Inspirational Woman: Sue Stockdale | Executive Coach, TEDx Speaker, Author & Podcaster

Meet Sue Stockdale

Executive Coach, TEDx Speaker, Author & Podcaster

Sue Stockdale is an executive coach, TEDx speaker, and podcaster, with over 20 years’ experience helping CEO’s, leaders, and coaches worldwide to maximise their potential.

In 2021 Sue delivered a TEDx talk,  ‘Transformation Begins in the Mind’  and is co-founder and host of the Access to Inspiration podcast series where she has interviewed guests from over twenty countries.

In addition to being author of EXPLORE, Sue is also co-author of several other books including Risk, Cope with Change at Work and Motivating People and her articles have appeared in many publications including Inc, The Times and The Guardian.

Sue holds an MBA in Entrepreneurship from the University of Stirling and an MSc in Quality management from Nottingham Trent University. She is the first UK woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole and has travelled to over 70 countries on various expeditions and adventures and represented Scotland in athletics.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m an executive coach, author, and motivational speaker working with CEOs, and leaders in some of the world’s top companies – inspiring them to become even better leaders.  We all can achieve more than we realise, and often the only person stopping you…is you.  Many leaders find that their time is taken up with the day-to-day productivity and results, and they don’t take time to reflect on how they lead, coach and inspire people, which can increase engagement, motivation and productivity. I help leaders to do this by taking them on an ‘inner adventure’ so that they can gain greater self-awareness and transform how they lead their companies.  

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

As a child, I used to love reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books and so I wanted a career that would incorporate adventure. I started working full-time at sixteen years old in the finance function of an energy company and imagined that I would work my way up the career ladder in that organisation. There were quite a few opportunities for adventures along the way in that company, including a three-month expedition to Kenya which was amazing. I quickly got promoted and became one of the youngest senior managers, aged 25. After a failed promotion attempt, my plan changed so I decided to leave to take a job working with the UN in a war zone.  That was a big adventure and it taught me to take risks and be prepared to step into the unknown to achieve your goals.

In 1996, you became an Arctic explorer and the first British woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole – how did this come about?

After coming back to the UK from the war zone, I was reading the newspaper one day and spotted an advert to join a team of novices on a polar expedition.  It intrigued me and I sent off for more details.  When the brochure arrived back, it was titled “are you man enough for the Ultimate Challenge?” and showed only photos of men, which incensed me. I felt certain that women could be explorers too and so sent off my application to join the team.  After months of strenuous selection tests, the 500 applicants were narrowed down to the final team of ten to join leader, Sir David Hempleman-Adams, on the month-long journey skiing over 350 miles to the Pole.  The team consisted of eight men and two women (me and a Swedish woman who became the 1st from that country to reach the Pole too).  

What skills/attributes do you think this taught you?

This life-changing journey taught me that we all have more potential than we realise.  I never imagined that it would have been possible to be a polar explorer, and yet it happened.  So, I began to think that if I could use my experiences to inspire others and help them reach their own North Pole, my journey would have an even greater impact. And that’s been my life’s purpose ever since.

I also learned to be authentic, and to just show up as ‘me’ – and that’s good enough.  There is literally nothing to hide behind in the Arctic – and when you have to bare all to survive every day (when you go to the loo), I realised that anywhere in life we are all just human beings trying to do our best, and it’s made me more comfortable to be authentic, and not try to be too professional, or polished, but more natural and relaxed.

You’ve got a new book out – EXPLORE: A Life of Adventure – can you tell us more about this?

The book is a mix of memoir and message, and describes how, from challenging beginnings, I embarked on this life of adventure, exploring some of the world’s most extreme environments including the North Pole, Antarctica, and Greenland.  I also share important life lessons gained from these adventures and describe how the mindset, discipline and commitment needed for adventurous activities is also useful in professional life.  EXPLORE: A Life of Adventure inspires readers to explore their own potential, with the belief that nothing is too scary to embark upon when approached with determination, a plan and willingness to be uncomfortable. 

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In addition to reaching the Pole, I am proud to be the co-founder of a podcast Access to Inspiration, that is now in the top 10% most popular shows globally.  We started it from nothing with the underlying belief that if we shared inspiring stories from a wide range of guests from around the world – it would help listeners to reflect on their own potential and what’s possible in life.  To date we have interviewed over 70 people from over 25 countries – ranging from an acrobat to an astronaut: with over half of the guests having never been on a podcast before. It has grown mostly by word of mouth, and we published our first impact report this year which measured the different ways it has impacted listeners and guests around the world.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Preparedness to step into the unknown, with an innate belief that the action I am taking will ultimately yield a positive result.  I always ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? And if I am prepared to accept the potential risks, then why not just go for it?  My mum died unexpectedly when I was a teenager, and she was only in her 50s, so I learned from that time that life is precious, and we should use each day wisely and make the most of it.  We don’t get the time back.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think mentoring can be extremely valuable to both mentor and mentee, and over the years I have had some wonderful mentors to guide me.  For me, the set-up process is critical, so that it creates a more equal power dynamic.  Sometimes a mentee can feel they have nothing to offer the relationship, and that is rarely the case.  Recently I mentored an ambitious young leader of a charity in Kenya, and in the first conversation, one of the questions she asked me, was ‘what can I do for you, Sue?’.  At that time, I was not sure what it would be, but we agreed that something would show up.  A couple of months later, she volunteered to produce an impact report for the Access to Inspiration podcast.  When it was published, it became the first podcast worldwide to report on impact and was described in the media as ‘a good report card for a podcast and should be emulated by others’.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Perhaps it’s holding in our minds that – equality does not equal sameness. I believe it’s bringing a mindset of curiosity and openness to bear on conversations about what gender equality means in each context that will help us all to find a faster route forwards.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Learn more languages at school because they can open doors to understand other cultures and are very useful when travelling around the world. French and a little Spanish only gets me so far….

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am going to Wadi Rum in Jordan later this year to travel across the desert on a camel with a Bedouin tribesman, sleeping on a mat outside under the stars and experiencing life as a nomadic traveller. Having been there for one day recently I found it a deeply moving experience to be in silence, surrounded by the vastness of nature and it rekindled the close connection to nature I felt in the Arctic.  As a society we are becoming disconnected from it and if I can find a way through storytelling to help others reconnect to nature that it would be satisfying.

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