You may spend a lot of time on your physical flexibility, but emotional flexibility is just as crucial in order to achieve the success you want in your career.

When I went to the Australian Open this year, I found it inspiring to see top seeded players like Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray move about the court. Their strength, their speed, their agility, their determination, their sheer endurance… particularly in the blazing heat that has enveloped Melbourne during this year’s Open.

One thing that has always struck me about the world’s top tennis players (and frankly, all top athletes) is their masterful repertoire of strokes and manoeuvres. Not only do they serve brilliantly, but they must also slice, smash, lob and volley brilliantly. Sure, they each still have their favourite shots, those they can execute better than any other player – Serena Williams’s power serve or Roger Federer’s one-handed backhand, for instance – but they know that a brilliant backhand or killer serve isn’t enough. To be competitive on centre court against their top-ranked opponents, they have to be strong across the board.

While most of us don’t aspire to being professional tennis player (I decided after last year’s Open to cross it off my list), the same principle applies to winning in the bigger game of life. The more options you can draw from in how you respond to the curve balls that come your way, the better outcomes you will ultimately create.

Indulge me for a moment if you will. Try crossing your arms right now as you read these words. Then try crossing them the opposite way. Harder than you thought, isn’t it? We’re all wired with automatic reflexes, responses and decision-making strategies when faced with seemingly familiar information or stimuli. This enables us to be more efficient. However, you can become too reliant on the same ways of responding.Responding with flexibility and agility in our rapidly changing world requires an ongoing trade-off between your naturally preferred way of responding to a challenge and a way that isn’t as easy or comfortable

We all have our default style and approach of getting things done, solving problems and adapting to new circumstances. Responding with flexibility and agility in our rapidly changing world requires an ongoing trade-off between your naturally preferred way of responding to a challenge and a way that isn’t as easy or comfortable. As I wrote in Stop Playing Safe, “For every strength you possess, there’s an opposite strength or trait that balances it out. But if you always approach your problems and challenges in the same default way, you won’t always approach them in the best way.” Sometimes you will respond to them outright ineffectively. Agility and flexibility is the name of the game.

Read through the list below and take note of the way you tend to respond to the changes and challenges in your life. What is your default preference? Consider how responding with its counter opposite may, on occasion, be more helpful to you, enabling you to be far more effective in achieving the result you want. Just because one way of approaching things has generally worked for you in the past, doesn’t mean it will work for you now. Responding well to change requires pulling from the full spectrum of emotional and mental alternatives.

• self-starting—self-stopping
• critical—accepting
• nice – firm
• sensitive—tough
• initiating—following
• forceful—gentle
• cautious—bold
• structured—unstructured
• task oriented—relationship oriented
• outgoing—introspective
• planned—spontaneous
• impulsive—thorough
• compliant—non-compliant
• serious—playful
• creative—analytical.

Just as there is not just one way for Li Na to respond to the serve of Serena Williams , there is not just one way for you to respond to your challenges and opportunities alike. There are many. It’s just that some will produce far better results than others. So the greater number of options you can draw from, the better your chances of producing an optimal outcome versus an ordinary one.

Look at the most successful women you know and you’ll notice that when it comes to change and challenges, they aren’t stuck with a single default way of handing it. So, if you’re feeling some grief right now, while it’s comfortable to approach your challenges in the same way you have done so many times in the past, if you’re finding yourself with a recurring challenge, consider how approaching it in a different (albeit less comfortable and familiar way) way may produce a better outcome, open better up opportunities and ultimately, help you get ahead with less angst and more fulfilment.

To check out Margie’s short video about how to handle change better, visit

photo credit: Len Radin via photopin cc

Margie Warrell
MargieWarrell-670HighResolutionMargie is an internationally bestselling author of Find Your Courage (McGraw-Hill) and Stop Playing Safe (Wiley) who draws on her background in business, psychology and coaching to help people live with greater clarity, confidence and courage. A mother of four, Margie specializes in helping women own their power to affect change – in work, love and life. Sign up for her free Live Boldly newsletter or learn more at


We’ve all heard it said: When a man pushes back on an argument he’s called assertive. When a woman does it, she’s called bossy. However, if you’re fear of being called bossy drives you to keep your mouth closed when you disagree with the status quo, then you will never grow the influence nor command the respect you want.

Of course, no-one likes a pushy person. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push back from time to time. In fact, if you don’t, your career will pay the price.

Speaking up to express an opinion that may go against the grain of consensus takes courage. You have to step out from the safety of your conversational “comfort zone” and make yourself vulnerable to criticism… if not worse. It explains why women, who are so finely tuned to other people’s emotions and good at building relationships, are so loathe to do anything that might disrupt them. It also explains why, too often, we opt for the path of least resistance – tip toeing gently around sensitive issues so as to avoid ruffling feather or cause upsets.Being someone others can rely on for a candid, even if not politically correct, opinion can open doors to opportunities that will never go to those without an original thought who choose the safe path for fear of ruffling feathers or rocking the boat

But here’s the deal – in today’s workplace where ‘Yes-men’ (and women) are all too plentiful, those who are willing to stick their neck out and question the status quo thinking not only add more value, but become more valuable to others. Sure, your boss or a colleague may not always agree with you. Some might think you’re being difficult. However, as I wrote in my latest book Stop Playing Safe “Being someone others can rely on for a candid, even if not politically correct, opinion can open doors to opportunities that will never go to those without an original thought who choose the safe path for fear of ruffling feathers or rocking the boat.”

When all you do is ‘go along to get along,’ you deprive others of the value your perspective holds. Everyone is worse off. So, while no-one likes someone who’s pushing their opinion down other’s throats, sometimes it’s important to speak up, and share what’s on your mind, lest groupthink prevail.

Try these 7 strategies to disagree without being disagreeable.

1. Distinguish position from person
Disagreeing can activate people’s defenses as you challenge their view of reality. It’s therefore important to distinguish the opinion that you are pushing back against from the person who holds it. Doing so will enable you to disagree in a way that others don’t feel is arrogant or righteous, but instead respects how they came to see things as they do, while offering an alternative perspective. What’s important is that people understand that you’re not pushing them back, but rather their position.

2. Offer a solution
Come armed with a recommended alternative solution. It’s easy to say, ‘I disagree,’ but it’s too so easy to develop, present and sell a different solution. If appropriate, consider enlisting a ‘co-conspirator’ who is trusted by the person you’re pushing back.

3. Back up your position
Prepare ahead with good examples that support your case. Since most people tend towards risk-averseness, demonstrating what others have done in similar situations may lessen others misgivings and alleviate their fears.

4. State the business case
Ground push back or disagreement in a business-related reason (a mutual concern). Opinion is important, but if people see that it’s a legitimate business concern that’s driving a concern or disagreement, then it takes personal judgment and personality out of the equation and keeps the conversation focused on the content.

5. Inquire before advocating
If there’s something you disagree with say, ‘I think I understand what you’re trying to say but help me with this aspect: I’m having trouble seeing how to get from here to there’. This moves you from advocating for your opinion to inquiring. By inquiring you’re better placed to turn the conversation back to your winning points.

6. Yes and…
Instead of saying ‘yes, but’ say ‘yes, and’. The former negates anything that came before it and seems combative. The latter creates an extended conversation that builds on ideas already expressed and invites further conversation to expand perspectives. For instance, “I hear what you’re saying and would like to ask if you have considered this…”

7. Concede defeat graciously
If you’re not going to win, be sensitive to when it’s time to give up the fight and accept defeat graciously without alienating yourself or damaging trust in your relationships. You’re then more likely to earn respect as someone with the courage to speak candidly yet respectfully.

Margie Warrell
A Forbes columnist, leadership coach, and bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe and Find Your Courage, Margie Warrell is passionate about supporting women to become stronger leaders and more powerful catalysts for change. An adventure traveller and the mother of four noisy children, her expertise has been sought by leading media internationally from the Wall Street Journal to Fox News. Margie is also a regular expert contributor on Sunrise. More information at

Women make great leaders. We are good listeners, naturally perceptive, highly compassionate and wonderful bridge builders. Women leaders who reach the highest levels of power have proven themselves time and time again at being incredibly effective at influencing change and delivering results. However we also know that there are still far too few women leaders sitting at the most senior decision making tables and that until there are more, not only will all our organisations fail to benefit from the value women bring to the decision making process, but so too will the communities those organisations impact around the world.

The growing awareness of the contribution women leaders bring to the business in terms of their bottom-line and within the broader economy, has seen a shift in the focus by policy makers and industry leaders alike. With greater clarity, decision makers are seeking to engage, retain and promote women into positions of greater influence – this is good news for women everywhere. But on it’s own, it’s insufficient to ensure that women contribute their full quota of value. It must be coupled with a shift in female mindset; one that has far more women seeing themselves not only as deserving of equal power as men but as capable of handling the pressure & responsibility that comes with it without reneging on family commitments. more women seeing themselves not only as deserving of equal power as men but as capable of handling the pressure & responsibility that comes with it without reneging on family commitments

Self Doubt

I recently had the honour of speaking at a women’s leadership summit in Shanghai where I got to meet many talented women from around the globe. Women aspiring to do more, be more and lead more. Women who also sometimes doubt whether they can. Of course self-doubt and fear of ‘not being enough’ is not limited to women in any particular geographic area, culture or age group. Not even to education or socio-economic status. While how much comes from our environment is open to debate, one thing I am sure of is that women tend to underestimate, second-guess and doubt themselves more than the men we share our lives with. This is not a criticism of men. Rather it’s an invitation to women to trust themselves more deeply that they are more capable than they think and every bit as worthy of influence, success and power as any man.

There are still many external hurdles we women have to scale to climb higher our careers, and contribute the full quota of gender diversity to the top level decisions. I truly believe that the biggest hurdles women face exist inside our own heads – our fears of failing, our aversion to risk and our tendency to underestimate our ability to handle it. Scaling these hurdles isn’t easy. It takes courage to question the beliefs that have guided our choices and limited our horizons, challenge the status quo in our world, and dare to become more not less.

Below are 7 acts of courage for women:

# 1. Lead from within

All leadership begins from within and extends outward. Likewise, no one will see you as a leader until you see yourself as one. Nor will people fully value your skill, expertise, time and potential, unless you do. The truth is that no one on this planet has the same combination of talent, skill, passion, and personal and professional experience as you do. That means, that there are things you can do that no one else can…. Not quite the same as you. Don’t sell yourself short by second-guessing the value you bring or doubting your ability to lead yourself and others to greater heights of success.

#2. Unleash your ambition

We have to think bigger before we can be bigger. Too often though we set our sights too low, aiming only for what we think we have a good chance at achieving, rather than what really lights us up. Experience has shown me that we aspire toward ambitions where we have some innate talent to achieve. While unleashing your ambition (imagination and passion) from the fears that tether it can be daunting, it can also set you on a path toward whole new possibilities and opportunities you had never imagined.We have to think bigger before we can be bigger. Too often though we set our sights too low, aiming only for what we think we have a good chance at achieving

#3. Speak candidly (even if it rocks the boat)

Women are great at nurturing relationships but we’re often loathe saying anything that might jeopardize them. However, when you withhold your opinion and tip-toe around sensitive issues, you limit your value. Don’t let your fear of rocking the boat keep you from challenging the consensus thinking. Some boats are in desperate need of rocking.

Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation said to me when I interviewed her for my latest book Stop Playing Safe, ‘Whatever your career, you have to be willing to take risks, to speak up and to push back when you don’t agree with what others are thinking.’

You build influence, grow trust and add value to one conversation at a time. Playing it safe in your conversations deprives you and everyone else of the full value you bring. So don’t let your desire to be liked, keep you from putting forth opinions that needs to be heard. When all you do is try to fit in, ‘people-please’ and keep the peace, you negate the difference your difference can make.

#4. Advocate for yourself

Many people wrongly equate blowing their trumpet with conceit. It’s not. In today’s workplace, it’s crucial. While being a quiet achiever is admirable, if you think that working your tail off and collecting realms of gold stars is your ticket to advancing, you may well end up being left behind, burnt out and bitter. Sure doing a great job is vital, but if decision makers aren’t aware of what you’ve done, what you’re capable of doing, and what you’d really like to do in the future, then you may well miss out on opportunities that get laid at the feet of those who aren’t shy in promoting their value in the right way and time. So lay false humility aside. Advocating for yourself isn’t about proving superiority or stroking a needy ego; it’s about letting the people who can help you add more value, do just that. After all, the more people who know what you want, the more who can help you get it.

#5. Make audacious requests (Yes, “Nice girls” do ask!)

People aren’t mind readers and expecting your boss (or your husband or business partner) to know what you want will prove both futile and frustrating. If there’s something you want, you’ve got to be willing to ask for it. While doing so doesn’t guarantee you will get it, not asking generally guarantees you won’t. Worst case scenario is that you’re no worse off than before you asked but at least now you know where things stand.

#6. Refuse to tolerate the intolerable

Over the years many women have complained to me that they feel undervalued, overlooked, or undermined (and not just by men.) Most of the time when I’ve inquired what they’ve done to address the situation they confide they have done nothing. But here’s the deal: if you want to be taken seriously, respected widely and valued fully, you have to be willing to stand up for yourself, teach people how you expect to be treated and refuse to cower to those who seek to intimidate you.

It’s a general rule of life that you ‘Get what you tolerate.’ Unfortunately though, many women tolerate behavior and circumstances that many men never would. If you tolerate someone over-stepping your boundaries, making snide remarks or over-looking you for opportunities, you can likely expect more of the same. While you may not have done anything to warrant such behavior, by not making a very clear stand for what you will, and will not tolerate, you become complicit in your own misery.

#7. Lean towards risk

While researching Stop Playing Safe, Maria Eitel, CEO of Nike Foundation shared with me, “Coming from a position of fear, of not succeeding, losing your job or not being admired handicaps the potential of your career. I’ve never let fear of losing my job keep me from doing something I knew was the right thing to do.” Taking actions that put you at risk of failure, criticism, rejection, and even of losing your job, can be scary and emotionally uncomfortable. Yet, you cannot take on bigger challenges, grow your skills and confidence, or expand your leadership influence unless you’re willing to take such risks. And while losing your job may seem very dire, the courage it takes to put yourself in that position can actually earn you untold respect both within and outside your company.

Step outside the comfort zone

We cannot achieve what we’re capable of doing by staying safe and cozy in the familiarity of our comfort zone. The common thread that binds all the highly accomplished and powerful women I’ve had the privilege of meeting over the years is their willingness to take risks, to speak up and to take action in the presence of doubt and uncertainty, rather than stick to a safer path.

The world is hungry for more women to step up to the leadership plate and dare to do more, be more and give more. Only when we stop cowering to our fear and start owning the power that resides within each of us to affect change, can the millions of women currently living with little hope of education or opportunity ever exercise theirs. So you see, it’s not just our responsibility as women to become more courageous in how we live and lead; it’s our obligation.

Margie Warrell
Margie Warrell draws on her background in business, psychology, and leadership coaching to help women live and lead with greater courage. The bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe (Wiley 2013), and Find Your Courage (McGraw-Hill 2009), she is also the founder of Global Courage, a women’s leadership organisation and frequent keynote speaker. Connect with Margie on Twitter, Linked In, or join her Courage Community on Facebook, For more ‘courage-building’ resources and information, please visit