Using the Difficulty – How to Transform a Challenge into an Opportunity

Challenge: “A test of one’s abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking…” (

Challenges are everywhere.  They are an everyday occurrence in our working lives, whether it be a poor profit result, a problematic relationship with a colleague or difficulties in leading others through change.  Dealing with each one effectively is inextricably linked to developing as a leader.

The question is: What is the best way to deal with challenges as they arise, and how do we transform a difficult situation into an advantageous one?

I recently I came across an interview featuring iconic British Actor Sir Michael Caine which answers this question at its most fundamental core.

In the clip Sir Michael describes his personal philosophy on overcoming difficulties, which I believe can be universally applied to every ‘situation’.

Here is an excerpt from the clip:

“I opened the door and then rather lamely, 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 is never anything so bad where ‘using the difficulty’ can’t be applied, and that if we use it only a quarter of one percent to our advantage, then we’re ahead.

Use the Difficulty - the YouTube Clip, featuring Sir Michael Caine

Use the Difficulty – the YouTube Clip, featuring Sir Michael Caine.

I love the simplicity of this message, because although we may realise objectivity is an essential part of problem solving, a positive resolution is not always an easy one to find.


The next time you are faced with a challenge try ‘using the difficulty’.

Firstly, take a step back.  I know this isn’t easy throughout the constant chaotic flux of a ‘normal’ working day, but trust me – a few moments of uninterrupted reflection can make all the difference to the quality of your decisions.

If the issue approaches you head on, just be honest!  Say you need a few minutes to digest the information and formulate a response, people will appreciate your care and attention to the matter.

Finally, ask yourself what can I learn from this situation? Write down every positive outcome and possibility which could potentially arise as a result of the situation, from which fresh insights can be gained…and you’ll probably feel a lot lighter as well.

– Suzi


  1. Lauren Parsons on October 3, 2022 at 12:25 pm

    I love this analogy Suzi! It make me reflect on ‘using the difficulty’ of past (and present) situations in life and reflecting on the learnings from them. Such a vital skill (and not always easy!) Huge congratulations on achieving 10 years of your blog! Lauren

  2. Rita Serfontein on November 9, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Suzi Thank you SO much for sharing your blog with us. I have laughed, cried and cringed reading it. You have a special gift. I look forward to trying out new concepts on our wonderful team at Learning Land.

    • The Leader's Digest on November 12, 2012 at 7:04 am

      Hi Rita. Thanks so much for reading The Leader’s Digest and for your comments. I thought you would particularly like the ones where Sienna features – she certainly does!

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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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