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Leadership is About Who You Are, Not What You Do

Angie Paskevicius is the CEO of Holyoake, a leading not-for-profit organisation providing alcohol and drug counselling and support services in Western Australia. She is this week’s Changemaker.


Paskevicius’ career spans over 30 years as an allied health practitioner, business owner, policy advisor, senior executive, executive coach and board member in the hospitality, health, education, disability and community service industries.

She joined Holyoake as CEO in 2007 and transformed it from a small organisation completely dependent on government funding to an innovative and thriving entity that is now making a difference across the world.

Each year Holyoake helps thousands of people by providing practical programs to address people’s alcohol and drug abuse issues, with the vision of creating better futures for the families and community.

In 2003, Holyoake launched DRUMBEAT as an early intervention program to reduce levels of alienation for at risk youth. Since then, the program has gone from strength to strength, and is now facilitated across Australia.

In recognition of her contribution Paskevicius was named the Telstra WA Businesswoman of the Year in 2015-16 for her vision, leadership and commitment to making a difference. She also received the For Purpose and Social Enterprise award.

Speaking at the time, Telstra chief operations officer Kate McKenzie said: “[Paskevicius] managed to change the mindset of the organisation from ‘charity’ to ‘enterprise’ by moving from 100 per cent government funding to a more diverse funding and revenue model.”

In this week’s Changemaker Paskevicius talks about why her career success is a bit like riding a bike, why her mum was such a strong role model for her, and why she is driven by a desire to make a difference.

Angie Paskevicius headshotWhat attracted you to the not-for-profit sector?

That’s really been a long story from when I was quite a young girl. As a teenager my mum was a very strong role model for me and a very strong influence in my life. She was a passionate volunteer who spent a lot of time volunteering, fundraising, and she would often sell raffle tickets out the front of our newsagency which is in the main street of a small country town in Tasmania.

I guess from those early days, that’s where I first had that experience of I guess, giving back and making a difference. And it has really grown from then. And even though I have worked, not just in the not for profit, I’ve worked in government and the private sector, I’ve always had that strong desire, I guess to make a difference and to give.

When you were appointed to Holyoake in 2007 the organisation was struggling. But you successfully developed a new strategic plan, recruited a new team and developed two social enterprises – Drumbeat and Wellbeing@Work. What is the key to you success?

It is interesting because when you get to a certain stage in your career, it’s a bit like riding a bike, you kind of know what needs to be done. And it was coming in and understanding where the organisation was at and then having that really clear vision about our potential, and where Holyoake would actually eventually go and all the building blocks that needed to be in place to make that happen.

So I guess it really was having that clear vision and then putting all the things in place that gave it that solid platform to growth and then building on that. And I guess recognising the challenge of the need to be financially sustainable and how could we actually do that going forward in a way where we didn’t need to rely on fundraising or any of those sorts of activities. So we could diversify our revenue stream through social enterprise activities and I guess that was probably one of the keys as well.

So building a strong platform for growth, relooking at our branding and then really looking at diversifying our funding streams and making sure that we had high quality services for our customers and good people, the right people to deliver those services, with the right skills.

How important is it for not for profits to be more business minded?

Absolutely critical. We are not businesses in the true sense but we have to apply contemporary business practices and principles otherwise you’re not going to succeed. It is absolutely essential.

What do you like best about working at Holyoake?

Obviously I have got a very strong alignment to our vision and our values. My personal values are very closely aligned to Holyoake’s values. And i’m very passionate about the cause as well. That we make a difference in people’s lives and that we are working with people who are impacted by substance abuse, whether it is the person who is misusing the substances or someone else in the family that is affected. And many of our clients also have mental health issues, and I have a lived experience through family members of alcohol and drugs and also mental health, so I guess it is a very strong fit for me. And we do amazing work and we’ve got great people who work for us.

What are the organisation’s current priorities?

They are probably not dissimilar to many other organisations at the moment. As you know, there is lots of change going on externally and a lot of uncertainty.

We’ve just come to the end of our current strategic plan so creating a new strategic plan at this point in time is also really important but also exciting for us, to look at what the next three years will bring.

We’re focusing a lot on our financial sustainability, looking at our social outcomes and social impact and we’re also with our social enterprises really looking, particularly with our DRUMBEAT, how we can scale that and replicate that internationally. We are already operating internationally but how can we do that in a social franchising model. We’re really looking at how can we be well positioned and prepared for the NDIS.

One of your most recognisable initiatives, is DRUMBEAT, which fosters social interaction and personal healing through the power of music and rhythm. What role can music play in bringing about positive change?

Well music is very powerful and DRUMBEAT, while it is a music-based program in that it uses drumming, it has a very strong evidence base to it and it is really about strengthening and developing relationships and building resilience and connections between people.

So today in modern society that is a really important factor. So not just DRUMBEAT but other music based approaches such as DRUMBEAT which has a therapeutic and an evidence base, it can really bring people together at times when there is a lot of fragmentation in the community, a lot of disaffected people, disadvantaged people, so it is actually quite powerful.

What does a typical day for you entail as CEO of Holyoake?

That is one of the other things that I love about my role is that, there is lots and lots of variety, which I enjoy. So every day is a little bit different. I do have a lot of meetings but I’m always talking with and meeting interesting people.

I am internally catching up with people who work here and my line reports. I might be out networking or doing business development which I also enjoy. So it is I guess representing the brand externally but also building those strong connections internally.

In 2015 you were named Telstra WA Business Woman of the Year, how does it feel to be recognised for the work you are doing?

It was a big surprise. I guess it was a very proud moment for me and somewhat unexpected, but certainly very proud to accept the award and I guess be recognised, not just for the work that I’ve done at Holyoake but the work that I’ve done in the social services sector over many years. Not always easy work to do but very, very rewarding.

Through your work what is your ultimate goal?

I guess it is what I kind of mentioned earlier, it is really that strong desire to make a difference and to give back and to share I guess the experience, and learnings and wisdom that I have gained over a number of years now, with others to really help them achieve their potential.

In the early days as a speech pathologist it was about helping my clients achieve their potential, today it is about helping our employees to achieve their potential and then really in turn that helps to transform the organisation so that the organisation can really achieve its potential.

How do you stay motivated?

I guess there is that very intrinsic reward that you are making a difference. I love what I do, I always have. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I haven’t loved coming to work everyday, and that might be a bit rare today, I don’t know, but I just really enjoy what I do and fortunately for me I seemed to have ended up in an area that really resonates with me. It is a really good fit.

Do you have a favourite saying?

I have quite a lot actually, I’m quite into sayings. A key one is: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

I guess the other one is, and I think this is a “me saying”: “Leadership is about who you are, not what you do.”

I have one more, which is: “A leader is best when people barely know they exist, when their work is done, their aim achieved, they say we did it ourselves.”

How important is a good leader?

Well I guess from my own experience and my own philosophy, it is absolutely critical. But I believe everyone is potentially a leader. I don’t think it is just the person who has the position or leadership role such as for example the CEO. I think everyone has the capability and capacity to be a leader, if they are supported and encouraged and given the opportunity to learn and grow.

But I guess the other thing about leaders is that you are not really a leader either unless you have got people following you. So followers are also important if you want to be a leader.

By Wendy Williams Pro Bono Australia