Natalie Walker has been the inaugural CEO of two start-up businesses, both with massive agendas, and was appointed to board and executive roles early in her career. Below she shares some excellent insights into what she’s learnt about leadership, career planning and instincts.
Natalie is speaking at the annual She Leads Conference in Canberra on 1 August, an inspiring day of discussion, networking and action on women’s leadership. Women’s Agenda is proud to support the event again this year as Online Media Partner, sharing insights, advice and stories from some of the wonderful women who are speaking at the Conference. To find out more, or to register to attend, visit the She Leads website.
Natalie Walker is not afraid to take a leap of faith. She has been the inaugural CEO of two start-up businesses with big agendas – Supply Nation, which connects Indigenous businesses with government procurement opportunities (now led by Laura Berry), and her current role at Inside Policy, a boutique social and economic policy advisory firm tackling policy reform in complex areas such as family violence and children’s services
A proud Kuku Yalanji woman from the Daintree Rainforest, a strong sense of purpose has always defined Natalie’s career.
“[The Inside Policy team] are all policy geeks. We’re fundamentally doing what we love to do, and spend our time on. That makes it so much easier to have stamina, because I can see how the advice I’m providing is actually going to make the world a better place.”
Surprisingly for someone who was appointed to executive and board director roles early in their career, Natalie says she still struggles to describe herself as a leader.
“Where I’ve assumed leadership positions, it’s because others have seen that in me when I haven’t seen it in myself. So, I’ve trusted the wisdom of others around me and thought ‘Well, you’re way more experienced than me. If you think I can do it, then I trust that and I’ll give it a go.’ ”
“My story of leadership has really been about others supporting me, and helping me see me in a way that I haven’t seen myself, and that’s given me the courage to take those steps forward.”
The confidence of others was decisive in Natalie’s consideration of whether to become the inaugural CEO of Supply Nation.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The founders of Supply Nation saw in me what I didn’t see in myself when they asked me to be the inaugural CEO. So, I trusted them.”
This focus on assisting other people to rise has now become central to Natalie’s career.
“I always try to help people see themselves in a way that they may not see themselves yet, and see what they are capable of, and what they are doing, and what that means for their potential, rather than them continually being locked in how they see themselves now.”
Central to Natalie’s lack of identification with the leader label is her unplanned approach to her career, which has been driven by her intuition.
“I’ve always just followed what feels right. What piques my interest, what lights my fire? If I’m not thinking about it, I’m not obsessing over it, then it’s a pretty good sign that I’m not interested in it, and it’s not something that I really should be, or want to be, spending my time on. That’s fundamentally how I’ve made all of my career decisions.”
“You’ve got to listen to your instinct. When I was younger, I [sometimes] knew something was off, but I didn’t have the experience to know why. Now that I’m more experienced and I’ve started up, and run two companies and had some really big falls. I’ve got the bruises, the calluses, the scars from that. That has built up those instincts for when something is right or wrong, because I can draw from all that experience.”
Natalie is adamant that a clear sense of self is more important than traditional career planning.
“It comes back to your purpose, understanding who you are and staying focused on that. There are times where we all lose focus on that. It’s when we feel tired, or sad, or just out of kilter, that’s the sign that we’ve lost sight of our northern star. You’ve just got to spend time focusing on getting that back.”
“Just don’t listen to the naysayers. If you’ve got a vision of success for yourself, pursue that. You’ll make it happen.”