Real Life. Real Leadership.

We live in a turbulent world.  More than ever before, people are looking to their leaders to provide clarity and purpose.  Put aside the theory and read on for an insight into the story of an outstanding leader – Sally Hollins, CEO, EDGE Employment Solutions

We live in a turbulent world.  More than ever before, people are looking to their leaders to provide clarity and purpose.  In this series of interviews, we pose 5 questions to respected leaders.  These leaders lead anywhere from the front line to the corner office, but they have one thing in common – they are highly effective and well regarded.  Put aside the theory and read on for an insight into the stories of some outstanding leaders.

Sally Hollins is the Chief Executive Officer of EDGE Employment Solutions Inc. EDGE Employment Solutions was established in 1984 as Western Australia’s first employment agency specifically established for people with a disability. It was founded with a vision of building an inclusive and accepting society through the power of employment and since its inception 35 years ago, has secured over 7,700 jobs for over 3,400 people with a disability. EDGE is renowned for matching the right person with the right job and supporting them thoroughly once employment has commenced.

Prior to joining EDGE Sally enjoyed four years as CEO at Willie Creek Pearls – a multifaceted tourism, retail and hospitality business. Sally has worked across many industries and geographies in her career however, she is now focused on leading and supporting EDGE to continue to deliver on its mission.

Red Emu: Tell us your leadership story – how has your leadership evolved over the years and what has shaped your approach to leadership?

Sally Hollins: My leadership story spans 35 years. In the 80’s I set up and operated Jenny Craig Centres in Western Australia, NSW country, NZ and the UK. In the 90’s (and noughties) I was the International Marketing and Comms Director of a multinational Direct Selling organisation.  I’ve consulted to the Education, Tourism and Heath sectors and even had a 3-year stint as the CEO of Willie Creek Pearls – a multifaceted, Retail, Tourism and Hospitality business that farms 20,000 Pinctada Maxima oysters 10 nautical miles north of Broome.

Today I am the CEO of EDGE Employment Solutions. EDGE assists Jobseekers aged between 14-65 years of age with a diagnosed disability find and prepare for Employment.  We assist Employers of all sizes and kinds, to fill vacancies and diversify their workforce. We source, screen and short-list suitable candidates, saving employers valuable time and money. We place about 350 people with disability into jobs each year and to do this I lead a team of 70 people.

All of the roles that I have worked in have required varying styles of leadership – and as a consequence my style has definitely evolved as my roles have changed – for example my style was different when I was a 24 year old was leading 250+ women – most of whom were older than me to the role I fill today – leading 70 people who just want to help others navigate the waters of an increasingly outcomes and compliance based sector.

When I was younger I probably micromanaged more and did a lot more of the doing  – in other words hands on leading by example – today I’ve probably got a more serving style that’s more about helping people get what they want or need and in turn they help EDGE get what it needs – it’s not always easy to not jump in and just do it – this way necessitates asking lots of questions and listening carefully to the answers


Red Emu: You have responsibility for a significant, complex organisation – how do you create clarity for your team and the broader organisation?

Sally Hollins: Good question – I know that confused teams have a hard time achieving their goals.  So, moving teams from chaos to clarity is in my view one of the most important things a leader can do.  I generally do this in three ways.

  1. The first is clarity of purpose: I’ve heard other people refer to this as the ‘why behind the how’ or the ‘raison detre’ – your reason for being – but any way you slice and dice it – it’s your purpose and with clarity of purpose your team knows the destination.
  2. The second is clarity of plan: With a clear plan, the team knows how to get there – it’s the map of roads and pavements that we need to take. For my style this always works better when it’s co-created with my team
  3. The third is clarity of responsibility – A team has clarity of responsibility when each person knows exactly what role they have in the execution of the plan, when the purpose meets the pavement in terms of what they have to do and how they will achieve it.

Red Emu:  What is the biggest sacrifice or trade-off you have had to make in your leadership journey?

Sally Hollins: I don’t know about a sacrifice but there has definitely been a price.

If you peel back my work experience, you’ll find a 57-year-old female, a wife and a mother. When you peel back another layer –you’ll find a 10-year career hiatus when I dealt with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a 6-year-old son’s diagnosis of dyslexia, dyspraxia and dysgraphia, a husband’s diagnosis of testicular cancer, an aging father and then in 2014 a diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer.

MS and a pretty hefty dose of chemotherapy has left me with some lasting gifts – not the least is the inability to walk a straight line due to a lack of balance; and a child with a learning disability has taught me more than I really wanted to know about an education system that doesn’t work for kids who don’t fit.

Despite all of this however I’m not sure that I would at the time have done things differently it’s probably only on balance that maybe I should have had more balance from a health perspective however despite the end result, I’ve had very happy work life, and this has left me with a passion to help people who want to work but who due to life’s circumstances are struggling to do so. EDGE has given me the opportunity to do this in a balanced and valued way.

Red Emu:  As you reflect on your career to date, what advice would have been helpful to you when you started out?

Sally Hollins:  I’ve been really fortunate to have had a lot of great mentors along the way who all in their own unique styles have taught me well – so I’ve had good advice from the get-go.

I’ll never forget the owner of the first business  I worked for – a terrific Greek guy with loads of street smarts – he taught me and I’ll never forget this one – he said Sally never forget a fish rots from the head.  Great advice!

The owner of the second business I worked with was also a great mentor – above all he taught me that the easiest way to know if you or someone you manage was making a bad decision is to look at the motives behind it.

So, I suppose my advice to anyone starting out is to get yourself a really good mentor.  On a personal front I’d tell a younger version of me – don’t worry about other people’s expectations – be authentic and true to yourself and above all trust yourself.

I think the other thing that would have been good to know is that you can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once

Red Emu: How do you continue to develop your leadership and the leadership capability within your business?

Sally Hollins: I think more of the same in terms of listening and learning from others.

I’m very fortunate at EDGE that this level of quality mentoring is continuing in that I have a brilliant Board of Directors who are all very generous with their time and energy.

I’m also learning a lot from the people I’m managing now and I’m sure I will continue to do so if I stay open to feedback and keep listening to what they are really saying!