Emilie Wapnick

Executive women challenging the C-suite to embrace "yes and" thinking

Last week I emceed the Aventage Women in Leadership Summit in Brisbane. The line up of speakers was great - a veritable smorgasbord of who's who in Queensland business and government - CEOs, CFOs, Directors and COOs.

As always, there were a couple of standout performances including two women from the defence force whose stories were enough to make your toes curl - and almost want to make you sign up to be a pilot in the airforce! I hear they are recruiting.

And delegates weren't afraid to ask curly questions of the panelists and speakers.  (For those looking to increase your visibility in industry - asking questions from the floor is a great first step. Then getting on the panel circuit is the next step. Pop me a note to learn more...  )


Targets and quotas vs cultural change
One of the issues that came up time and time again was the topic of quotas. Should we implement quotas and targets to help us achieve gender balance?

Interestingly, most of the female speakers and panelists saw them as an important tool to redress the balance, implemented for a period of time. The biggest opponents of targets and quotas were the male business leaders - some of whom were Male Champions of Change. Nearly every single one said they'd rather use cultural change to effect change.

Fair enough. No-one would dispute the benefits of cultural change and to quote Peter Drucker:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

But even in the Peter Drucker world, the debate goes on to qualify that you don't want to disconnect the two. Cultural change can, and should, be linked intimately with strategy.

So here's a radical thought - why don't we implement cultural change PLUS quotas and targets?

  • Why does it have to be either/or?
  • Why can't it be yes/and?
  • Surely a combined approach would deliver better benefits far faster?

Dualistic thinking
Most of us tend to think dualistically:

  • Either/or,
  • Good or bad,
  • Black or white,
  • This method, or that method, or even ..,
  • This year we'll go on the cruise of our dreams or we go to the retreat in Bali.

This old school type of thinking comes from the rigour of scientific experiments where we eliminate one method before we test another in order to work out which is most effective.  It also driven by scarcity thinking where we think we should only have the luxury of one option at a time.

A more contemporary approach (thanks Ros) would be to implement a "yes and" approach, where we try a range of methods, all at once.

Obviously this would mean we might not be sure which part of the program worked:

  • Was it the targets or quotas?
  • Was it the cultural change program?
  • Was it something else entirely?

But who cares?  We now have mountains of evidence and research backing up the business case for diversity.  Organisations are leaving money on the table by going slow on diversity measures. Surely organisations and governments should be using a range of mechanisms to bring balance into workplaces - and not one or the other?  

"Yes and" thinking and your career

"Yes and" thinking can be applied in a range of situations. With the rise of popularity of people owning up to be multipotentialites "yes and" thinking is incredibly liberating. To quote Emilie Wapnik on TED, a multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do.

Some of my clients get really excited about the possibilities that "yes and" thinking brings up for them as well as they head toward a world of the portfolio career.

I'm sure that there are organisations out there who have seen the light and are implementing multi pronged "yes/and" type approaches, and if yours is, I'd love to hear.

I'm even sure that most of us would benefit from laying a "yes and" lens across a range of areas of our lives, and finding options that make it more fulfilling as well.

Let's ditch professional silos and competition between business units and embrace a smorgasbord of inclusive thinking, collaborative problem solving and cross functional, holistic, change management instead. After all - individuals and organisations who do are going to be relevant far longer than those who don't.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Drop me an email and get in contact.

Vive la révolution!
#ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition #careerfutureproofing #visibility


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Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months

Three more TED talks to help you think about your performance & career differently

Here are some great TED resources that will help you with the following problems:

  • Not sure if you actually love your work any more?  Perhaps your why is actually a "why bother" at the moment?
  • You get really nervous before presentations, job interviews or appearing on Q&A style adversarial panel discussions
  • You feel pressured to settle on one thing, but keep creating new career ideas and options - formerly known as a Renaissance woman or polymath


Simon Sinek
How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Simon Sinek is a marketer so he knows a thing or two about inspiring action. He talks about the golden circle - of why, how and what, with why being the most important - and how important and influential that is in leadership.

When you think about it purely from a leadership perspective - great leaders create change and inspire follower-ship. They don’t tell people how to do things, they tell them why they should do things and only then what it is they need to do. Pure and simple - this is strategic. Focus on the why, then the what, then leave the team to work out how to execute.  

Your ability to define your why is what makes you a credible expert, it’s what draws people to your ideas and it’s what will help get you out of bed, determined to do good work, despite setbacks, criticism and tough times. It makes you resilient, focused and determined. It’s a powerful catalyst for ambition.

When we work hard towards something we believe in, it’s called passion. When we work hard towards something we don’t believe in, it’s called stress.
— Simon Sinek

This process of focusing on the why is powerful - and when you can define your why really clearly it makes it really easy to follow you.  Simon even has a process to help explain how to find your why which is great for a business, but I reckon it could be good for an individual too.

Ideal for anyone trying to find their own why as anyone wanting to influence others. Why not apply the same principles to your work, your career or those Boards and committees you sit on?


Amy Cuddy
Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

I think this talk would be better named as Your Body Language Shapes How you Behave.  We’ve all known for years that our body language was a form of “tell”. It gives away how we are feeling I.e. folding your arms across your body makes us look as though we are defensive or hiding something, hands on hips is seen as more confident and the list goes on.
Well this is actually a chick and egg scenario - where researchers are examining which comes first.
It’s a it like the research on smiling where it turns out that smiling, even if you aren’t happy, triggers a happiness response in you. Yep, that’s right, smiling makes you feel happy! Go figure.
So Harvard Physchologist, Amy Cuddy, has taken this sphere of research one step further with an examination of how posture and poses that are traditionally confident might not just look confident gut also have an active component and trigger confidence.
In fact, in a nutshell - some poses such as standing with your hands on your hips, hands behind your head, typically seen as masculine confidence poses actually trigger a chemical cascade in your body that actually do make you feel more confident and calm.
She and her team looked at a range of poses and noted that when people sat or stood in these “power poses” their testosterone (the dominance hormone that triggers decisiveness, action and risk taking) increased by 20% and their cortisol levels (stress hormones) decreased by 25%.
And the reverse is true as well - stand in a low power pose and your testosterone drops and your cortisol decreases.  
This is critical for women in business where confidence, dominance and the appearance of confidence is such an influential issue when heading into the leadership arena.

“Don’t fake it til you make it, fake it til you become it”
— Amy Cuddy

Sit up straight sunshine!   Change your body, change your mind.

Essential viewing for all teenagers, university graduates and anyone faced with a presentation or job interview.

Emilie Wapnick
Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling

If you’re (still) struggling with that question of what it is you want to be when you grow up, and you’re beyond 25 years old then never fear.  Maybe you are actually normal. In fact, as we are seeing with Generation Y and Millennials - it’s likely they will have multiple careers over the span of a life time with the knowledge and understanding that skills are transferable and mindset is flexible. You can be, do or achieve anything you really set your mind to.  Plus most of the roles our younger generation will be doing in 10 years time, haven't even been thought of yet, so this is a good thing.

Emilie addresses the issue of people who are good at many things - the "multipotentialite", and as one such person myself I felt immediately at home with her talk.  For most of my working career I’ve found things that I could do that interested my intellect (and paid the bills) then other things I could do as well, that helped me create a more rounded professional life.

  • Designing educational training produces plus teaching aerobics
  • Running associations plus teaching yoga

I've also made several significant career jumps, transitioning from one industry to another with relative ease. I do have one proviso though - I've thought, perhaps unnecessarily, that I had it wrong. But maybe not, according to Emilie.

Multipotentialite — those of us with many interests, many jobs over a lifetime, and many interlocking potentials.
— Emilie Wapnick

Possibly because our parents and their parents careers tended to be far more linear and long lived, we have the tendency to devalue the other interests that we have on the side.  Yet those other things we do are frequently the things that feed the soul, feed a passion or keep us sane.

So if you have had multiple roles and found yourself to be great at several if not all of them, never fear, this is simply a new way of looking at work. The future of work is likely to be far more malleable and flexible as we move away from traditional technical roles which could possibly be outsourced or taken over by machines.

If you liked this article and are looking for more resources check out the links below

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  • Step Up, Speak Out, Take Charge - due out mid 2016! 
  • I work one on one with smart 'n savvy women to keep them agile, ambitious and focused on making a difference.
  • I work with organisations who are working on empowering women into leadership roles.
  • Email ablesing@amandablesing.com or call 0425780336 for a confidential one on one meeting to find out more.
Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months