The Potential for What? Podcast: Episode 8 – Emma Dempsey

Pause, Reconnect & Transition with Emma Dempsey – The Potential for What? Podcast

This week our host Jo Taylor is joined by Emma Dempsey of Stellar Conversations. Emma is a training provider who works with organisations and people to have better conversations. In this episode they discuss the role of self-awareness in unlocking potential, and the need for autonomy and self-belief to create the necessary changes. A very honest chat, where both Jo and Emma discuss their own potential and how life events can change and shape journeys.

In today’s episode we talk about:

  • ✨ Emma Dempsey’s journey to setting up Stellar Conversations.
  • 💆‍♂️ The importance of self-awareness, self-belief and intention when it comes to unlocking potential.
  • 🗣️ Why the person who is being coached needs to lead in order to tap into potential.
  • 🗝️ The role of confidence, resilience and autonomy when it comes to unlocking potential.
  • 👂 The importance of listening and asking questions when in a conversation.
  • 🪞 The need to reflect on the feelings that come up in order to gain a better understanding of potential.

About Emma Dempsey

Emma Dempsey is a Coach Trainer, group facilitator and coach supervisor. She is the founder of Stellar Conversations.
Emma created Stellar Conversations because she believes that coaching conversations can transform working environments, relationships and cultures and enable people to explore and tap into their potential. With a background in Social Development and behaviour change, Emma has twenty years’ experience working with people to support transformation and empowerment, through both organisational and individual change.

When not working, Emma can be found near the sea, raising her sons and exploring her own potential!

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Transcript of Episode 8: The Potential for What? Podcast with Emma Dempsey

Jo Taylor  00:04

Welcome to the Potential for What podcast. On this podcast we explore how a range of business leaders unlock the potential in people. We’ll hear how they’ve done it, find out what’s worked, what hasn’t and why this is so important in getting and keeping great people. Most businesses focus on the here and now, that is: all about performance. But at Let’s Talk Talent we like to think differently, as we fundamentally believe everyone has potential. The question is: for what? So let’s explore that together. I’m your host, Jo Taylor, Managing Director of Let’s Talk Talent, a talent management and organisational development consultancy based in London, UK. I have a request. If you value this show, if you enjoy these stories, or find this wisdom or inspiration useful, please subscribe to the Potential for What podcasts to listen to future episodes.

Jo Taylor  00:59

I’m Jo, MD of Let’s Talk Talent. And I’m joined today by Emma Dempsey, founder of Stellar Conversations. Hi, Emma, how are you?

Emma Dempsey  01:07

Hi, I’m good. I’m cold, but it’s nice to be here.

Jo Taylor  01:10

Brilliant. What would be great to start with is to know a little bit more about Stellar Conversations, and how potential plays a part in your business.

Emma Dempsey  01:18

Yeah, nice question. So well, Stellar Conversations is a training provider, a training school. We work with organisations and for people who work with people, training them in coaching skills to have better conversations. And I guess the role of potential there is, often these better conversations or these great conversations that we can have using coaching skills, really can tap into people’s potential and highlight potential, nurture potential. And yeah, do that in a really kind of person-centred or thinker-centred way. So yeah, it really ties in well, I guess.

Jo Taylor  01:55

So how does coaching activate someone’s self awareness around their potential?

Emma Dempsey  02:01

Yeah, well, I think coaching conversations, they activate that self awareness by being really led by the person who is being coached. So I would call that person the thinker. So having these really “thinker-led” conversations allows the thinker the time and space to just be really present with themselves, to get to know themselves, to think about what it is that they want from work or from life. And part of that, or wrapped up in that, is actually thinking about their own capacity and capabilities and what they are capable of. And yeah, it’s also a journey, I would say. A kind of – well, not kind of – it is a journey of empowerment. And yeah, I really believe that coaching conversations really tap into our power and our agency as people. And again, that power and the agency is very much linked to potential depending on how you kind of see or view potential, I guess. So yeah, those coaching conversations and that time to really be heard and to really to explore what’s in your mind, what’s around you, what might be possible, is that time to become more self-aware and more intentional, I suppose about how you live your life. Yeah, how to be intentional about the way that you live and work.

Jo Taylor  03:18

You make a really good point about intention. Because when I’ve worked in organisations, it might be someone’s intention that they want to be the CEO, but they may not have the potential to move to be the next CEO. How does intention be a kind of blessing and a curse in giving people confidence and self awareness, but also the reality may be that their potential may be slightly different than what they think it would be?

Emma Dempsey  03:45

Yeah, I mean, I think having a plan is crucial in that piece about being intentional, setting ourselves an outcome or a goal and really trying to achieve it. And that’s like our individual kind of potential of, of making that happen. But I don’t think it exists, like, on its own. We also exist in systems and lives, and yeah, those things can also impact us and impact, I suppose our potential, and the goals or the outcomes that we set ourselves. And we’re all at different starting positions, you know, and we all as I say, are part of these different systems. And sometimes those systems can really propel us forward and help us get to those goals or those outcomes or those things that we set ourselves. But sometimes they can really held us back and oppress us, you know. We know about systems of oppression and how they impact potential. So yeah, it feels like there’s a big answer in there, but it’s a big topic. I hope I’ve answered it in some way.

Jo Taylor  04:41

I think what you’re talking about is ultimately having autonomy. And I think sometimes when I’ve worked in corporate, before I set up LTT, I felt that some of my autonomy or some of my power for control over my career was perhaps in the hands of someone else. And what I like about this question of potential is that the power and the autonomy, and the mindfulness, drives the intent.

Emma Dempsey  05:07

Yeah. And that self awareness, and I really hear what you’re saying there. And I know when I was working for an organisation, I wasn’t able to reach my potential and to live the kind of life that I wanted to live, whilst I worked there. And so actually, I had to leave in order to do that. So again, that’s thinking about the systems or the things that we’re a part of, and possibly creating change around those things in order to create the change for ourselves.

Jo Taylor  05:33

So how much does confidence and resilience play a part in someone unlocking their potential?

Emma Dempsey  05:39

Confidence for me is that idea of self-belief, so it’s not necessarily about feeling 100% confident all the time. And you know, being really gung ho about something. For me, it’s more of a quieter thing. It’s about the kind of… yeah, the self belief, the inner voice going “well, do you know what, you’ve got this”, even when those days feel difficult, or time feels difficult: you’ve got this. And for me, absolutely, that is tied to potential and that idea of self belief. Do you believe in yourself enough in order to make this stuff happen? And this is what I see in coaching conversations as well. And those conversations that we can have can really drive that self belief, or really harness that self belief, which can then go on to create the change to tap into potential, or reach potential. But yeah, good question. I think they’re really tied. And I know that often I’ll say to people that I’m working with like, the things that have allowed me to create the changes that I wanted to create in my own life, and with my business and stuff, it was going back to that self belief, the absolute belief that I could do it, not the belief that it will be easy, or you know, the belief that it will be quick, but the belief that yeah, you can do this because we are capable, resourceful beings.

Jo Taylor  06:50

That makes a lot of sense and, as you say, that self belief and self awareness plays a big part in how you turn up, you know, how you turn up on this podcast, or how you turn up for your kids or, you know, in life in general. But when did you start to get interested in unlocking people’s potential? What drove you to set up your business?

Emma Dempsey  07:11

Well, quite a big couple of things happened in my life, in my personal life. And that really, I suppose, were a catalyst for me kind of waking up and thinking about how do I want to live my own life. And then as part of that, I went to see a coach and had this amazing transformational “lightbulb moment” conversation. So often, people come to coaching in that way. And I came out of that session just going, my goodness, that was amazing, and I could do that thing. And yeah, pretty much a couple of weeks later, I started my training in coaching. And I think really, actually, it was from even just when I was a coach in training, and the conversations that I was having with people, and seeing like what people got from this conversation is just like slowing up a bit and exploring and seeing them think about their own potential and what they are capable of, and the lives that they were living. That just really inspired me. I wanted to do more and more of that. And I worked in an environment that yeah, didn’t necessarily align with that, I guess. Its kind of key objectives and things absolutely did, but yeah, ultimately, the way it was run didn’t. So yeah, I left and set up my business, which was very much working freelance as a coach/trainer, and also doing coaching. And it was only a couple of years ago that I set up Stellar Conversations to bring it into organisations to think about the conversations that we’re having. So yeah, not just for professional coaches, but for people; people who work with people to have better conversations.

Jo Taylor  08:45

So if you were coaching a manager, and they’re sitting down with a member of their team at end of year review, or they, you know, having a really great career conversation, what are the tips that you would tell a manager to look for, but also to say, to enable that conversation to be better, so that both kind of win and that someone comes out not only knowing what they need to do, but how they might need to do it?

Emma Dempsey  09:10

Yeah, I mean, in the kind of context of contracting – that’s a term we use for establishing that conversation – I would say to the manager, like checking in with that person that you’re having a conversation with. First of all, what do they want from the conversation? So it’s not just about what the manager wants, but actually, what do they both want? And what do they want to be different by the end of the conversation? How do they want to feel when they’re leaving the conversation when they’ve already had that? Always around listening, like how do we actually listen to what is being said, and we’re not just reacting to what we’re hearing we’re actually listening. Depending on the kind of conversation that it is like to be really thinker-led, so you know, the manager might be facilitating the conversation, but the person that – if it’s coaching conversation – the person that is being coached is really kind of leading that conversation. When you ask that question, are you also asking about potential – how to tap into the potential in the meeting?

Jo Taylor  10:11

Yeah. Because a lot of the time managers really focus on performance, don’t they? They just have an objective and they go, you’ve met it, you know, I’m gonna give you a three or four or whatever – they are thinking about the ratings. But very rarely do you see managers focus on potential. So how could a manager or even a leader start to have that nuanced conversation around potential?

Emma Dempsey  10:34

So I would again ask the person – so the manager can ask the person who they’re in that discussion with: what does potential mean to them? What do they see as not necessarily reaching full potential, but moving towards that, what would be a really great way for them to tap into their potential or to use that potential in that organisation, so that they were aligned to their values, excited by their work, growing in the organisation, asking the person because, you know, we might see potential in others or we might think we see what they want to do or what they need to do, but actually, it’s the person ultimately, who has the answers. So really working with the manager to kind of extract that I suppose, from the person that they’re in conversation with. And what it means like, you know, that means different things to different people in the context of the organisation.

Jo Taylor  11:25

So when did you realise your potential? Do you say you feel you have realised your potential?

Emma Dempsey  11:31

Have I realised my potential? I think it kind of varies on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes I feel like: absolutely! Other days, you know, I don’t feel like that in that particular moment. It’s interesting when I was thinking about this reflecting on potential, before we had this conversation, and I was thinking about the last kind of five years and in terms of, I suppose, my business and leaving my job and being on this real trajectory of potential. But actually, this last year, I’ve had some personal stuff going on. And so it’s been more about pausing and managing than this kind of self development, work development, growth. And actually, that’s okay, too. You know, it’s not about this excelling forward all the time. Sometimes it’s about pausing, reconnecting, for me, it’s about transitioning some of the stuff that I’m doing. And so yeah, I don’t think we ever reach our full potential. I think in life, we continuously grow. And some of us might grow more passively than others. But it’s a continuous journey. And it shifts and changes. Maybe if you’d asked me three years ago what I thought my potential was, or what what it was that I wanted to tap into, that might be very different to the answer that I give you today. So it feels like it’s something that evolves, maybe.

Jo Taylor  12:48

I think that’s right. I think a lot of people get potential mixed up with success. Am I being successful? You know, you touched on it in terms of growth, or you’re pushing, and actually to reach your potential maybe to just have that balance.

Emma Dempsey  13:03

Yeah. I love that. Absolutely. And it was funny, because I looked up the dictionary definition of potential, just out of interest, and it was “having or showing the capacity to develop into something in the future”, which I quite liked. But it was also the ‘future’ piece. But actually, can we tap into our potential in the present? But also words that were coming up when I was looking around it were ‘success’, ‘achieve’, ‘develop’, which I thought was interesting. And it’s again, that thing that I said earlier, like sometimes that word ‘potential’ can be received differently. I know when I was at school, for example, it was something that was… it didn’t feel positive, you know. You’re not reaching your potential, you’re not reaching your potential. Kind of almost like a stick, do you know? So yeah, that’s really interesting.

Jo Taylor  13:46

I think it’s like the… it’s an old world, isn’t it… that we think we’re reaching our potential by qualifications, for example. And that’s what school kind of drums into you. But some of the most highly successful people, if you judge potential in that way, have you know, left school at 16, have lived their life in a much more entrepreneurial sort of maverick way. I suppose it’s the three Ps for me: the role that potential plays in driving your purpose, and ultimately driving your passion. And the three together are all very unique. That’s what I’m taking from this conversation.

Emma Dempsey  14:19

Yeah, I really like that. And it’s interesting, my son, my eldest son, is at that age of doing exams and leaving school and speaking about, like, what success, you know, might mean, and he’s quite stressed. And he doesn’t know what he wants to do, or doesn’t know what he wants to be. But actually, like going back to that thing that you said, it’s like, you know, how do you want to live your life? And what might you need to do to allow that to happen? Like how do you want to feel on a daily basis?

Jo Taylor  14:45

I think that never changes. You know, I think back to a conversation this morning, and someone was on our associate call and one of the guys was looking back and saying what did you achieve in 2022? And he said: I thought I was too old to walk up this mountain in Bali. And I turned around and said: you’re never too old to do anything, right? And he said to me, I still feel 20. And he’s in his 60s. That feeling is – drives – for me the conversation around potential because we unlock our potential in so many different ways, personally and professionally. But ultimately turning up and being our true self is a manifestation of that.

Emma Dempsey  15:25

Yeah, I love that. It’s interesting that question as well, you know, what did you achieve in 2022? And so often we go to the kind of the task-y things, but actually, those feelings are those things that we did well, that we might not actually notice even, until we reflect on it afterwards.

Jo Taylor  15:41

Yeah, I said today that, you know, I woke up on New Year’s Day of this year, wanting this year to be different, because I lost my husband the year before. And I wanted to feel, in year two, happier. That was my sort of manifestation and I don’t set objectives. And I look back at the year and that’s what I shared this morning is that I look back and I go, I’m a different person than I was on January 1st and now I’m, you know, 13th of December. And that, for me is realising my potential in a very different way, then what number I hit in terms of the business, how many people I’ve hired this year, what we’ve done, the work. I think we should be equally proud of being able to turn up and be our true selves.

Emma Dempsey  16:24

Absolutely. I love that. Absolutely. My big overriding goal for 2022 was actually to create more headspace. So that can be a marker in other people’s kind of success. You know, but for me, actually, just creating more headspace was a big one that I think I’ve managed to do, maybe not as well as I’ll do it in 2023. But yeah.

Jo Taylor  16:47

Well, it goes back to you saying we’re all a work in progress, right? You know, and that’s where I think sometimes when we get obsessed about success and potential, we forget, and we sweat the small stuff of what we haven’t done, but actually turning that question around and saying: what made you smile in 2022, is a completely different question to: what was your proudest moment, or what was your success? You know, back to your point about language and how that plays a role in the environment, the people that we live with, the people that we work with. It sets unrealistic expectations on ourselves. We never live up to it, in my view. If people want to kind of know more about Stellar Conversations and the work that you do, how can people get in contact with you?

Emma Dempsey  17:27

They can get in touch with us through And also we are Have Stellar Conversations on LinkedIn. And I’m on LinkedIn as Emma Dempsey, my name, and they are our main channels. And you can also email at [email protected].

Jo Taylor  17:44

So Emma, final question from me. When you think about things that you’re reading or listening to, I know you’ve done podcasts in the past – what are some of your favourite areas, or books, or podcasts that you could inspire our listeners to listen to, or read, or take note of?

Emma Dempsey  18:03

A book came to mind; so for me Tara Mohr, who’s an American author and coach, I think she’s a coach and facilitator, and her book “Playing Big”. Do you know that book? Yeah, really great book. It’s aimed at women or people who identify as women. But actually, I recommend that to all genders, kind of tuning into who we are, thinking about the kind of narratives that we hold and how they shape the lives that we live, and just really kind of going back to that tapping into who we are and what it is that we want to live our best life. So yeah, I recommend that book. Tara Mohr, Playing Big.

Jo Taylor  18:37

Brilliant, thank you so much for being part of the Potential for What podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. And I wish you well in driving Stellar Conversations forward.

Emma Dempsey  18:47

Thank you very much, and thank you for having me.

Jo Taylor  18:52

Thanks for listening to the Potential for What podcast. If you’re hearing this message, you’ve listened to our new episode all the way to the end. And for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Please share this episode with others who may be interested in this topic. As always, you can head over to to check out all the links and resources in the show notes, and to sign up to our email list.