CEOs / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Sharon Callister, Chief Executive Officer of Mission Australia

Sharon Callister is the Chief Executive Officer of Mission Australia, which is a national Christian charity working to end homelessness in Australia and ensure people and communities in need can thrive.

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Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

If we go right back to the beginning, I was born in Northern Ireland and I’m one of five siblings. My parents moved the family to Australia when I was a young teenager. From the minute we arrived I just knew I was going to love my life and future in Australia.  

I am a wife and mother and I cherish and love my family very much.

Personally and professionally, I have always been motivated by a strong desire to make a difference in our world. The work I do must be meaningful to me and be about giving back and serving the community. My parents also instilled in me a strong work ethic which I have carried with me in my professional and personal life.  

After school, I trained as a Registered Nurse working at St Vincent’s and St Vincent’s Private Hospitals in Sydney for many years. I then worked in numerous executive roles at The (then named) Australian Red Cross Blood Service in NSW, Western Australia and Northern Territory. I also spent many years at university doing business degrees. 

Other roles I’ve held include CEO of the Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association Queensland, and CEO of The Salvation Army Aged Care Plus overseeing multiple residential services, retirement villages and staff.

I feel very blessed to have lived in and worked in most states of Australia, and I love that we live and work in such a diverse and vast country.

I was delighted to join Mission Australia as CEO in March 2022, backed by experience in the Christian not-for-profit sector and with in-depth knowledge of managing large community service organisations, particularly the aged care and social services sectors. 

I was drawn to this current role, knowing the work this wonderful charity does in the community is superb and its reputation is second to none. I’m incredibly passionate about ensuring the best possible outcomes for clients and dedicated to Mission Australia’s vision of an Australia where everyone has a safe home and can thrive. 

From day one at Mission Australia, I committed myself to being an authentic, kind, honest, courageous and accountable leader with a strong strategic focus – and I’ve had lots of fun while doing it! Like so many at our organisation, in terms of being a servant leader, it has been important to me that I lead our people by humbly serving them and ensuring all decisions are based on love.

Every day, I’m absolutely blown away by the work and achievements of Mission Australia and our staff, and I’m grateful to have the privilege of working with so many passionate, kind and skilled people. I jump out of bed every day, feeling inspired and humbled by the opportunity to support the delivery of great outcomes for Mission Australia and the people we serve. 

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

My days generally start very early, often around 5.30am. Most days I will exercise for about an hour before work. Running, ocean swimming, cycling and gym work are my go-to choices, especially the outdoor ones. 

After exercise, no two workdays are ever the same. On one day I may travel and visit staff and clients at different locations around Australia, on another I may attend or lead Board, committee or executive meetings.

Some days include media interviews, meeting with stakeholders, or advocacy opportunities and then there is the usual report writing, proofing and other admin responsibilities. I love the variety, but I do have to closely and carefully manage my time. As the CEO, I am acutely aware that there are many things and people that need my attention, but there are only 24 hours in the day to do everything.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

A work-life balance for me includes time for all things personal and professional. Importantly, that balance should also include the opportunity to have fun, hand-in-hand with the flexibility to connect with my loved ones including my husband and son and pursue what I love outside the office as well as fulfilling my CEO responsibilities as best I can. 

As I mentioned earlier, I’m happiest when I’m out in nature. If I don’t get this opportunity at the start of the day, I don’t feel the balance is right. And if I can get out there and exercise for a good cause like raising funds for Mission Australia – even better! For me, being connected to nature, in addition to being good for my physical and mental health, is also often quite a spiritual experience. 

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Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Starting my role with Mission Australia last year was a big learning curve, and quite a stretch. It definitely tested my ability to keep my work life balance optimal. This year, I’m more familiar and comfortable in my role, so I can be a little more disciplined in how I spend my time. I made a commitment in January to keep this focus and so far, it is working. 

The other thing I’m doing is taking regular breaks, whether that’s a holiday or a long weekend. I see far too many people accumulating excessive leave, getting tired and not functioning optimally. I believe I have a responsibility to role model what my expectations are around work life balance to ensure my team and Mission Australia staff more broadly, follow this example. 

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I am on record for being a fan of David Goggins and his approach to exercise and wellbeing, but many people would find his approach over the top and excessive. 

I’ve also recently been learning about Wim Hof (you should look him up in your favourite search engine). In particular his recommendations for regular ice baths and breathing exercises. The benefits include reducing stress and tension, strengthening your immune system and reducing inflammation and boosting muscle recovery.

Again, I acknowledge this may not be appealing to everyone, but over the past four months I have included them in my schedule every two to three weeks and also combined them with a sauna. I feel amazing and ready to take on the world after my sessions.

When I want to read, relax and reflect (also important elements in work life balance) I read Soul Fuel (a daily devotional) by Bear Grylls.

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Our Vision at Mission Australia is for everyone to have a safe home where they can thrive. What better a motivation could there be in going to work each day than to help us achieve this?

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.