to get traction on whatever that is.

“In five years’ time, I’m sure I will be glad that this decision is some distance behind me. I’ll hope not to be in that stage of uncertainty, wondering what is next. So that helped me bring forward the decision, rather than just kicking it further down the road.”

Like many corporate workers, Mal struggled to give time to the various priorities in his life, and had to take steps to ensure that he was properly honouring his relationships at home.

“It’s a challenge that every leader faces.”

“Being fully engaged in a demanding role, whatever it might be, takes a lot of your energy, a lot of your brain space.”

“I knew there would be always more that I could do at the office, and I knew that some of my competitors were making a choice to remain at work longer to get their own metrics of success up, but I needed to be clear about my broader metrics of life success and not outsource them to someone else. “

“We often assume those choices will set us back professionally, but sometimes it actually gives us momentum. I found when I got clearer about my priorities, my time allocation got less stressful and I became more productive.”

Following on from Mal’s point about his pastor’s “five-year test”, we asked Mal where he’d like to be in five years’ time.

“I just don’t know, which is what’s fun. I know that sounds strange. The possibilities are so interesting, and I am giving them some room. Right now, I am thinking and reading on what makes relationships within and between organisations healthy. I look at this with a couple of decades of experience in commercial disputes. I am convinced that there is room to develop not just the theory of healthier organisational relationships, but to take practical steps to put them in place. I can’t help thinking that the trust deficit we are hearing so much about through the Royal Commission and elsewhere is an inevitable function of the way we design our commercial relationships.”

“I’m surrounded by clever people, including through my roles on the Shenton College board, and the Riverview Church board. Those relationships give me access to different perspectives, sectors, and governance experiences. I’m enjoying adding those skills and experiences to my kit bag, and learning from different people.”

“I get the “what next?” question a lot, and I always feel some pressure to answer with certainty, but for the time being I’m being playful with the opportunities that I can’t currently define.”

Mal has also been a Time for Justice Ambassador, which is a fundraising campaign run by International Justice Mission (IJM). They’re an organisation that addresses modern slavery, including trafficking of women and children for sex, particularly in Asia and Africa.

One of IJM’s fundraising endeavours in Australia is to engage lawyers and other professions to donate their charge out rate for just one hour. Mal supported them in this for a number of years, promoting the campaign.

“IJM has this great model where they seek to strengthen the justice mechanisms within developing countries through the building blocks necessary to prosecute – well drafted laws, and also working to build the capacity and will of law enforcement agencies to enforce.”

“It strikes me as a clever strategy. They also have people and structures to help the women and children recover safely after they are rescued.”

“We tend to assess our success as a society by what we can easily measure – GDP, rates of unemployment, real income. We don’t have great metrics for generosity or kindness, or for addressing systemic dysfunction.  I like it when those characteristics get celebrated in our community.”

“If we collectively prioritised those qualities and measured ourselves against them, we would shift the dial on some of the frustrations and inequalities and limitations that hold communities back.”

“Another issue that I’m enjoying thinking through is what leadership qualities are going to be most useful to our society when my kids are a little older. What leadership qualities do we underrate now that will become really valuable?”

For Mal, key to moving our society forward is centred on wisdom.

“I think it never goes out of fashion, even though it’s not spoken about a lot.”

“It’s the capacity to wade through complexity and find simplicity, to move back from the immediate and see the underlying patterns that speak to those, rather than just to the symptoms. I wonder whether many of the debates of the day address only the symptoms without ever getting to the underlying questions confronting society.”

“We shout louder because we’re not feeling like we’re being heard, and we stop listening. Covey reminded us to seek to understand before panicking that we are not understood. We need to hear voices who speak rationally to the underlying values that we wish to orient ourselves by in our culture. Honestly speak to those issues and engage in respectful dialogue about them. I want to be around people who are up for that kind of discussion.”

Mal is a Leadership WA Alumni, and a graduate of the 2012 Signature Program. Mal credits the Program with embedding him with a habit of reflection.

“It’s now six years since I started the Signature program, and in that time I’ve seen many of my cohort continuing their leadership journey into really interesting spaces. Yesterday I had an email from the new CEO of a large not-for-profit. She was in my cohort, and was just introducing me to someone who she thought would be interesting for me to meet in this new stage.”

“That stuff just happens through the Alumni network because of the relationships that we’ve built, and because we know it is a team game.”

“One of the catch cries of Leadership WA is to ‘answer the call’. You’re always doing it for the benefit of someone else. You’re available to assist. I think that hints at the essence of leadership.”

For Mal the biggest opportunity now to grapple with, as he moves into this new stage of his life after 22 years with one organisation, is one of identity.

“How much is my identity tied up with being a partner of a global law firm? How much is my sense of value shaken when I subtract that title from my introduction at a cocktail party?”

“Many of us can fall into the trap of defining ourselves by reference to our title.  I’m going to get some good practice introducing myself to new people with, ‘I don’t have a current role’, and that’s okay. I’ve set myself a personal target of using the phrase ‘I used to be,’ as sparingly as possible – it’s just too boring! I am ready to speak to where I am, and what’s ahead.”

Expressions of interest for Leadership WA’s Rising and Signature Programs are now open.

Spotlight on Joel Levin

Joel Levin is the Managing Director of Aha Consulting, a firm that specialises in community and stakeholder engagement, facilitation and organisational development. He has also worked for the Department of Community Development, WACOSS, Youth Focus Inc., and is a regular supporter of Leadership WA’s Skillsbank program. Joel is a Leadership WA Alumni, and graduated from the Signature Program in 2004.

While many leaders are entirely dedicated to one organisation or one project, Joel’s role is different. Working across so many sectors – from resources, all levels of government, not for profits and internationally with the United Nations – Joel has a unique perspective on leadership.

“I’m absolutely fascinated by what makes people tick, work together or clash. That’s at the heart of my work and personal exploration”

“Everything I’ve done has been about people: about understanding how they do and don’t work together. Which means for me, the ultimate focus of leadership is about how I am with people.”

But Joel didn’t arrive at this insight on day one of his career.

“I think it’s fair to say in the early days, I was the young gun leader who was more interested in the outcome and output. People were possibly collateral damage in this approach. I worked from the adage – ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.’”

Parenthood was part of changing his perspective.

“Having children gave me a broader sense of who I am in the world. Focusing more on people didn’t change my sense of purpose, but it challenged me to look at how much of it came with a push.”

The other influencing factor was his own personal development work.

“As someone that didn’t fit the usual academic mould, it took time to accept that intelligence and value isn’t just about traditional academic prowess.”

“Overtime, I kept digging for a deeper understanding of myself and the more solid that became, the less I had to prove. Again, the sense of purpose or even output didn’t diminish, what changed was how I applied myself.”

“I work with a lot of different groups and went from trying to plan every moment, to being more willing to be responsive to the people in the room. The work becomes a more dynamic process, and people tend to have more real conversations in that environment. People feel less like they are being shoved down a cattle run.”

As part of his community service, Joel is the Chairman of the Board for Orana House Refuge, an organisation that provides accommodation, advocacy and holistic support for women and children experiencing family and domestic violence.

“Orana has this great internal culture. Staff are an amazing group of people, doing some difficult work and the Board works well as a team that is committed to supporting that work.”

In Australia, one woman a week is killed by a current or former partner, and domestic violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and their children. Joel believes that while this issue must be addressed there is a bigger conversation to be had.

“For me, the crisis/refuge work needs to be supported, but there is an old adage, that these kinds of services are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, which I agree with.”

“We’ve already had one resident killed by her partner this year and another hospitalised, and we are only a few months into the year. To me, while this is all to common, it is not the ‘normal’ I want for the community.”

“The is an undersupply of crisis work at the bottom of the cliff, not enough ‘ambulances’ so to speak, But it is expensive and the end of the line. It is also waiting till the poison of abuse has already been embedded into families for generations. If you can change the community conversation you get to the top of the cliff and people don’t need to get walk to the edge of the cliff in the first place.

For Joel, this bring into to question of how a community has a productive conversation about domestic violence, that looks deeply enough at our collective responsibility as a society.

“We are great at supporting ‘charity’, but often less willing to look at our own behaviour. We love to ‘do good’, but what if family and domestic violence was caused by the way wider society allows on field sledging, intellectual arrogance, work place bullying, even the good old Aussie ‘put down’?”

“What if those small pockets of abuse that we let slide in our own lives, makes the more extreme versions seem less extreme. When someone drives 5km over the speed limit, the next driver feels like it is okay to drive 5km faster, until people speed and say, ‘I was just keeping up with traffic’. This is the deeper conversation, our own personal responsibility.”

At the core of many of these problems, Joel believes, is society’s inability to express ourselves in a healthy way. This is core to Joel’s people-focused style of leadership.

“I think we run away from the fact that we are innately sensitive beings. We actually feel the messiness of life far more acutely than we show to others and we hide in tactical/functional conversation or in the overly dramatic emotional activism. Both forms can shut people down and so we don’t really go there often enough.”

Joel has seen this lack of room for expression of our sensitivity since his time running a youth organisation that dealt with youth suicide, where he would see promising young people who were beaten down by the school system.

“Teenage boys – and men in general – don’t get encouraged to express feelings, so they don’t develop the vocabulary to accurately express what is felt. Maybe this is part of domestic violence that need to be looked at.”

But these problems are also present in corporate culture.

“I see a lot of incredibly passionate, dedicated people that that are really tired and burnt out, because all their passion and dedication isn’t moving the dial.”

Ever the problem-solver, Joel is trying to address this too and it is no surprise that he looks to how people work together to make a difference.

“I think there’s a different way of ‘deliberating’ on issues which goes back to the more traditional models of Socrates and Pythagoras. They had a more holistic approach to problem solving. There didn’t seem to be the same thick barriers between science, religion, philosophy.”

“I’m working on a model called ‘unified dialogue,’ which is about bringing these three things into conversations. We are most comfortable with the scientific approach, primarily because the religious or philosophical conversation can be so fraught.”

“Science is important, it gives us our facts and data. Without it we just have competing views. But science can also be limited in the understanding it can offer. We can end up solving the same problem over and over and feel very busy and very clever but not really get anywhere as a society. It doesn’t really make sense that we are more intelligent than at any time on Earth, yet domestic violence as wide spread as it is, or we have lifestyle diseases as the number on cause of death. So we need to be brave and find ways to step into the more uncomfortable areas of understanding problems. We need to be looking at how science, religion, philosophy and support understanding, and not how one is more right than the other.”

“The religious aspect is not about a particular ‘doctrine’, ‘dogma’ or sect, but about the fact that the vast majority of the world has some sense that we are here to learn and evolve as a species. That there is a broader purpose to our being here. When we can step back from the competing ideologies and rituals, we see that there is a single humanity trying to work things out. This means that problem solving is not about theosophy, but about finding room to consider bigger picture learning.”

“The philosophical element is then about our personal willingness to look at our personal role and responsibilities. We are each part of both the problem, the solution and the learning/evolution that comes from working through issues. Nothing will change without a person being willing to change.”

As a final question, we asked Joel for three tips on how to start your journey towards being a better leader.

“Know yourself, but continually challenge what you think about yourself. Question deeply. There’s a difference between self-doubt and critical reflection.”

“Put yourself out there. Be willing to show who you are, not just what you can do. Be willing to show people the stuff that you care about.”

“The world doesn’t need your empathy, just your personal commitment to doing something about what you know isn’t working. Your example can be more powerful than your empathy.”

Expressions of interest for Leadership WA’s Rising and Signature Programs are now open.


Spotlight on Linda Crumlin

Linda Crumlin is the State Director of the Australian Red Cross in WA. She commenced her career as a nurse in the United Kingdom, before moving into the corporate world. She moved to WA in 2007.

From day one of her career, Linda Crumlin has been learning about leadership. Since training as a nurse in Scotland, she has learned skills on the hospital front line in highly stressful situations. Now, as the WA Director for the Australian Red Cross, she and her team work on the front line of complex community challenges, all of which need a steady and confident hand.

Given that Linda’s team must react to community events, it’s vital they are able to lead themselves when required.

My goal is to make people accountable at all levels and to empower them to make decisions.”

By leading when required, but crucially allowing others to lead, Linda aims to encourage a cultural of ownership, not blame, and continuous improvement and learning.

“I strongly believe in empowerment and delegation of responsibility, not just delegating tasks. We need leaders at all points in the organisation and we need to have a culture that supports this. It is important for leaders to know when to lead and when to step back and let others take the role. You can then watch new leaders develop, get more enjoyment from their role, and build their confidence.”

“I often talk about the concept of ‘smart failures’. If we never fail at anything we are either not pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve, or we are not truly understanding what is occurring around us.”

“That is key to staying relevant in today’s everchanging world – being prepared to take risks, leadership at all points and the development of future leaders.”

The idea of ‘smart failures’ is key to Linda’s own personal leadership journey. By not being afraid to make mistakes, and making sure she learns from them, Linda has discovered this is where the best ‘nuggets of innovation’ can come from.

“My first leadership role was a very junior role in a medical company in the UK. I had come from within the team, so I felt that I had to prove that I knew everything quite quickly. Obviously, I didn’t know everything. We shouldn’t try to know everything.”

“It was actually one of my team who actually said to me, ‘you can relax a little bit. You don’t need to be everywhere, you don’t need to try to be resolving everything.’ I had to learn that it was okay to not know. I didn’t have to be in control of everything, that it was okay to actually make mistakes at times as well.”

Linda is a graduate of Leadership WA’s Signature Program, completing the Program in 2009.

“The Signature Program was a great expansion on my knowledge of WA. I had only lived in Australia for 2 years when I did the program, and the regional visits increased my understanding of key issues in WA. The honesty of the leaders who talked about their successes and failures was wonderful and helped me see how they developed their learning and leadership.”

“I also met an awesome group of fellow participants and we still meet up as friends and peers. We are now an amazing supportive group.”

Linda has come to learn that the traits of good leadership aren’t specific to a particular role, industry, or even country.

“Leadership is leadership. It’s about understanding the context that you are living and working in and understanding the team that you are providing leadership to. I’ve provided leadership to nurses as young as 17 in acute settings in the wards. I’ve also provided leadership to people who are in sales and marketing roles covering the whole of the UK, and provided leadership to volunteers and staff and members across the whole of WA. The context may be different, the role may be different, and what your team is dealing with is may be different, but your leadership style needs to be adaptable to all of those.”

The root of Linda’s leadership skills and journey comes from her first career – as a nurse for the NHS in the United Kingdom. Back then, Linda didn’t have her sights set on leading an organisation such as the Australian Red Cross.

“I learned about leadership in nursing very early on, because you have to step up when it’s needed, when a patient takes ill in front of you. You have to be able to step up, take leadership of the people around you, take leadership of the other patients who are suffering and concerned, and take leadership of the incident that’s happening in front of you.”

But while leadership expertise is vital in the practice of nursing, Linda was never formally taught leadership skills.

“You learned it from the nurses above you, from the sisters, from the doctors. You learned to work within a team when required and above a team when required.”

“Nursing teaches you to be able to jump from one issue to another issue very quickly. You have to be able to respond, because you can be laughing with one patient in one bed, and then suddenly reviving or attempting to revive another patient in another bed within seconds. You have to pull together a team around you very quickly, direct your team, and support new staff who might be seeing this incident for the first time.”

“It gave me the ability to move from a stable situation or a nice chat with staff, to crisis mode.”

It’s this on-the-job leadership training that has given Linda the skills base to lead the WA Australian Red Cross in its tackling of complex community problems. On the morning of this interview, Linda had to lead a response to severe bushfires in the Albany region.

The Albany bushfires are just one recent example of when the Red Cross has had to quickly coordinate a crisis response plan. In mid-May 2018, the Red Cross responded to the Osmington shooting, the worst mass shooting in Australia since the Port Arthur massacre of 1996.

While mass shootings are extremely rare in Australia, the Red Cross team approached the tragedy like they would any other traumatic event.

“What we need to understand is that the response to trauma is a normal response to an abnormal situation. The response is something that we practice and have experience in dealing with. That’s where psychological first aid comes in, so we can actually understand how people are feeling.”

“We work with local community, local experts, and sometimes we bring in other experts. When I look at the fire that was down in Harvey-Waroona, we actually had a recovery officer down there working with the local community for about 18 months.”

But the challenge for Linda is not just coordinating a quick response to a tragedy; it’s also ensuring her team don’t suffer vicarious trauma and are able to sustain service levels without compromising their own mental health.

“When we put people in the field, first of all we train them really carefully in psychological first aid, trauma, and personal support. But, when you’re on the field and you’re listening to people’s stories, it can sometimes trigger something in your background that you thought you had dealt with. Or, the amount of stories can actually start to overwhelm you.”

“We need to be able to support staff in that instance, and we recognise that there is a risk there for all staff, no matter how well trained they are. We have a wellbeing officer who contacts all of our volunteers every day and checks in on them, makes sure that they’re doing okay.”

When leading a team through a response to a traumatic event, it can be difficult to present as a strong leader without shutting out your team to your own emotions.

“It’s a very blurred line.”

“I think my nursing helped here. You’re dealing with people who die in front of you. And you’re dealing with upset families, a lot of distress and vulnerability, and you’re dealing with other patients on the ward. You very quickly learn how to deal with that and have some way of dealing and coping with your emotions, because you need to be able to move on to the next patient and to be able to help them.”

“I don’t think leaders have to put a wall around themselves and not show that they are feeling it as well.”

“I think sometimes that softness, and saying, ‘You know what, this is tough guys, and we all need to pull together.’ Whereas if you are seriously affected by something, then you need to be able to recognise it, and you need good people around you that can support you in that way.”

While the majority of Linda’s experiences in difficult situations has been within her team and organisation, Linda has also had to face challenges outside of her day job. As the former Chair of the Board of Community West, she and her fellow Board members had to make the decision to wrap up the organisation.

“With the Board’ expertise and the CEO’s input regarding the changes in the external environment, we had enough knowledge and vision to see this as a possibility. About 9 months before we took the decision, we sought legal advice from specialist not-for-profit lawyers. This allowed everyone a confidential space to understand the process and the key points in time that we would need to make decisions.”

“There was enough time and discussion for everyone to understand the issues and the risks. We were all aware of our legal and fiduciary responsibilities and we ensured that we stayed true to those. We developed a high-level plan with key dates and responsibilities. We continued to take advice from the lawyers we had engaged. It’s important to have expert advice when navigating a change such as this.”

A crucial step in this process was working closely with the CEO of the organisation and supporting her through the changes.

“The CEO and myself met with the teams to explain the decision and rational. The staff were great. Although some where upset and disappointed, I am really pleased to say that they all stayed with us till the end date. They were amazingly resilient and professional. The change management plan delivered by the CEO was the foundation for the team’s behaviour and commitment till the final day.”

Like Community West was, the Australian Red Cross is a not-for-profit. While redundancies and funding reductions are possibilities in any industry, Linda believes that staff can be harder hit in the not-for-profit sector.

“People are here because they want to help people with vulnerabilities. Whether the funding’s there or not, people with vulnerabilities are still there, so the need is still there. When we’re changing programs, reducing programs, reducing supporting when funding shifts or changes, the needs haven’t changed on the ground, so staff feel it in two ways. They might be saying cheerio to a colleague who we’re losing because the funding has ended, but they’re also be really concerned for the clients who may not get the same support going forward.”

“I think in for-profit world you might think about yourself first. I wouldn’t like to say that for everyone, but I think that would be the response: me and my team. In a non-profit it would be my clients first, and then my team, then me.”

As a final question, we asked Linda what she would change about leadership in WA if she had a magic wand.

“Collaboration. Less silos. More collaboration. Less overlaps.”

As an Alumni, Linda sees the value of Leadership WA program for her Red Cross team and has supported her staff to participate in both the Signature Leadership Program and the Rising Leadership Program.

Spotlight on Ben Aldridge

Ben Aldridge is a professional speaker and the owner of 30 Foot Drop, an organisation dedicated to increasing openness and inclusion for people with a disability. Ben is a veteran, and at the age of 22, suffered a 30-foot drop which left him a quadriplegic. He is a graduate of Leadership WA’s LeadAbility program and is a current participant in the Rising Leadership program.


For Ben Aldridge, life has always been about making a difference and effecting change, both before and after his accident which left him in a wheelchair at the age of 22.

“I originally joined the Defence Force in 2004. I joined because I was fed up with people living in fear. At that time, there was very much a culture of fear after September 11 and the Bali bombings. There was a culture of fear existing in the world, and I got fed up with it and wanted to do something about it, even if it was just something small.”

“If I could help dispel this fear of others, even in a little way, then I was happy.”

Joining the Defence Force was only the beginning. Since then, Ben has spent his life fighting for the rights and inclusion of marginalised peoples. The only difference is now, post-accident, Ben does it from his wheelchair.

“There is a lot of ignorance [about disability and veterans], but it’s not malicious. But it is ignorance, and it needs to be changed. Knowledge is power, and I still have a voice.”

“I’ve basically fallen into a great way of following my values, of seeing an issue and working towards changing it, and working towards making a difference around it. So, I’m very fortunate in that way, and very fortunate to have supportive people around me. I would never be able to do this without the support of my wife and my family, and my friends as well. They’ve been great and just those supports, it’s just so important to everybody and anyone.”

But Ben’s transition to becoming a professional speaker after his accident wasn’t overnight. It took time and hard work for Ben to find a new outlet for his desire to help people and make a difference.

“I remember my first big shock after my accident. I’d snuck out of the hospital to go across the road and buy some rums because it was a mate’s birthday and he couldn’t get up out of bed. And, there I am at the bottle shop trying to get some rums out of the fridge, and the shop attendant comes up and talks slowly and very loudly to me – ‘Can. I. Help. You?’”

“Because I was in a wheelchair, it was like my brain didn’t work properly. That was my first real eye-opening at this sort of bias.”

After his accident, Ben worked as a receptionist for a disability employment service. He worked his way up to becoming safety coordinating, coordinating work health and safety for 16 sites around WA. He then became facilities coordinator.

But it wasn’t until he was given the opportunity to facilitate access and inclusion training for the City of Bunbury that he found his new passion.

“I just fell in love with the idea of being able to make a difference; using my adversity and the fact that I had stuffed up quite badly to be able to make a difference.”

“Just from there I realised I had an ability to make a difference in society by educating people around these issues. I’m in a great position where I call myself a lucky unlucky? person.”

“I was lucky because I was in the Army at the time [of my accident], so I’ve got Veteran Affairs on my side. As far as funding goes for my medical expenses and that, I’m very lucky compared to the majority of people with disability.”

“I’ve got this privileged position and I need to make the most of it because I have all these enablers, I have the ability to make a difference within society.”

Now, with his expertise, Ben advises organisations on how to be more open and inclusive to people with disability.

“The most common issue is actually taking the first step.”

“You’ll find so many executives and people in high positions saying that yes, there is a problem, but then not actioning it.”

“[The City of Bunbury] had it as part of their core values that they want to employ more people with a disability.”

“They told me ‘look, there’s a lot of pushback around the idea of hiring people with a disability, so what can we do about it?’ Our suggestion to them was ‘lead the way. Hire some people within your own department.’ And it’s worked amazingly.”

For Ben, the key to making sure a business or workplace is fully accessible for people with a disability is actually bringing in those voices and experience in the planning stage.

“Most city councils have access and inclusion committees that have people with disability, and you can put anything in front of them and they will run you through it. It’s all about good design. Instead of having a set of steps and a lift next to it, have a ramp.”

“The lift will cost you $40,000 to $50,000 to install, will break down every month and cost you more money. Instead, put a ramp in. Yes, it will be a little bit more expensive than a set of steps, but it’s less expensive than a set of steps, an elevator and the maintenance costs.”

We asked Ben for three tips for organisations that wish to take the first step towards being more inclusive.

“First one: contact your local disability employment service. They are amazing people, they know their clients inside and out, and they will be able to match you with somebody.”

“The second tip is: don’t make a big deal out of it. Just bring them in and start them working. People with disability don’t want to be treated separately or differently. Treat them as a normal employee. Someone who just comes in like anybody else and starts doing their job. If you treat them like normal, everyone else will treat them like normal.”

“The third tip is: they may cost you less. “There are allowances from the government to compensate businesses because sometimes people with a disability can take slightly longer to learn the job. The government will pay a part of their wages during the first three to six months, depending on what sort of disability they have.”

“If you want to look at it from a purely monetary point of view, people with a disability can cost less. It has been shown in research that people with a disability take fewer sick days because they know how hard it is to get a job, and they’re not going to take the anything for granted.”

“At the end of the day, it makes amazing business sense, and people with disability are loyal. You give them that opportunity to shine and they will. They’re very, very loyal.”

An additional challenge to Ben being a leader in both his community and the state more broadly isn’t just his disability; he’s also self-employed.

“At the end of the day, I answer to myself. This puts me in the position of being able to follow my values, which is amazing.”

“There are days when I wake up and I just don’t want to get out of bed. It’s those days where I need to lead the other voices in my head, so to speak.”

“I’ve been humbled by the reaction that I’ve gotten from people by choosing to go ahead and become a professional speaker.”

It’s this journey from his accident that has given Ben perspective on his life.

“Before my accident, I wish I had known that if you have the passion and the vision and the resilience, that you can do anything. One thing I wanted to try but never did – because I never thought that I would have the resilience – was to try out for the Special Forces.”

“I now know that resilience is not something that you either have or don’t. It’s a resource that we all have and we all build and we all use up depending on how life is going. You build resilience by doing things that you love.”

“One of my favourite things is taking the dog down to the beach and just letting her off the lead. She goes nuts and its great. I’ve got a four-wheel drive chair and it’s amazing, so we go along the beach and that’s how I build resilience.”

“I use that resilience up when I’m talking about emotive subjects on stage, when I’m being vulnerable to a room of complete strangers and sharing my experiences.”

“I go into high schools and talk to year nine and ten students about mental health and resilience.”

“I’m an outsider coming in. I’m not just a teacher talking about it, I’m someone who has been through it themselves.”

“It’s something that needs to be talked about, so let’s start getting the next generation used to the idea of it.”

The challenge for Ben was arriving at this point of positivity after his accident, and the struggles that followed.

“It’s like anything in life. It everyone was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.”

“For me, the shift in perception started when I realised that I could contribute to my relationship with my wife. I can contribute to that by actually starting to live again, by starting to try again.”

“After that I got to a point where I wanted to try and start working again so I could financially contribute to the relationship, not just emotionally contribute.”

“You’ve always got to be advancing your life.”

But while Ben has come out the other side and is effecting positive change throughout the community with his message, there are still things that make him apprehensive.

“I’m always fearful about falling out of my chair. I get around really well. I’m quite mobile, but I can’t get myself in and out of my chair. When I fall on the ground, I am completely reliant on others. Unfortunately, there is still that stigma within me of having to be a big strong independent man.”

“What terrifies me the most as well is looking back and realising that I haven’t been a good father. The most important thing to me is being a good dad and setting a good example.”

Ben is a graduate of Leadership WA’s LeadAbility program (which aims to develop a diverse leadership community in WA), and is a current participant in the Rising Leadership Program.

“LeadAbility helped to clarify my vision and find my voice when it came to what I actually wanted to do. I’d be working for five years post-accident when I started doing LeadAbility, and although work started as a challenge because I needed to build up my stamina, it progressed to the point where I was a very valued member of the team. But what I was doing wasn’t my passion.”

“If LeadAbility helped me clarify my vision, the Rising program is helping to sharpen it. It’s armed me with the tools I need to encourage other people along for the ride.”

“Something that the journey of LeadAbility and Rising has really driven home to me is that everybody has challenges in their life. It’s just some challenges leave us with permanent visible reminders. Yes, I broke my neck. Yes, I suffer from PTSD. But everybody goes through bad things, and just because somebody has a visible reminder of it, doesn’t mean they’re anything special. We’re just normal people.”

While Ben has made steps towards becoming a leader in WA, he’s got his sights set on more distant horizons.

“My goal is to get out my message by speaking interstate and then internationally. I started off in Bunbury and I’m slowly working my way out.”

“There’s still a lot of work to do. It’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to, and travel is something I’ve always been very passionate about.”

“Before I broke my neck, if you had told me I’d be jealous of paraplegics, I would have told you you’re an idiot. It’s amazing what a change in perspective does to you.”

“Yeah, life can get turned on its head, but things go wrong in everybody’s life. 90% of who you are and if you’re successful, in my opinion, is how you deal with the things that go wrong. It’s how you face that adversity and how you overcome it.”

Spotlight on Terry Budge

Terry Budge is an established and respected Western Australian leader with a diverse range of experiences and contributions to the Western Australian community, embracing leadership roles that seek to make an impact. Terry has been the Chancellor of Murdoch University, Managing Director of Bankwest and the National Australia Bank and is currently Director of WestOz Funds Management.  He studied at Harvard Business School and has also held a number of community related board positions including Chair of the Board of Leadership WA and The Big Issue.

Leadership WA spent some time with Terry to understand more about his philosophy on leadership and his insights on the role of the corporate sector in contributing to community and social impact.

Leadership WA: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to play so many different leadership roles in the state and in the nation?

Terry: I started off in banking back in the early 70s, camped in Country Victoria. I did an Economics degree at Monash University and then joined the National Bank as Research Economist. I started to get involved with the community through the National Bank’s economic groups and through CEDA. We used to regularly go to CEDA meetings and that was always interesting. I then completed the Harvard Banks Management Program before moving to Western Australia in 1997 to head up Bankwest, where I held the role of Managing Director for seven years. Bankwest was also actively involved with the community. I guess these collective experiences led me to think a lot about leadership. I was asked shortly thereafter to join Leadership WA. Their understanding of the leadership objectives in Western Australia and their knowledge of community leadership really struck a strong chord in me. All those things came together and showed that as a leader of an organisation and leader of the community, you have got to involve yourself. What comes out of that is a much better community, which we are all aiming for.


Leadership and Corporate Social Responsibility

 Leadership WA: An emerging and positive trend in leadership seems to be the interest and recognition of the fact that fostering actively engaged employees and a work place that is engaged with the community is good for business. Have you seen a change over the last 10-15 years, where corporate identity is closely aligned with employees being able to contribute ‘beyond’ their job descriptions?

Terry: Organisations have to have the right—or earn the right—to do business with the community. At the end of the day, if you don’t do the right thing by the community, the community will penalise you and you might not be able to do business. So, you’ve got to be a good corporate citizen as an organisation, and your staff want to be seen to be working for an organisation that is a good corporate citizen. I think volunteering and doing something outside one’s job description is very strong here in WA (I think staff really appreciate it and like to be seen doing it). The number of good things that can come out of volunteering is immense, and there is uncalculated value put back into the organisation in return. Volunteering is, therefore, a reciprocal act. I remember when I came to Bankwest, I talked to a lot of the staff there—particularly the younger staff—and when you talk to your team, you often find out that they have done fantastic things outside the organisation. So, if you can harness the sort of voluntary spirit that your staff love and apply it within your organisation, it benefits everybody—and that’s what I think has to be the package.

Leadership WA: Your experience spans leadership in both the corporate world and in community or not-for-profit organisations such as the Board of Leadership WA. Does it take a different type of leadership in the community organisation space than in the corporate space?

Terry: I think at the end of the day it doesn’t. The issues are different and the objectives might be different, but it really does come down to leading people or encouraging people. It doesn’t really matter what organisation you’re in, you have to focus on the people.

“Everybody needs to be encouraged and to be understood and needs to have discussion around their objectives and what they are trying to achieve.”

 I remember once reading an article about a couple of very significant ladies in the US and I remember them saying “it’s really important to get the strategy right. It’s very hard to get somewhere when you don’t know where you’re going,” and that’s really important for all of us. I think the difference between community organisations and corporate organisations is the lack of resources. Corporate organisations have much more resources to help the organisation than not-for-profits and charitable organisations where they have very limited resources.


Leadership and Education 

Leadership WA: You’ve been involved with groups around education, groups around charitable sectors and the disadvantaged. When you work in education in Western Australia, do you feel like our leadership in that area is strong? Or could we be doing other things that would strengthen it more?

Terry: The Western Australian education system is very good, evidenced by the mere fact that when you get to university level, there is strong demand for private clients to access our education and as we all know, the education sector is Australia’s third largest export. This tells us how the world values our education system. However, I think some of the problems in education—that I can see—stem from the funding of a certain education model and therefore, the continual production of the same sorts of outcomes.

“I’d like to see more differentiation or a range of different programs across educational institutions. I think the global market place is moving very quickly and much of the education system that we have is a reflection of what was relevant a few years ago, rather than now.”

Universities tend to be an education machine, pushing a lot of people through the system who are met with limited or no employment opportunities. We need to think about what sort of education and skills we need and be able to differentiate the gap between what is needed and what is offered. I think what Leadership WA does and what the Institute of Directors does too, offers a valuable model. There is a lot more education going on after university and it’s shorter and can be more focused. I think that sort of level of education has been shown to have more demand. I don’t think anyone has the right answer, but we can do a lot of self-learning these days if you curate the right environment for people to learn strongly and effectively. I don’t want to say that our education system is broken. All I’m really saying is that the world is moving quickly. There are a lot of different skills and you can see how social media and technology is going, how we have to engage in all of that in our education system.

Leadership WA: Over the years, what have you done to progress your education? How have you made sure that you have continued to grow?

Terry: I think you get an education by being involved in things—being involved in different organisations, learning from different issues, meeting different people. One of the great things about transitioning from the executive world to the non-executive world across a different range of organisations is that you encounter different experiences and issues to deal with. In that way, it is very enlightening. I also had the privilege of chairing the annual conference for the Australian Institute of Company Directors for about 6-7 years and putting that conference together was a fascinating exercise and has taken me to different parts of the world and the Asia pacific area such as Beijing, Shanghai, Christchurch and Singapore. I came across wonderful speakers from around the world and it allowed me to absorb different thoughts and different issues.


Reflecting on Leadership 

Leadership WA: Have you ever had one of those moments where you thought to yourself: ‘wow I wish I had seen things with this clarity, or had that idea or these insights years ago’?

Terry: That would’ve been wonderful! You know what they say: “the hindsight of a moron will always beat the foresight of a genius”. But you can only do the best of what instinct you had at the time and take into account all the information you were given. Rely on people you trust to give you the right information as well. I think that’s all you can do.

“If you could go back in time and with some of the knowledge you have now, it would be different. But you can’t do that, you just have to absorb what you’ve got, be reflective about what you’ve learnt and that’s it.”

It’s amazing what you pick up over the years and how helpful it can be.

Leadership WA: That advice about being reflective is important, because we all get so caught up in the tyranny of the inbox and the things that have to be done in this moment. How do you make time to be reflective?

Terry: I would say that you should constantly be involved in things outside your brief, or something radically different. By doing those sorts of exercises, you can try to put into context what you are seeing, what you are learning and what you do. You can never say you’re having a reflective time but for leaders and potential leaders, being reflective is really important. Being reflective of where they are now; reflective of themselves; and reflective of what is the right path to take.

Spotlight on Tarun Weeramanthri

Leadership WA caught up with 2011 Signature Leadership Program graduate and Leadership WA Alumnus, Professor Tarun Weeramanthri, currently the Assistant Director General, Public and Aboriginal Health, Department of Health, Western Australia. We posed a few questions to seek his insights on leadership and the challenges and opportunities he has discovered along the way. Tarun has worked in health for 30 years, focusing on public health research, policy and practice in the prevention of common chronic diseases and addressing Aboriginal health gaps. He is also experienced in disaster coordination and response in the Northern Territory and Western Australia and worked for the World Health Organisation in 2015 to coordinate foreign medical teams in Sierra Leone. He has been awarded the Sidney Sax Medal by the Public Health Association of Australia in 2014 and is a joint specialty chief editor of the new international journal, Frontiers in Public Health Policy.

Leadership WA: It must be an interesting challenge to keep up the passion and enthusiasm in an organisation when budgets can force hard choices to be made?

Tarun: In health we’re amazingly privileged to work with people who are using their intellectual and emotional efforts to change things, but you have to get inside people’s brains. You have to get the most out of people, and that’s by allowing them to come to work, be themselves, have meaningful conversations with others, including difficult conversations. Enthusiasm is generally not a problem with public servants; people, as you say, are passionate. What people can get frustrated by are the constraints in an organisation. I spent a long part of my career with no control of resources, trying to influence change by good argument. So you live and die on the quality of your advice, not on the resources you control, and that really sharpens you up. But, as I say, even the President of the United States doesn’t get everything he wants.

“You live and die on the quality of your advice, not on the resources you control.”

Leadership WA: How can we help people understand how committed many civil servants are?

Tarun: That’s a particular thing I’m very passionate about. I stand up and say: ‘I’m proud to be a public servant’. Sometimes I get a few askance looks, because it’s not something that’s said very often, but it’s my total experience. The other thing we try to do is contribute to public sector innovation. The relationships between government and society are changing and there is a desire for greater openness, transparency and accountability. And, we need to innovate constantly.

Leadership WA: You’re a published author, an editor of a major journal, you’ve got a pretty serious day job (with 200 people in your department), and you’re healthy; you obviously don’t take that for granted. How do you juggle the competing demands on time, energy and attention?

Tarun: It’s something you have to align all the time. Again, it’s conversational, and the most important conversations you have are with your partner and your family. We’re not individuals, we’re always people within families, communities and societies. But it has to be fun and, for me, blurring work and life works. So at home, you’re reading the paper, and there’s stuff you talk about with your kids around their growing up challenges – safe sexual relationships, peer pressure and bullying. These are all public health issues in one sense.

But, you know, that’s on the basis of having enormous opportunities in life. Growing up middle-class, well-educated at this point in history is pretty much the golden card of all golden cards in the history of human life on this planet. I never lose sight of that.

I got some of the best feedback on my personal style, which I’ll share with you: it was to be more playful, to see the humour in things and to see the humour in other people having different opinions to yourself. I still struggle with it and have to remind myself in a meeting: ‘Just have some fun with this.’ I love meetings partly because they’re little exercises in social observation.

 “We’re not individuals, we’re always people within families, communities and societies.”

Leadership WA:  That could be a headline: ‘I love meetings’

Tarun: Well, as people say: ‘There’s only one thing worse than being at a meeting, and that is not being there.’ So if you’re not there, you can’t influence the agenda or push things forward meaningfully. We’re a conversational culture – it’s a knowledge industry, how can you do that without talking to each other?

Leadership WA: Any last bit of leadership wisdom?

Tarun: For me it’s not about what you’re doing, it’s the capacity to reflect on what’s happening in front of you. So I say you can go to the best leadership course for the day, or sit in the park in Wellington Square. What I get out of that day will be completely dependent not on the content, but my capacity to reflect on the content. If I actively self-reflect, I can learn an enormous amount. ‘Learn’ is probably too rational a word; it’s just allowing yourself to reflect and take that reflection into your next action.