In part 1, we learned that, Mel White, founder of 'naked', got to senior management in a global firm whilst battling an eating disorder and aged only 25. Unable to find an in-house female senior manager role model, she decided to step up to the role herself in order to inspire women in the workplace.
Now read how she sat at the top of Machu Picchu watching the sunrise and found the purpose that changed her life forever. And 'naked' was born.
What was your greatest challenge on your journey?
Mel White: My biggest challenge was dealing with my eating disorder. It encompassed so much of my life and impacted on the way that I thought about myself. I suffered with it from the age of twelve and I spent the best part of 16 years trying to figure out who I was, and how to beat it.
The most damaging part of having an eating disorder is its mental impact and how you think about and treat yourself. In stepping up at work, in building a business, I had to face many of my demons and challenge them. In surviving that and overcoming many of the demons I can now say that’s my greatest gift because I understand what it takes to overcome something like that and I help others do the same.
What was your most revelatory moment?
Mel White: My most revelatory moment came whilst sitting at the top of Machu Picchu after the four day Inca trail hike that was a small part of my year in South America. On the last day I climbed through the sun gate, and sat on top of the mountain and looked down on Machu Picchu, which I’d seen in post cards, but nothing compared to being there and seeing it for myself. There was something in that moment, that made me understand the journey that I’d been on. I realised what an amazing thing it was to be in South America living a dream that I’d had since I was 10 after a Geography class on the Amazon. I realised that whatever I had done to my body it had fought back and allowed me to do this amazing thing. And in that moment I truly forgave myself and accepted myself and I really understood what I needed to do in the world - help other women get to that point.
What key resource has been crucial to your success?
Mel White: My first key resource was tapping into my self-belief. It has been my strength. It gave me confidence to start a business, and to know that what I had to say was important and that all that I had gone through could be used as service to others.
The other key resource was getting a coach - someone that holds your vision in the highest regard, and helps champion you to go towards that; someone who challenges you and spurs you on to greatness; who never doubts you or questions your dreams – that was a revelation. I’ve worked with several coaches at different times and every one of those relationships have been revelatory and propelled me forward. I’m lucky as I get to do that for other people now.
What do you understand leadership to be?
Mel White: I actually worked with my coach on this! I discovered that my version of leadership was archaic and based on role models in the corporate world. When I explored leadership my understanding was that leadership was grandiose - on stage, delivering speeches, delivering the vision, CEO style. I also found the distinction between manager and leader a very interesting one as I’d assumed the two were the same thing – not so!
However, working through this with my coach, I discovered that actually leadership is more about the quiet, subtle, personal moments as well as the bigger grandiose moments and really critically, it’s something you earn and once you are a “leader” it’s not something you switch off.
I expected as I grew through my career that somebody at some point would go, “Here’s your title, you’re a leader” and that would give me permission to be a leader. Realising that it wasn’t bestowed like a knighthood, it was earnt, was a big turning point for me. I realised that I didn’t need permission I could just do it. A genuine leader has the vision but is also able to inspire and develop those around them that understanding has served me really well in both the corporate world and in my own business.
How has it informed your role as a woman leader?
Mel White: Massively. I’m not waiting for anyone’s permission anymore and I feel it’s really important to encourage other women to understand that too. It’s something that I’m hugely passionate about.
Men don’t wait for permission so much. Men have a different leadership style to women; they assume leadership and go and get it. They’re encouraged to be leaders, however women are able to bring a different perspective and we need both male and female leaders to create a more harmonious world.
It’s also encouraged me to stay motivated and positive, and self lead, even on the tough days. When I spoke at ‘BeFit’ earlier this year, I was on the stage with some amazing women such as Denise Lewis, Victoria Pendleton and Becky Adlington who all showcased a different kind of leadership, they’re gold medallists and the best in their fields. To be self motivated and constantly keep your eye on the prize means you have to stay connected to your vision and passion. You have to go after it every day, stay committed because nobody else is going to do it for you.
I guess I was self-leading when I went to South America alone for a year. I bought a one-way ticket and no one knew when I was coming back. I left behind a job, boyfriend and lots of friends who wondered if I’d lost my mind. But I just KNEW it was something I had to do. There’s something really liberating and empowering about taking a journey on your own whether it’s travelling, or starting a business. You learn and develop so much on that journey as you have to rely on yourself, take charge of things and manage so many different situations and people using just your instinct and experience as a guide. It taught me how strong and independent I was, and how good my judgement is.
What difference did it make being a woman leader?
Mel White: The biggest difference was how it impacted the other women around me. It’s a sense of responsibility towards other women and those coming up to ensure that I act as a positive example, that I share my knowledge where I can and inspire them to reach their full potential. I’m no more special or qualified, I just made a decision to step up and make my voice heard. I use my example as encouragement because we can all do it and I speak at many events and as a guest lecturer on just this topic.
What are your top 3 tips for women who want to be leaders in their field?
Mel White: It’s easy to wait for permission or expect someone else to do it. But if you want to be a leader then step up and be the leader that you want to be. Just start doing it. You’ll be amazed at how people respond and how much is given to you. People will start trusting you and see you as a leader.
Then get the right support and guidance whether from a coach or a mentor but somebody that shares your vision and will champion and support you and help you achieve your ambitions. That’s such a big thing for women because there are many stereotypes and barriers we have to break through. So having somebody on your side really helps.
Finally, believe you can and you’re half way there.
To find out more about Mel White and 'naked' click here.
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