Given Angie Paskevicius’ amazing background and experiences, I am so delighted that she has agreed to share both some of her story and her tips for leadership and leaders. Amongst many other successes in her career and journey to date, Angie is the 2015 winner of the WA Telstra Business Woman of the Year.
I asked the following question at the end of my chat with Angie, but moved it up front, as her answers so beautifully illustrate our interview: so wise, so clear and simple and so impactful.
What advice do you wish that someone had given you when you were starting your leadership journey?
“Understand who you are. Unless you know you are, you can’t lead anyone.
It is important to have mentors- someone who has been on the journey before you. You don’t need to do it all on your own. You can have support.
Great advice indeed!
Can you take us through your journey to CEO of Holyoake?
“My Mum had a huge influence of my life. She gave me the strong desire to serve and give back and make a difference..”
And what a difference she has made.
Since 2007, Angie has been the CEO of Holyoake, the leading provider of drug and alcohol counselling and support services in Western Australia. She has held senior leadership and management positions since 1992; taking on her first CEO role in 1998 as the CEO of the newly outsourced entity – Therapy Focus.
Her varied and interesting career has encompassed allied health (speech pathology), small business, coaching/mentoring and directorships, as well as positions in the private, public and non-government sectors.
She also has a Masters in Business Leadership and is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Over the years she has participated on a number of boards, government taskforces and ministerial advisory committees. She is currently Chairperson of Interchange, a Director of WANADA, as well as a previous Vice President of WACOSS.
“ I never set out to be a leader or a CEO, it has been a natural journey. Opportunities have just presented themselves and I have taken advantage of them.”
And what amazing opportunities there have been!
Great leaders often have “crucible” moments – times of hardship or adversity. How do you think your journey has contributed to your leadership approach?
She talked about how she understands how ‘there is a very fine line that we all travel. At any point in time we can be on either side of the line because of circumstances outside our control so it’s important not to judge.
‘There but for the grace of God go I’.’
Angie has had her challenges in life and says that this has given her a great opportunity to learn and grow and that it prepared her well for her leadership journey.
She uses her life experiences to bring a different perspective; to be resilient, and to provide a patient and caring response to other people.
Holyoake’s stance is that of being non-judgmental of an individual and Angie says that she believes in that stance but also in taking responsibility for herself, her choices and the consequences of those choices.
How would you describe “leadership”?
“Leadership is about who you are, not what you do. To be an authentic leader you need to know who you are, what drives you and live your values and beliefs.”
What would you say was your greatest strength?
I loved the answers to this question. There is so much wisdom in just this question alone.
“I care about people. My favourite quote – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
You can only do work and business through people. If you don’t look after them, you won’t have a business.
I am a resilient person – to me, it’s the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity.
It’s about knowing who you are, taking responsibility for your part in things, looking after yourself, and seeking help and support from good, healthy people.
It is about having clear boundaries – what can you control? And what is outside of your control?
Don’t fall into the drama of someone else’s story…”
Do you think leadership can be lonely at the top? How do you manage that?
“Yes it can be.”
Angie has a close group of confidantes and mentors who have been on a similar journey.
She is also a member of very senior organisation called TEC that provides support and development.
And she has good people internally who provide her with great technical advice and support.
How do you take care of yourself in a holistic sense?
Angie has mentors and people who support her.
She thinks looking after health and wellbeing is really important. She walks every morning if she can. She goes to pilates classes, accesses complementary health practitioners such as massage and naturopath. She is starting to use mindfulness more as a tool.
And she shops! She finds it very useful to empty the mind – not necessarily to buy anything, just wandering around – but mindfully!
What do you do to help your team improve their leadership approaches?
“..As a leader, I practice what I preach but also am compassionate and supportive. I don’t get embroiled in the things I don’t need to do.
I have a participative approach to leadership – with an emphasis on mentoring and coaching and influencing through others.
It is about relationship and connection. If people trust you then they will follow you. You need to provide the environment for them to be able to do what they need to do.”
Angie provides a lot of coaching and mentoring to her team. But her overall approach is to let them get on with it and do what they need to do.
She models by example. She encourages and supports them to learn and grow.
She is a firm believer in job enrichment- providing new and different projects that will add experience.
She also provides access to external leadership and development training such as through Leadership WA.
And of course she is always available.
How do you define culture?
“The way we do things around here – the unwritten ground rules.
The Holyoake culture is about professional, passionate people who are committed to what they do. There is a caring supportive culture but also one that is innovative (such as the social enterprise and new ideas around DRUMBEAT).”
How important do you think organisational culture is to performance?
“It is critical. The research shows that if you look after the people and culture, it will have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Culture also enables passionate people to make the right decisions about the right things, in a way that is engaged and aligned with the organisation.”
What have you done at organisations that you have worked in to create a healthy culture?
Holyoake does a lot to create and sustain a healthy culture, in line with how important Angie thinks that culture is to overall organisational performance. She explains:
“I have a mindset of abundance – and think that is then what you attract – but you have to be mindful to balance that with not being extravagant..”
Some of the things that Holyoake does around culture:
- Each strategic planning session the board and leadership team re-explores the organisational values and recommits to them. The values have a set of expected behaviours that flow from them.
- Angie always meets new employees to the organisation, and encourages them that once they are on board and settled, to get involved with the life of the organisation.
- The WellBeing Committee organises team days; there’s fun stuff such as the Easter Egg Hunt which is about connection and community. And every employee has birthday leave.
- Then there is the regular communication. Angie gets to different sites once a month for team meetings.
- She has CEO afternoon teas every few months for line reports once removed. These allow for a structured and unstructured flow of information and connection.
- She says thank you whenever she can.
“There is a tension in spending money on culture and wellbeing. But in this industry the staff are generally paid less. They are not in it for the dollars, it is about the work that they do and making a difference. The wellbeing and emphasis on culture goes a long way to making up for that.”
How do you continue to learn and grow?
Angie believes in life long learning. She is a member of organisations such as AICD, and attends networking events with a view to see what’s happening and what impact it will that have on the organisation.
She is a reader; she reads journal articles, books and newsletters, you name it – and has a pile of books by her bed!
Whilst there is that theory that “you learn everything you need to know in kindergarten” – she believes you cannot operate in a vacuum and you do need to get out there and see what else is happening.
How do you deal with failure – personally and organisationally? Do you think failure is a good or bad thing?
Angie was presenting recently at Notre Dame University and one of the questions was “how come you have had so many failures?”. The question took her back a bit because she had never thought of her life in that way – only as a way to learn and grow and continually improve.
She talked about how there have been some calculated risks at Holyoake that haven’t worked out – but that it is about learning and growing and reflecting on the why rather than attributing blame or failure.
You won the WA Telstra Business Woman of the Year 2015. What have you learnt through that process so far? What are the benefits in putting yourself through a process like that? Would you recommend it?
Angie says it was an opportunity to reflect on herself as a person and as a leader and on her journey so far.
She thinks winning will of course raise her personal profile but that is absolutely incidental to raising the profile of Holyoake, giving back and representing women.
Angie says the journey has shown her that she does have something to tell, and that people are interested in it. That she does have the knowledge and the experience to be here. And reaffirmed the gifts that she has.
Thanks Angie. It was an honour to spend time hearing more of your story, and I look forward to following your journey as it continues to make a difference. Keep an eye out on this blog for a series of amazing female leaders in the Not for Profit sector.