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Tony Nicholson, CEO Brotherhood of St Laurence


Tony Nicholson is the CEO of Brotherhood of St Laurence. The Brotherhood of St Laurence is basically a community-based organization in Melbourne that champions for the wellbeing of the disadvantaged in society. Founded in 1930, the organizations has, for years, advocated for the prevention of poverty as well as taken care of the well being of high risk persons in society such as the aged, women and children, the unemployed as well as refugees. The Organization also focuses on issues such as social inclusion, equity, climate change, a tax system that is fair to everyone and financial inclusion for everyone. As the CEO of such a big Organization, Nicholson has over the years demonstrated capable leadership abilities as well as championed many projects for the good of society.

Nicholson started as a social worker with the homeless. From an early age, he was bothered by the fact that there existed people who actually did not have a home to go to at the end of the day. Most of the homeless people would sleep on the streets and in abandoned shelters. As Nicholson grew up in the Grampians farm, he always dreamt of being a professional footballer. Nicholson was inspired by his parents’ generosity, which eventually influenced him to become a social worker rather than a footballer (Bedford and Peake, 2008). As he grew up in Western Australia, he would often observe how his parents provided for the less fortunate and those who had been shunned by the general community. The 1960 drought in Australia changed his life completely because it was as a result that he elected to study history and politics and later starting his career as a social worker. Around the 1980s, Nicholson and his wife volunteered in the establishment of the first youth refuge in Richmond. His belief lies in empowering people through building their skills and capabilities so that they can help themselves in the long run. He is married and has five children.

Career and Professional Life

As a result of his passion to assist the less fortunate in society, Nicholson has served in various positions of influence. Before becoming CEO, he was the director of Hanover Welfare Services which dealt with the homeless and those who had problems with housing (AIHW: 2010). He has been a deputy Commissioner in the Victorian government’s Commission into Family Violence in September 2011. As a Commissioner, Nicholson spearheaded many initiatives that helped curb the numerous cases of family violence that had persisted at the time. At the time, he was also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee that was responsible for metropolitan planning. Through this project, many people were able to get fairly affordable housing and other social amenities. He has been described as “…probably the leading thinker in the country (Australia) when it comes to issues surrounding homelessness” (Bedford and Peake, 2008).

In 2008, he was appointed the Chair of the Federal Government’s Steering Committee which had been tasked with developing a strategy plan to tackle homelessness. After the strategy plan was completed, Nicholson was appointed as the Chair of the subsequent Prime Minister’s Council on homelessness in November 2011. The Council was tasked with the responsibility of implementing the strategy plan. He is the Executive Principal at Dodgson Academy and Blackpool Aspire Academy. He is the deputy CEO of Fylde Coast Academy Trust.

Leadership Approaches

Nicholson always endeavors to inspire and empower people. His approach is that of a leader who is concerned about others. This leadership approach is easily related to the Transformational Leadership theory. This theory is based on changing peoples’ lives. According to Burns (1978), transformational leadership involves a process in which the leader and the followers work together to achieve change and prosperity. Leaders manifesting this theory will have a vision for the followers. As such transformational leadership seeks to motivate people and give them drive and morale (Jeannette: 2016). A transformational leader is one who inspires those who look up to him. Transformational leadership ideally takes place when people ascend to a higher level of accomplishment, morality and motivation. Such leaders work towards the betterment of the community or society as a whole. There are certain aspects that are synonymous to transformational leaders; they encourage the followers to be motivated, they raise moral awareness, they highlight priorities for people, they foster moral growth, they help create a moral and ethical environment for the community, they encourage followers to think beyond themselves, they promote harmony and use persuasive means based on logic and reason among others (Bass and Avolio: 2012).

According to Robbins et al.: 2014), there are four “I”s that comprises transformational leadership. They include; Idealised influence (II), Inspirational Motivation (IM), Individualized consideration (IC) and Intellectual Stimulation (IS). Idealized Influence relates to being a good role model. Influence is determined through promoting visionary followers who have a mission and adhere to a set of values. Such leaders instill in their followers a sense of challenge and meaning (Keaste: 2012). Inspirational Motivation relates to transformational leaders being able to inspire and motivate people (Lawrence et al.: 2013). These first two components together form a leader’s charisma. Individualized Consideration has got to do with genuine concern and consideration for the needs of the people. Incidentally, this has been the major motivation behind Nicholson’s work and professional activities for the last 30 years. Lastly, transformational leaders are those who intellectually stimulate people by challenging them to do better.

There are examples of how Nicholson has demonstrated the transformational leader that he is. A good example can be deduced from his tenure as the chair of the Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness. As the Chair of the Council, Nicholson spearheaded an initiative that saw the implementation of the White Paper which is a strategy plan that had been developed to help with the problem of homelessness. As a result of this initiative, many homeless people were able to find affordable housing. Nicholson inspired them by giving them hope and restoring the sense of humanity for these people. As the current CEO of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, he continues to inspire and change people’s lives by liaising with philanthropists, NGOs and even government agencies in tackling the plight of the less fortunate in society.


As a leader, Nicholson has faced challenges which have over the years tested his leadership capabilities and even qualities. In November 2011, he was appointed as the Chair of the PM’s Council on homelessness. The Council had been mandated to implement the White Paper: a strategy plan that had been developed to try and solve the increasing problem of homelessness at the time (Krogh et al.: 2014). It was not an easy task. Nicholson however had, earlier on in life, elected to study history and politics. It is this knowledge that greatly assisted him in his duties because he understood the history of the people very well.

The Other challenge that he has once faced was one of a personal nature. Around 2009, Nicholson was accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague (Engelbrecht: 2012). This was a very big challenge at the time because he had been on a gradual ascend in his career. A female colleague had complained to the General Social Care Unit, accusing Nicholson of sexual assault and verbal abuse. Later on, it turned out that this was merely an unfair attempt at tarnishing Nicholson’s name as he was later discharged of any wrong doings.

The biggest challenge to Nicholson has been to “walk the talk”. As a seasoned social worker, Nicholson has seen the challenges that the less fortunate have gone since his livelihood in Western Australia. For instance, he has had to deal with the alarming rate of youth drop outs, especially those from less fortunate backgrounds (Martin and Campbell: 2013). As the CEO of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Nicholson is at the forefront in developing a genuine approach to social inclusion in an Australian perspective. He is involved in the administration and management of various trusts on behalf of the less fortunate, the elderly as well as the homeless in society. At one time, He described the fate of the homeless and the plight of the less fortunate in society as a “social disaster”. To me, there can be no bigger challenge for Nicholson than trying to correct this situation.

In order to be more effective, I believe Nicholson could reach out to the rest of the world for partnership, collaboration as well as treaties. This way, his legacy will not only be an Australian Initiative but rather a global one. Using his influence at the National level, he is capable of pooling like-minded social workers, philanthropists and even governments in order to create a global movement for the eradication of poverty. Homelessness can be attributed to the ever rising levels of poverty (Moynihan and Wright: 2014). Nicholson is a man who is known to work well with governments, businesses and even Non-Governmental organizations. He should take advantage of this influence, to create a global movement to care for the homeless.

Lessons to be Learnt

There are a number of things that I have learnt from Nicholson. I have learnt that it does not take riches in order to help the less fortunate and the homeless in society. It takes a willing and compassionate heart as well as a desire and passion to make change in society. I have also learnt that True leadership is earning authority, not by demanding for it, but through actions and examples that change people’s lives. Nicholson has also taught me the essence of putting the community’s interests before ours for the overall good of the community. It is possible for everyone to play a role in alleviating the suffering of the less fortunate in society.


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