117. Sue Stockdale: Building trust and psychological safety

In this episode 117 of the Access to Inspiration podcast, former guest Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim (episode 49) talks to Sue Stockdale. Sue discusses her experiences as an adventurer and athlete, focusing on her journey to the Magnetic North Pole. She talks about her initial curiosity and decision to apply for the expedition, as well as the challenges she faced in raising funds and preparing physically and mentally. The conversation also explores themes of building safety within a team, curiosity and resilience.

About Sue Stockdale

Sue Stockdale FRSGS is an adventurer, coach, author, and TEDx speaker. In 1996, Sue became the first British woman to reach the magnetic North Pole. Surviving extreme cold and hauling a 60kg sledge for 12 hours a day, it was in those icy depths that Sue discovered the boundless potential within us all. Her purpose in life became clear – to inspire others to tap into their untapped capabilities. Sue’s travels span over 70 countries, including deserts and polar regions. In 2024 she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Beyond adventures, Sue is a sought-after executive coach to CEO’s and leaders. Her academic achievements include an MBA in Entrepreneurship and an MSc in Quality Management, along with a Global Coaching Leadership Award. With nine books published, including her memoir “Explore: A Life of Adventure,” Sue Stockdale is a true trailblazer.

Connect with Sue Stockdale via website: LinkedIn; Twitter 

Guest Host – Nashater Deu Solheim

[00:01:57] Planning an Arctic expedition.
[00:06:13] Preparation for sponsorship.
[00:06:54] Mental preparation for challenges.
[00:13:19] Unexpected situations and chaos.
[00:17:41] Sticking with difficulty and getting through.
[00:22:11] The importance of psychological contracts.
[00:24:11] Teamwork and camaraderie in battle.
[00:27:13] Vulnerability and authenticity.
[00:31:24] Micro actions in times of crisis.

Key Quotes

  •  “When you voice your far and realize that other people share that fear, suddenly it diminishes.”
  •  “I always think when the unexpected happens, when you’re winging it, so to speak, and your heart’s racing, it’s how you manage your emotions that really makes the difference.”
  • “I’m a great believer that in the end, we probably don’t really wing much in life because we’re using our earlier experiences, even if they’re not directly relevant or exactly the same, we’ve built some skillset or confidence or mindset that helps us in these situations that we hadn’t planned for.”
  • “I always say in times of crisis in our personal lives, micro actions are the best way of just either surviving the moment or just moving forward”.

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Sue Stockdale Transcription

Sue: Hi, Sue Stockdale here, and welcome to episode 117 of the Access to Inspiration podcast, the show where you can be inspired by people who may be unlike you. Well, if you’re a regular listener, you will know that sometimes we put in some guest-hosted episodes, and today makes no exception. We’re turning the tables, and Dr. Nashater Deu Solheim who I interviewed in episode 49, puts me in the guest seat to find out how I approach preparation and planning to build trust and psychological safety. And I’ll be talking about some of my experiences as an elite athlete and a polar adventurer. As always, you can follow along with the transcription on our website accesstoinspiration.org.

Nashater: So Sue, welcome. And it’s so lovely to see you again. We were just saying, weren’t we, it’s been probably a year or a bit longer. We were saying we were speaking and I was actually a guest on your podcast.

Sue:  Yeah, it was great. And you are certainly an inspirational guest, sharing some of your leadership and career experiences with us.

Nashater: Yeah, what I loved about your podcast, and the conversation we had was around curiosity, if I remember correctly, when we dug really deep into, you know, where does that come from? And how does that show up? And I was delighted, you know, I remember saying to you at the time, I can’t believe you’re interviewing me, I really want to interview you because you’ve got the most incredible backstory, Sue, which is really what I want listeners to hear more about. And one of the many achievements, really one that stands out for me, I know it does for many people, that you were the first British woman to go to Magnetic North Pole. So tell us a little bit about And I want to dig a little bit deeper actually into something maybe that this podcast theme is really about, which is the planning and preparation for something like that. How do you get into deciding you’re going to go on an expedition to the magnetic North Pole? So talk us through a little bit about that decision.

Sue: Well, I would say there’s a nice segue from our earlier comments about curiosity, because it was really curiosity that got me into wanting to even go on an expedition. So this was way back in the early 90s. I saw an advert in a newspaper, and it was looking for 10 novices. They were going to select 10 people with no experience to go on this expedition to the magnetic North Pole. And it said that it was going to be temperatures of minus 40 Celsius. The expedition would probably last a month, you know, really challenging physically and mentally. And there were two qualifications that they were looking for in the advert. One was the ability to work in a team. So I knew I could do that from my work experience.

The second was the ability to raise £15,000 to pay for your place. I had absolutely no idea how I would do that, but it sort of piqued my imagination. So I put the newspaper down and then later on that evening I was drawn back to it. So I thought, I just need to find out a little bit more about it. So I sent off for the brochure and it came back and would you believe it said on the front, are you man enough for the ultimate challenge? Oh, and it was all pictures of men.

Nashater: How old were you at this point Sue?

Sue: I was 29. So this was the 1996 or 1995, the end of 95. And it was that sort of like, how dare they think that only men can do this? And I’m sure that wasn’t their intention at all, but that was what I thought. And I thought, I’m definitely going to apply for this now. And I have no idea how to raise the amount of money that’s required, but if it’s meant to be, I’ll find a way. And that was my mindset.

And then there was a whole series of selection tests that I had to go through. I think over 500 people applied. and eventually 10 of us were selected. I was the only British woman and there was one Swedish woman and the rest were men on the expedition. But then the planning and preparation begins, because although I had gained a place on the expedition, if I didn’t raise the money and I didn’t get myself physically and mentally prepared, then I wouldn’t be flying up to the north of Canada to start the expedition.

Nashater: And how do you even go about beginning to prepare for something like that which you’ve never done before? They ask for novices so the presumption is you’ve had no similar kinds of experiences. What did the preparation look like?

Sue: Well, you know, the first thing was to raise the money. And although I had raised small amounts of sponsorship before this, I’d never raised that amount of money. And then in the late nineties, I probably could have bought a house for 15,000 pounds. It was a pretty substantial amount of money. Well, I said to myself, okay, I know that to get sponsorship, which is what I thought I would need would be to write to a people that I knew or companies that I knew that might be a good chance. And to write to companies that had anything to do with the cold or anything to do with women or adventure.

Now, you know, back in those days, as I’m sure it is the same today, sponsorship is very hard to come by and you need a really compelling reason to get somebody’s attention. And there were two reasons that I put in my letter, cause this was pre email days, writing letters. The first reason was that if successful, I believed I’d be the first British woman to get there. And secondly, we were going to be filmed by the BBC. So for a potential company. getting their branding and logo on television was hopefully more compelling. And I wrote to hundreds and hundreds of companies and most didn’t even bother to reply. And those that did said no.

Nashater: Oh, I’m surprised. Wow.

Sue: Yeah. Because I think like anything, it’s a, it’s a very competitive market and it’s a substantial amount of money. Eventually the one sponsor that did provide all the money, which was fantastic, was Bird’s Eye fish fingers who make frozen foods. And you can imagine a lovely connection with the Arctic, but it was a lot of hard work to raise that money. And there was, after the expedition, whether we were successful or not, I committed to go round to some schools and talk about the expedition, and they had a bird’s eye education pack. So there’s always going to be a trade-off, and I think that was my learning about the preparation for sponsorship, is not only to get your money, to keep your sponsors informed. So back to what we spoke about on my podcast with you, Nashater, was about relationships and maintaining relationships as well. So that was an important learning for me about, yes, there’s preparation, but actually then there’s value in maintaining that effort that you’ve put in over time. And then of course, once I had raised the money was I had to get myself physically fit.

Nashater: That’s the part I’m fascinated by because you were away for, if I understand correctly, the expedition was a month long. Yes. And as you mentioned, temperatures of perhaps extreme temperatures you’d never experienced before. So what kind of preparation, and I’m interested not just in the physical preparation, which of course I can imagine, and I know you had an athletic background, so you were used to training and getting yourself fit and you’d won a series of competitions by then already. But what kind of mental preparation? Did they set out expectations for you in that? Did you have to figure that out for yourself? What did that look like?

Sue: Yes, there’s a great lot of preparation and the mental preparation, nobody trained us in how to do that. As a group though, we did have a few ideas and one of the things that we did was we all got together one evening, it happened to be in a pub because we were doing some sort of getting to know one another, and what we came up with was writing a what-if list. So we all write down our greatest fears. What if we meet a polar bear? What if we fall through the ice? What if we just can’t stand who we’re sharing our tent with or whatever it was? We all wrote down our greatest fears and then we all shared them and we voiced them out loud.

And then as we were listening to everybody else’s, well, I certainly realized that most of us have the same fears and concerns. So although it might manifest and magnify itself in one’s own mind, if we’re imagining catastrophizing what the worst could be, First of all, voicing it, and then secondly, realizing that other people share that fear, suddenly it diminishes. It’s not so fearful after all. And although we didn’t come up with solutions for all our fears, at least by talking about them and expressing them was a great way to prepare mentally.

Because I think that’s one of the things that when we are going into the unknown, doing something new, if we don’t prepare, then we can magnify what could happen out of all proportions. For example, I’m running a training course later this week with a new client, a big group of people. So already I’m imagining what these people will be like and how it will be in the room. And there is a degree of trepidation about that. So I have to then manage to calm myself down from it. And I think if we don’t prepare, if we don’t think about the what-ifs, and if we don’t do that work, then our what-ifs are almost the worst things that could happen.

Nashater: They are, aren’t they? And you’ve experienced it, no doubt, yourself. I know many people say that when they, what if, it’s always the worst case scenario. We rarely find ourselves sitting around thinking, what if it works out really well? What if this is really successful? What if I get great feedback? We don’t, do we? It tends to be the worst case scenario. So interesting that you were all sitting in a pub. And of course, you are planning for something that’s quite extreme. And you want to think about the worst case scenarios. Tell me a little bit about how that manifests itself in terms of preparing you for the real event. I’m hoping you didn’t meet a polar bear in close proximity, but was that exercise useful in preparing you for actual real events that did then occur? Or were you just facing situations that now really, to all intents and purposes, you’ve got to wing it. You’ve got to figure out how to manage this because it wasn’t on your what-if list and you couldn’t possibly have imagined it happening. So how do you prepare for that?

Sue: Well, a bit of both, Nashater. One of the things that we were preparing for, one of the what if question was, well, what if we can’t stand the cold at minus 20 or minus 30 Celsius? Well, what we did do was the expedition organisers took us all into a huge industrial freezer in Smithfields Meat Market in London with the dial set to minus 20. And we then spent time there, a number of hours, with all our expedition equipment. experiencing what it’s like to pitch a tent when it’s minus 20 and when you’re wearing all your thick clothing so that simulation of the what-if and taking it on to the next step trying something out but not being completely in the unknown in your new environment having a kind of simulation was really helpful because thinking about pitching a tent for example in cold temperatures is not the same as being there with all your thick clothing on and big gloves, which means it’s very difficult to manoeuvre things.

So there’s sometimes the unexpected comes when you’re then having to simulate and realise, well, this is a bit harder than I thought it was going to be. And then other times we did have to wing it. There were bits of equipment that broke, unexpected conversations we had together that you hadn’t prepared for and you just had to cope with it. because you can’t turn back, you can’t get airlifted, you are there and you’re stuck on the ice so you just have to get on with it.

Nashater: And for those moments where you felt you were winging it, I’m a great believer that in the end, we probably don’t really wing much in life because we’re using perhaps our earlier experiences, even if they’re not directly relevant or they’re not exactly the same, we’ve built some skillset or confidence or mindset that helps us in these situations that we hadn’t planned for. You and I both work with leaders and I’ve certainly come across leaders who will say to me, I’m far better if I’m not prepared and I just go out on stage or I go out in front of my team and I’m spontaneous and I just wing it. And I often look at them and think, well, perhaps what you’re actually doing is drawing on years of experience of public speaking or you know your subject and expert areas so well that you can be quite spontaneous. It looks very much like you’re winging it because you haven’t had to prepare a script, but actually you’re just very well rehearsed and very well prepared so that when it comes to that moment, you can dance off the surface of your knowledge. In your experiences in those situations, how much were you really winging it, do you believe, or how much were you actually drawing on some of those preparations that you talked about?

Sue: Well yeah, there was one moment where we had woken up in the morning, the weather was windy and cold so that meant it was a lot of wind chill and just as we were starting out, now bearing in mind our expedition team was 14 people in total, so 10 novices, 4 experienced leaders, that’s quite a large group of people to get organised to leave exactly on time at the same time because you know what it’s like when even although you say we’re leaving at 10 o’clock there’s always something that somebody’s not got prepared and on this given day one person had wet gloves they haven’t dried their gloves over the fire the evening before so what they were doing was putting their hands into cold gloves at the start of the day with a potential immediately for frostbite because of the wind chill.

So that meant then that two of the group stayed with that person to ensure that they could find dry gloves in their sledge and the rest of us decided we were beginning to get cold waiting around so rather than us get hypothermia we should start moving. Now that meant then the expedition group was now going to split up and with this bad weather which meant that the fog came down now we had two groups that were separated and that was not what we had planned for because we’d always planned that we would always maintain eye contact even if the group had broken up into smaller numbers that the last person of one group would always maintain eye contact with the next person.

So this was an unexpected situation when the weather conditions caused us not to see one another. I was in the bigger group at that point and we were starting to get really worried because we lost sight of these three people that were left behind. Now, we hadn’t planned for that. And you might then logically say, well, it’s fine. They can just follow along. But they can’t always follow your ski tracks. They may not be able to determine them. If the weather’s bad, their navigation may be different to yours. So it really did throw us into a state of chaos.

And in the end, we had to really slow down our pace because although we started slow, we were getting cold. So we had to move at a reasonable pace to start to warm our bodies up. And then I seem to remember then we did actually turn about and start to ski backwards at one point because we were so concerned that we wouldn’t find these people and then eventually they came into eyesight.

But for a moment when we were thinking we’ve lost people out here in the Arctic, we hadn’t planned for that. That was unexpected and I suppose natural instinct is just get back, try and find them. and make sure that we can all be safe together. So that’s the moment I always think when the unexpected happens, when you’re winging it, so to speak, and your heart’s racing, it’s how you manage your emotions that really makes the difference. Because if you’re caught up in your emotions, you can’t then use your executive brain to do quality thinking. And that’s what you would need to do in a moment of unexpected situations.

Nashater: So talk us through a little bit personally how you did that. How did you prepare for that?

Sue: Well, for me, it’s about using self-talk. So really being aware of what’s going on in my own head. And that came from probably my athletics background over the years, where I would realize that what I was saying to myself in a race, when I was running a 3,000 meters race on the track, if I was saying, oh, I’m tired and my legs are sore, then probably I would slow up in my performance and not be relaxed. So I really had been aware over the years prior to the expedition of how important it is to be aware of what you’re saying to yourself and how that impacts your thinking.

So in that moment, I was saying to myself, don’t panic, Sue. You’re in a group here. The responsibility isn’t on you solely. You’re in a team here. So ask some questions. It’s OK. We’ll get this sorted. So it was really calming myself down was my self-taught process. And even being able to get to that place was to be aware that my thinking would really impact then on how I actually behaved. And back to our in the pub with our what-if scenarios is sharing your fears with other people. So not holding it in your own mind, even if you’re in a group, because me expressing, well, how are we going to do this? Really, we’ve lost sight of these people. How are we going to solve this? Enabled us to have a conversation. And I think that sometimes can really be helpful is to talk about the unexpected rather than just go on gut feel. if that makes sense.

Nashater: I really like that. And it’s made me think I was imagining you as much as I can in that scenario with a group of people fearing for the ones that you can’t see. And I love this idea of maintaining eye contact. I want to dig into that a little more. But the idea that in that moment, you have to dig deep into, do I voice this? I was thinking, would I be worried, for example, that by voicing it, I’m going to create more anxiety for everybody else by sharing my anxious thoughts? And will it have a contagion effect? And now everybody will be anxious. But quite the opposite from what you’re sharing. It was really about putting words maybe to what not only you’re feeling, but other people are feeling. And the idea that the group will figure this out.

Sue: Yes, and I think there’s a context relevance point here to make as well, Nashater. In the Arctic, there is nowhere else we can go. We all know that we’re stuck together. If we were in an office context or a business environment, something like that, then maybe we can walk out of a meeting or we can go somewhere else. We can create chaos and emotional contingent in a group and then not be there to pick up the pieces. In this context, there is no escape. And I do think that makes a difference. And maybe outside of an expedition life, sometimes people don’t really take enough time to just stick with it, stick with the difficulty and get through. Sometimes too easy to, if you like, escape from it.

And if you’re enjoying this guest-hosted episode, you can listen to episodes 90 to 93, where you will hear four of our previous guests interview some fascinating people to talk about overcoming fears, documentary filmmaking, creating sustainable impact, and cultivating leadership in Africa. You can go on over to our website accesstoinspiration.org and you’ll find those and more than 100 other episodes. Now back to this one.

Nashater: And in that moment then, and it’s a great metaphor for leadership and team isn’t it, that keeping your eyes on everybody that’s coming behind whether you’re the leader of the expedition but you’re all self-leading in that moment and co-leading as a group. that you are taking care of each other, making sure everybody has what they need, that keeping your eyes over your shoulder and making sure people are coming with you. And then in those moments when it gets really tough, you’re taking a collective responsibility to put your thoughts and feelings out there because you know it’s for the good of the group. I suspect, Sue, and correct me if I’m wrong, that in that sharing, you’re very conscious then also of how you say it and what you say so that you’re not fueling anxiety or panicking and creating as you say, chaos in the moment. How conscious were you of doing that?

Sue: At the time, I was less conscious than I should have been. However, I also think that in the expedition group themselves, given the gender split within the group, there was a majority of men and fewer women. What I did find sometimes was the men in the group, they were less vociferous about their emotions and they appreciated when those that were more vociferous shared their feelings and emotions. So again, regardless of whether it’s men sharing or women sharing, just people who are comfortable to express their emotions. At the end of the expedition, when we were all reflecting together, everybody said there was a sense that that was really valued. Yes, sometimes maybe one doesn’t express one’s emotions in the most effective way, but nonetheless, voicing something that other people are feeling but not voicing can be hugely valuable.

Nashater: I totally agree. Absolutely. I think from a psychology perspective, it’s, as you said earlier, and I couldn’t agree more, the idea that once we put words to a fear or anxiety often isn’t as bad as the fantasy, you know, that we’ve created in our minds. I liked when you mentioned that you all agreed to keep eyes on each other. And that raises some thoughts and questions in my mind about how you take care of each other, how you plan to take care of each other in those moments. So you share a little bit about where that came from and some of the other things that you did in terms of taking care of the group mentally and in terms of mindset for those kinds of extreme situations.

Sue: Well, our expedition leader said to us right at the start, we’re adopting the same principles here as you probably would if you were diving, where you buddy up.

Nashater: I was thinking that when you mentioned it, because I’m a diver, so I did wonder about the buddy system.

Sue: Right. And one of the things in the Arctic, if you get frostbite on your face or frostnip, which would be the first stage towards frostbite, where you might lose the sensation of a feeling in your skin. If I’ve got a little white spot on my face when we’re in the Arctic, it means the blood’s out of that area. I can’t feel it myself. And the only way I know it exists is if somebody else tells me that. So we buddied up every day that I always had a responsibility to look out for somebody else and vice versa. And I think that breeds a real sense of connectedness. You know, you’re not in it on your own. And therefore, there is that responsibility to be looking out for another person in your team. And I think from a leadership perspective, that’s a great way to operate, not just a leader, but from others in a team to look out for one another when the going gets tough. Because you don’t know how you will react in certain situations, but at least you’ve got somebody else you can turn to.

Nashater: But you’ve contracted that, haven’t you, up front? And I think that perhaps that’s the key here, that there’s been an agreement, that we’ve explicitly said to each other, in this situation, let’s say it’s his work environment, on this project, in this work environment, we’ve agreed that we will look out for each other. And these are the things where I’m open to receiving feedback from you on, or I would like you to give me feedback on. And that psychological contract’s critical, isn’t it? Did you explicitly go through those in your preparation?

Sue: We didn’t voice it in quite the eloquent way that you have, Nashater.

Nashater: Well, you were in a pub having drinks, Sue, so I suspect it was probably a little different than sitting on a podcast chatting.

Sue: Yes, we almost didn’t even do it until we got into tents on the first few days of the expedition. So there was then a smaller number of people, so there was four people sharing a tent. And then it was a case of, okay, right, well, you two look out for each other, you two look out for each other, right? How are you going to do that? And it was unspoken, but there was this genuine care and attention. And I think, again, given that we were all in the unknown, the danger came from the outside. The danger, as I saw, didn’t come from my colleagues. And sometimes, again, in the work context, I think sometimes people imagine the danger or the fear is likely to come from the colleague who may give a bit of unsolicited feedback. And sometimes we should think about the danger being coming from our competitors or from a different department if there is danger. And how do we create that sense of true care and wanting to support one another in a team context?

Nashater: I love that. I think that really is the true, for me, the essence of teamness, isn’t it? Rather than a group, a group of people who might come together to achieve something, but there’s no real interdependency. They’re not really looking out for each other. They’re just there to achieve the common goal, as opposed to a team where we really do want to look out for each other. We want to bring all of us towards the goal and to the destination in the best possible way and make sure that we’re looking out for each other on the way. And I love the way you’ve described that. I think that’s very powerful.

And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that put ourselves into a war zone or into a battle situation, we do that, as you say, in an unspoken way. We just get on with it. Do we have to have a lot of conversations and plan for it? Perhaps not. Because we recognize we’re all in this together. And we’re only going to survive if we all depend on each other. In a less threatening environment, like a work environment, it’s much easier, isn’t it, to forget that we’re all on the same page trying to achieve the same goals. How much of this, Sue, has come into the work that you do with leaders now? Because I know you do public speaking, and you work with leaders as a coach. How much of this, of your personal reflections and experiences really shows up in what you’re, you’re advising and sharing with others now?

Sue: Hugely, even the way I describe to a potential coaching client, what a coaching relationship will be like, is I say to them, we are going to be embarking on an adventure into the unknown together and to do that we need to trust one another and be focused on the end outcome whatever that end focus that the coach he wants to to work on but we don’t know what we’re going to meet along the way but we’ve got to work together and trust one another and if we don’t create a space and an environment to do that it’s going to be less than effective and that normally makes their eyes widen and the sense of excitement on their face and they’re like oh yeah I’m up for that I really try and say this is a joint learning environment here I’m going to learn something from you and you’re going to learn something from me and we’re both going to make mistakes but let’s be open about that and it just lays this foundation for a connection in quite a different way than perhaps you’ve experienced before.

Nashater: Again, so important, isn’t it? That preparation we do before we go into our work with our clients. You and I work in the same field, and that conversation we have, I call it the psychological contract. How are we going to work together? What are your expectations? What are mine? What do you expect from, as you say, seeing me as a coach and coming into your area, which I’ve got to learn something about, and you’re going to be learning from the toolkits I can share with you and the experiences I’ve had. But that preparation is so important. And I’m a great believer that it’s that preparation that sets up at least the basis for trust. How did trust develop between you as a group?

Sue: Well, I think that those activities that we spent time doing before we even arrived in the Arctic were ways of building trust with one another. We did hikes, we learned about the equipment we were going to use and so on. So we spent time together and we weren’t necessarily calling it trust building activities, but in effect that’s what it was doing. The more you get to know the people you’re going to be on the ice with, the more you can begin to trust them. So that was helpful. And then early on, as we started off, We’d be skiing along in single file and often I would ski up towards Susanna, the other female, and I’d say to her, oh, I’m feeling really tired here. My legs are sore. And she would say, yeah, I’m exhausted. And then I’d ski a little bit further along and catch up with one of the men.

And I’d say, oh, I’m so exhausted. How are you? I’m fine. And you could just tell that they weren’t, that they were tired by the way they were moving. And it was probably a couple of days into the expedition that if that same process happened, if I said to the man then, how are you doing? Yeah, I’m quite tired, actually. And we reflected, all of us together, during the expedition, that I think some of the men thought that they need to be a little bit macho, proving their capabilities and their worth. And it was the interjection of, again, it just happened to be a woman, it could have equally been a man, to be vulnerable that enabled everyone to say, ah, I don’t have to prove myself here. It’s okay to be myself, to be authentic. And that’s a little bit easier. It’s not so effortful to have to try and prove myself. We trusted ourselves enough to be human and show up as ourselves.

Nashater: That vulnerability in that context, I mean, it’s powerful, isn’t it? It’s a test of your mental strength, your physical strength, a lot of, you know, skills and abilities, and to be able to be vulnerable enough to say, I’m not feeling great right now. Trust is important in those moments in all parts of life. I think that you’re not going to be judged, I think is one of the anxieties we have in daring to be vulnerable, that we’ll be judged negatively for it, that we’ll be deemed incompetent or unable or failing in some way. And from a psychologist’s point of view, the greatest fear of all is that in admitting it, I’m really admitting it to myself that I’m not good enough, that I don’t want to accept for myself that being vulnerable is okay, because I equate it with a feeling that I’m not not enough. And just that validation for somebody else saying, you know, I’m feeling it too, or in this context, it’s okay, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or an incompetent person, you’re not good enough. But were there moments when you felt mentally or others in the team felt very mentally vulnerable, that can’t push further? And how did you gee each other up and kind of get each other through that?

Sue: There were there were many, many times where I felt like that, where I my legs would be physically exhausted, muscles tight and strained, I would just feel that I hardly had any mental capacity to make any sort of form of decision. And yet you still have to keep going because as I say there is nowhere to stop, you can’t escape from this. So I would always go back to, again, my athletics background. And when I was in a position feeling a little bit like that sometimes and running a race or something, I would always say to myself, just get through the next five minutes, just get through the next few moments, see how you feel. And that’s what I did in those moments in the Arctic, breaking down that challenge or that fear to say, there’s always, always something you can do.

And that’s how I get through anything these days. And to just accept that not to put expectations on myself. That’s one thing I’ve also learned in the Arctic is, you mentioned earlier, people don’t want to be vulnerable for fear of saying to themselves, I’m less than. What I say to myself is, do you know what? I’m a human being. Human beings aren’t perfect. And the more I can be accepting of myself and just embrace that and say there’s things I can learn, things I get wrong, things I can improve on, To me, it makes me feel truly authentic and alive, rather than putting additional pressure on, which life and society and the environment we operate in very often is doing that for us. Why am I being hard on myself? I just don’t need to be.

Nashater: And I’m thinking of you in that context and thinking, my goodness, you’re already exceptional. You know, you’ve already got to the point where you’re one of a small group of people who volunteered as novices to go and be first to the Magnetic North Pole. I find it, you know, I can imagine in those moments, you’ve signed up for something, you say there’s no escape. And then it’s just you and your thoughts and your own digging into your own motivation, isn’t it? I love that you’ve described that process of breaking it down into being very mindful and present right now. What’s the next step I can take? Those micro actions are, you know, I always say, in times of crisis in our personal lives, are the best way of just either surviving the moment or just moving forward, because we always have more to give. But when in those dark moments, it’s very hard to see that.

But so breaking it down into one physical thing, just taking the next step, for example, as you say, the next five minutes, or the next two meters, whatever that is, in life is a great lesson, isn’t it for being able to just show yourself that you can keep moving forward, or be that you feel overwhelmed in the in the moment. But being open and vulnerable and letting people know that you’re feeling like that is key. There’s always somebody around you can help and support.

Nashater: Very, very powerful lessons. I can imagine this is incredibly helpful when you’re talking to leaders going through either personal challenges or challenges in their business environment, to be able to help to break that down.

Sue: And creating the space, I’m always mindful in a coaching relationship, what is it I’m doing to create the space for somebody to feel safe enough to feel vulnerable. And I think there’s also a skill in that. That doesn’t just necessarily naturally happen. I always think that takes effort.

Nashater: It does. And it’s the skill, isn’t it, of that partnership and that trust that you build as a coach. I feel it myself when I’m sitting with, with clients. Often, particularly when you’re working with leaders, you know, at the top of their, either their organization or experts in their field, they’re often alone in that space, aren’t they? And very few people they can dare to have an open and vulnerable conversation with, and you really become that that sparring partner, I like to call it rather than a coach, of somebody who can create that space where it’s confidential, it’s free to express yourself and without judgment and without expectation really, but an opportunity just to explore together. I love that metaphor. So as you can tell, I could keep talking to you and I’m sure we will after the podcast. I just want to say thank you so much for a really great conversation. It’s been wonderful. speaking to you again, and thank you so much for your time. Any last reflections that you would like to share about planning and preparation, your experiences, the work that you’re doing with leaders that would be helpful for our audience to take away?

Sue: Yeah, the one thing that springs to mind is plan for the outcome, not always for the process. I always envision for myself a bit like skiing down a ski slope, that we know where the boundaries are, we know where the end line is, where it says finish, How we get down that ski slope every single time may be different and that’s fine. And I always try and bring to the work that I do is I want, you know, I agree an outcome with a coaching client. I know the outcome from a training course that I want to get to. How we get there is open to flexibility. And I think that’s my planning and preparation comes from knowing those things that I’ve just mentioned. And then that free flow can come from skiing down that ski slope any way you like.

Nashater: Beautifully put. Well, on that note, I’m going to thank you again for coming and sharing your insights and experiences with the audience. And you will find more information about Sue at the end of the podcast. And we’ll put all your details out, Sue, to make sure people can reach out and connect with you further to hear more about both your experiences and the work that you do. Once again, thank you so much.

Sue: Thank you, Nashater. It was great to speak to you. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Nashater. Let us know. You can send us a voice note or a message via our website contact page. And remember to subscribe to the podcast so that you can get easily notified about new episodes. I’ll be back comfortably in my host’s chair next week with another inspiring guest, and I hope you can join us then.