Use the Difficulty: Why Michael Caine’s advice is perfect for leaders

Michael Caine is a badass.

Over the course of 50 odd years, this epic British actor has delivered one outstanding performance after another. A scene in Dark Knight Rising has got to be one of my all-time favourites (you can view it here).

But, it’s in the below interview where he shows his brilliance in yet another way – one that has relevance to you in your role as a leader.

In the interview, Sir Michael tells us that any time we are faced with a difficulty or problem, we can use it to our advantage. He uses the story of a misplaced chair in his rehearsal space to illustrate this, doing so with his typical wit and self-deprecating humour. It’s complete mindset brilliance.

Watch it now, it takes less than 2 minutes.

Here’s an excerpt where he illustrates the moment of epiphany:

“I opened the door, and I said to the producer who was sitting out in the stalls, ‘Well look, I can’t get in. There’s a chair in my way.’

He said, ‘Well, use the difficulty.’

So I said, ‘What do you mean, use the difficulty?’

He said, ‘Well, if it’s a drama, pick it up and smash it. If it’s a comedy, fall over it.’

This was a line for me for life: Always use the difficulty.”

Sir Michael goes on to say there’s never anything so bad where ‘using the difficulty’ can’t be applied. If we use it only a quarter of one percent to our advantage, then we’re ahead. We didn’t let it get us down.

No doubt you’ve faced difficulty in your role as a leader. Perhaps you’re facing the mother of all leadership headaches right now. So go on, allow yourself ‘a moment’ and give yourself a pity party.

But then brush yourself off, pick yourself up, give yourself a metaphorical hug and ask yourself the following five questions. In doing so, you’ll put into practice this “Use the Difficulty” mindset and you’ll become a badass – just like the MC.

  1. What’s this situation teaching me? What’s the useful lesson that I can glean from this scenario?
  2. If this was happening to a good friend of mine right now (instead of me), what advice would I give to him or her? This can provide some perspective to a situation that you might be too close to. Take a step back and have a look from the outside-in.
  3. How can I use this perceived disadvantage, set back or challenge to my advantage? Check out the brilliant book, A Beautiful Constraint: How to Turn Your Limitations into Advantages and Why its Everyone’s Business for more on how to do this.
  4. What’s good about this situation? Come up with at least five things.
  5. What can I do right now to move forward?

Although Sir Michael jokes his other philosophy is to avoid difficulties altogether, leaders are often faced with challenges on a daily basis. ‘Using the difficulty’ is a change in mindset that can turn a challenging situation into a positive experience for everyone.

Can you think of a situation in which you have ‘used the difficulty’? I would love to hear your experiences.



  1. Ezra Rono on September 9, 2023 at 9:12 pm

    It is a practical guide to help when going through a challenging situation. I have learned something that will help me whenever I face difficulties in life.

  2. Jason on June 14, 2023 at 1:10 am

    Having been rejected by a love interest for the third time in a row, (3 different women) this is the first thing I came across this morning and have been trying to apply the principle to my circumstances, but it’s challenging.

  3. Rajendra Kumar on February 11, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    Very thought provoking. I am now going through a ‘difficult ‘ phase but let me now see how to use that difficulty.


  4. Grant Costello on February 8, 2018 at 11:18 am

    The ‘Use the difficulty’ message is such a great one and one I use with my kids regularly. The challenges they share with me are regularly met with “so how can you turn this around and make something good out of it”. Not always achievable I know but it gets them thinking about THEIR role in solving issues. Winston Churchill made this great statement on teh subject “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

  5. Wani mushtaq on February 8, 2018 at 4:58 am

    Hi ,suzi :ofcourse a nice piece of advice and way out to confront challenges.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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