The Business Exchange Swindon & Wiltshire Edition 62: August/September 2022 | Page 12


What I learnt from travelling the harshest environments in the world

Wiltshire ' s Sue Stockdale is a British polar adventurer , athlete and motivational speaker . She became the first British woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole in 1996 during an expedition led by Sir David Hempleman Adams . In this exclusive article for The Business Exchange , Sue shares the five key lessons she learned about leadership and business , after participating in many expeditions over the years .
The Arctic is an unusual place to be a classroom . Yet from a business perspective it is an ideal location to learn about leadership , humility , and team-working .
Be prepared to make difficult decisions A leader is the person that others look to when they need direction , inspiration , or support . So being able to make tough decisions is important because without clarity a team can become uncertain , anxious , and fearful . During my North Pole expedition , we encountered a storm , with temperatures of minus 40C and the wind making it too difficult to stand up straight . Our leader had to decide whether we continued to ski or remain where we were camped until the storm blew over . I was impressed with how he listened to other people ’ s views and assessed the conditions , before finally deciding that we should not attempt to travel , because there was a risk of getting frostbite when dismantling the tents and packing the sledges . Whilst the team was disappointed , I recognised we trusted our leader ’ s experience to take these difficult decisions when it mattered .
When there ’ s nothing to hide behind - you must be authentic When I skied across the Greenland Ice Cap , there was nothing to hide behind , literally . No icebergs , no buildings , and no hills . So even when taking a comfort break and carrying out the most basic of human needs - it had to be endured in full view of the rest of my team . That ’ s when I learned about authenticity . It doesn ’ t matter how much money you have , what your job title is , or what social class you come from , to survive in the Arctic we all had to be comfortable to just be ourselves . That was good enough . And since coming home from my first polar expedition , I try to engage with people as a human being , recognising that hierarchy , or status is only something that we choose to confer onto others , it does not make the person different to you or me . And by seeing them in that way , it enables me to relax , and be comfortable to treat them as a human being .
T . E . A . M . Together everyone achieves more In the Arctic , just as in the workplace , it can feel more sociable when you are part of a team . I have found that its always helpful to recognise one another ’ s strengths . That way it feels less competitive because each person brings different qualities to the team . Four of us skied across the Greenland Ice Cap , and every person had a strength . For example , navigation , organising the food or maintaining morale . We all needed one another , and by valuing those qualities it helped us all to work together to successfully achieve our objective .
Where are the crevasse zones in your business ? Crevasse zones can be found in businesses as well as on the edge of a glacier . They are places where if you put one foot wrong it could spell disaster . We had only one person in our team who had experience of crossing a crevasse zone , so to mitigate against this risk , we were roped up together , which meant if anyone fell in , the rest of the group acted as a counterbalance to help pull them out . And then the expert coached the rest of us , ensuring that we were alert and paying attention , whilst he encouraged us to learn and take risks . The result ? It took us more time to cross this area , but we all got the benefit of learning and gaining confidence should we encounter another crevasse zone in future .
From the top of the world , there ’ s only one way to go Although learning in any environment can be hard work , there is often a reward at the end , and when skiing ‘ North ’ the reward is to reach the top of the world – the North Pole . If you walk round in a circle , you have crossed all the world ’ s time zones ! However , the only way left to travel is southwards … And it ’ s the same in the workplace . Leaders must recognise that what must follow having accomplished a challenging goal is a period of recovery . Allowing time for a team to regroup , to reflect on their achievement and what they have learned , so that if the next goal is more ambitious , they are ready to face it . Many teams I have coached move from PLAN – DO to PLAN – DO , and don ’ t include time for reflection and recovery . Without this critical part of the process , no company , team , or person can sustain high performance over a long period of time .
Sue Stockdale is an executive coach to CEOs and leaders , author of EXPLORE : A Life of Adventure and is based in Broad Town . To find out more about Sue , visit : www . suestockdale . com
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