My Journey

We are all the sum total of our experiences.  My journey has shaped me into who I am today. I am grateful for all the learnings and lessons, both the positive and the challenging.

I’m nine or ten here, hanging with one of my little brothers in the regional Queensland town where we grew up. One benefit I learned early about growing up in a big country town is how to recognise down to earth authenticity. As the daughter of a prominent person in town (and the eldest child and grandchild) I felt expectations to make something of myself. I’m a creative at heart and my career goal back then was to be a journalist filmmaker, but this perceived pressure of feeling not good enough sent me on a path which was ultimately out of alignment for me.

At the end of my Bachelor of Arts degree, I turned my back on filmmaking and started studying and working in the law. It wasn’t for me. So at the age of 23, I threw on a backpack and headed to Banff, Canada, to see snow for the first time and learn to ski. It was minus 40 degrees celsius. I eventually hotfooted it to London where my career in people and culture kicked off.

I ended up in big business early on when I landed a leadership role in London with one of the world’s largest airlines. It was fast paced and high pressure, with an expectation of flawless delivery. With a team that loved partying, I carried a lot of the load, and felt inauthentic in my leadership. One day one of my team had a traumatic event on the way to work. My instinctive response was to give them a hug. Simplistic, but it changed everything—the way I led, in the engagement of the team, and the subsequent results. I had found my obsession with leadership and culture starting with the knowledge that the best leaders everyone wants to work with are almost always leading from their hearts. 

Five years ago I was a senior executive at a large financial services company. I was immersed in multiple significant business and cultural transformations resulting in multi-million dollar expense and efficiency savings, as well as culture changes that resulted in prestigious awards.

My favourite work was the turnaround—transforming teams and functions from surviving to outperforming, using the power of strong, united leadership, authenticity, collaboration, freedom and joy to gain fantastic business results.

Fast forward to where we all are today—pandemics and politics have seen uncertainty, confusion, anxiety and despair on the rise. The pressure is mounting for Australian leaders and entrepreneurs to help people heal.

The tool kit I use today is the same as yesterday. My key strength is being able to see all the possibilities and futures, help others to get on the same page, and chart the fastest, simplest course to get there. Ultimately, it’s my mission to recreate that same sense of unlimited potential in other organisations, because we need a thriving economy and because everyone deserves to love where they work. 

Towards the end of my time as a senior executive, I felt perpetually tired and unmotivated. My work, once a joy, became uninspiring. This was a problem as I was responsible for uplifting my people. I’d burned the candle at both ends for so long that—like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot—I didn’t see my joy and health declining until it was too late. I had challenges in my personal life that I avoided and with the juggle of executive life and motherhood, I became unwell and unfulfilled. I squashed my emotions, drank more coffee to feed my adrenals to survive, and completely lost myself.

Sound familiar? The fact is that executives globally are burning out at record rates and don’t believe they are effectively leading their virtual teams. 60% of leaders feel burnt out at the end of each day according to Forbes because they don’t put personal happiness, health and welfare first.

It’s so easy to escape our lives in our work, but it catches up with us eventually. Without being authentically ourselves, sharing how we really feel, and making our own joy and health a priority over everything else, how can we possibly inspire and lead others? 

What I notice about me in this photo taken just after I walked out on my executive role is how completely exhausted I look.

My intuition screamed at me for some time that it was time to go, but I ignored it. What I was really ignoring was my heart telling me I was meant to be doing something else. I was afraid of the unknown and let my life get out of balance. Sound familiar? Because of fear or inertia, so many of us stay in jobs too long that don’t light us up. But we only get one life, and if Covid has taught us anything it’s that life is short and our reality can change in a heartbeat.

In his famous book ‘Think and Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill talks to the importance of having a labour of love of your own choosing. He says If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Have you lost the joy in your work? Is it possible to find it again?

It’s time for a reset—at both a personal and at an organisational level—which involves each and every one of us firstly stepping back and reassessing what makes our hearts sing. Then it’s about businesses doing a reset on how we lead our people and run our companies. We know it’s getting much harder to find talent, and turnover is on the rise. Lockdowns are giving people a fresh perspective on what’s most important. The old models of leading and running organisations are no longer working and are out of alignment with what people really want for their lives going forward. This is our opportunity to set ourselves up better for the future.

I ultimately made the decision to listen to my heart and walk away and start over. I chose myself and my health. I chose to restructure my life around my core values of authenticity, freedom and joy. As hard as it was, it was the right decision for me. 

This is me delivering a session at the virtual Future of Leadership Conference with Alison Hill from Pragmatic Thinking.

Since leaving my corporate role, it certainly hasn’t been a straight line. There’s been highs and lows and I’m working harder than I ever have, but it’s on my terms. I do work I love, in a way that I love, with people that I love, which is my definition of happiness. And you shouldn’t have to leave your job to find this.

Today I have my own business designed around my values. My mission is to support leaders and entrepreneurs to regain their mojo and take bold, focused action to create powerful businesses for a new future. 

If you would like to learn more about my executive coaching and mentoring services, masterclasses or events, get in touch naomi@naomi-white.com