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"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”

– Warren Bennis

Imagine more

the hero's journey of Sue Stockdale, February 2020

Argonaut Sue Stockdale is the director of Sue Stockdale Ltd, an adventurer, and author. She was awarded the Presidents Shield for Highest Personal Achievement from Royal Society of St George in 1996, and Pioneer to the Life of the Nation by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. 

If there is one thing I believe? It is that we are all capable of far more than we imagine possible – but often the only person stopping you… is you. This fundamental approach, philosophy if you will, has seen me understand that no matter the challenge — either a daily task you choose to do or a global problem that demands action — you have to take it on and never avoid it. You have to find the courage and dive in and often to a deeper depth than you were prepared for. Sometimes you’ll run out of air but even if you do, even if you fall flat on your face, you still have an experience to learn from.

I have repeatedly seen that the one hurdle left to get over is myself. Not the situation. Not other people, but me. This is an approach I readily apply and one I look to offer as a possible path to others, so that they too can reach a fuller potential. You have to stand back and really see who you are, it is a scary thing to do, but once you truly understand “you” then I believe you are destined to achieve great things. It has constantly proven to be a strength that has given me the courage to act, a rich resource to fall back on that has successfully translated into positive action in both my and other people’s lives.

Achievement is what helps me define the “who” of what I am as I strive to complete goals that I set both others and myself. So be it an individual, a group, a singular project, or a wider concept such as the global community, being able to go beyond that “imagined possible” rewards me with that which I view as success. It is these experiences, these challenges and tests of my resolve that have equipped me so well for the responsibility of being an Argonaut.

Always Push Onwards

It isn’t what everyone is looking for — and (perhaps) it isn’t the answer to every problem — but I cannot be anything but enthusiastic. I can trace this back to my high school days, a time I found myself inspired by an amazing PE teacher, Ms Margot Wells (wife of 1980 100m Olympic Champion Allan Wells). It was there that my interest in sport was cemented. It was then I really started to tap into what I believe to be a very powerful driver for success: enthusiasm. A drive that for me personally has overcome anything so far thrown my way: Be enthusiastic and I believe you’re going to get things done. It gives me a determination, an energy that fuels my courage to never give up. Pushing onwards is the only way to stop stagnation, the only way to grow. How else can we move forwards and develop who we are?

So, having “never given up” I then went on to represent Scotland in both 3000m indoor and cross-country events, and it was experiencing that level of commitment to a goal that saw me step into adventure like it was the most natural thing to do. So it was that I took part in a Raleigh International expedition to Kenya. There I spent three months completing scientific, community and adventure projects which in turn made me realise how hooked to exploration I was.

Stepping It Up

In 1995 I eagerly responded to an advert looking for, “10 novice Arctic explorers” to attempt to ski to the North Pole and I was selected for the team from 500 applicants. This was a huge step up from what I usually did, but here I expanded on my idea of why I did things and dedicated it as such by stating, “I have to do this, not just for myself, but for Scotland.”

This experience of a lifetime lasted a month, and even saw me make a little bit of history, as I became the first British woman to reach the Magnetic North Pole.

In 1996 I reunited with Raleigh International as Deputy Expedition Leader for three months in Chile. From that point onwards I joined the UNESCO “One Step Beyond Expedition” to Antarctica as a mentor.

In 1998, and led by Victor Boyarsky, I was privileged to join an international expedition to the Geographical North Pole. This covered the last degree from 89 degrees to the North Pole on the Russian side of the Arctic.
In 1999 I joined the International Trans-Greenland expedition. Here, as part of a team of three other explorers from Norway and Germany, I skied across the Greenland Ice Cap in 28 days. The expedition was successful, but by far the most dangerous of my career, as we encountered a storm that went some way beyond what I knew as severe. Taking refuge — in our only tent — for over 36 hours we basically prayed that the wind would stop and the tent would remain upright. We survived to tell the tale, just.

The Now

Since then I have been actively taking part in promoting what we are capable of in different ways. I took on the UK’s Channel 4’s Superhuman in 2004, which, to put it bluntly, put me through some of the toughest things I believe imaginable. This included surviving a simulated helicopter crash… that was underwater. It was really “full-on”, but I still managed to drag myself into the runner-up position.

I also spend lots of time doing something else I have a lot of enthusiasm for: motivational speaking, executive coaching and being a leadership consultant. All of these unique and self-building experiences have also led me to become involved in a group of like-minded individuals, where through the architecture of the Argonauts we can fully engage in a Trust Circle. A community that provides a meeting space for exchange, development and further exploration, a place that needs you to take very deep breathes at times! Here you truly do need to dive in, perhaps to the greatest depth you’ve ever been. Here nothing is held back, no secrets or unlit corners; it’s very much like being naked. It takes enormous courage and determination to keep going but with the Argonauts’ support, expertise, mentors and leaders on hand you are always going to get back up for air ready for anything, already richer in experience and understanding by having taken on one of life’s biggest challenges: Yourself.

Sue’s experience doesn’t stop there. Her professional speaking career has included FTSE 250 companies, leading Academic Institutions including Said Business School, Oxford; and Cambridge Judge Business School as well as charities and International Conferences.

She is author, or co-author, of a number of international publications including Coaching Perspectives and Enterprising Women magazine. She also hosts two podcast series for nonprofit organizations.