Updated: Jan 16
Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Dr. Margie Warrell, Senior Partner @Korn Ferry
How could you describe your career path ?
Anything but linear! I grew up on a farm in rural Australia with very limited sense of what was possible. Just going to college (the first in my family) was a brave/uncomfortable step into the unknown. Yet it characterized my career journey ever since. After graduating with a business degree, backpacked around the world before beginning my career in corporate marketing. A few years in, I dabbled with a side gig consulting in adventure travel industry before returning to study psychology in my late 20s. That wasn’t a logical career step, but I simply felt drawn toward a new path helping people to live into their potential and viewed our mindset as fundamental to success in any field.
Then between finishing my studies, starting a family and moving country (twice – Papua New Guinea> Australia>USA), I launched a coaching business. But what started with a vision to become an executive/life coach eventually led me onto stages as a keynote speaker, to writing books, and sharing my insights on television. Then as I approached fifty, I decided to take on a PhD (it was a little impulsive but I’m glad I did it!). Then, most recently, and totally out of the blue, I took up the opportunity to join Korn Ferry where I get to support some of the world’s top CEO’s and leaders. ÷
While my 20-year-old self could not have imagined in my wildest dreams the life and career journey I’ve travelled, the thread that weaves through each chapter has been a willingness to put myself ‘out there’ and move toward what gave me energy, even when I wasn’t sure what I was doing (I’m still not sure!). Sometimes I’ve landed on my feet, sometimes I’ve fallen short. A few times I’ve face planted. But at all times, I’ve been open to learning new lessons, viewing failures as feedback, and always moving forward, open to new opportunities to learn and grow and use my gifts for good.
What was your most challenging experience and how did it change your mindset?
It’s hard to pinpoint my ‘most’ challenging experience. There’ve been many times I’ve been brought to my knees. Perhaps one of the most significant was in my 20’s, which I shared in my TEDx Talk on “How To Be Brave” , when I found myself in a violent armed robbery and then, soon after, lost my first baby at 5 months pregnant. It rocked my world at the time. But as I
picked myself back up, I became very clear that I did not want to see myself as a victim or have others see me that way and to find something positive from the experience. Which I did. While I’ve had some career challenges, they’ve paled in contrast to personal challenges such as losing my youngest brother to mental illness or my oldest brother being in an accident that left him with paraplegia. I could go on, but my key point is how important it is to take full responsibility for our lives. We can never control our circumstances, but we must always take full ownership for how we respond to them. Time and time again, I’ve found that the toughest experiences we think are ruining our path are really just revealing it.
When you get surprised by unusual or uncertain situations, what do you think?
I’m a naturally both an optimistic and curious person so when something happens that surprises me (which is less and less as time goes by), I immediately find myself “sitting with the questions” – mining whatever nuggets of learning it holds and how I might find good within it. I believe that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us. We have to be willing to look for the lessons, to let go our attachment to how we think life ‘should be’ and to the opportunity that always lays hidden in our setbacks and struggles.
Based on your experience, what are the key success factor for a female leader?
Having worked with female leaders now for over twenty years, I’ve found that women tend to doubt themselves more and back themselves less than me. So, a key success factor for professional women is to be willing to back themselves – to step up to challenges and opportunities before they feel fully ready, to own the unique value they bring and not to wait for others to see them as a leader before they start acting like one. The gender confidence gap is well established. Yet as I wrote in my book You’ve Got This!, closing that gap requires tapping into our courage and daring to do the very things we’re afraid to do – to defy our doubts and put ourselves ‘out there.’ I’ve yet to meet a successful female leader who hasn’t spent a lot of time outside her comfort zone. As I learnt growing up on a farm, growth and comfort can’t ride the same horse.
What would you like your legacy to be?
It may not always look like it from the outside, but I’ve spent much of my life defying a little voice in my head that was constantly saying to me “Who do you think you are to do that?” So while I know my ego is forever in the background, I hope that one distant day I might be remembered as someone who had the guts to show up fully for life, who championed other women to heed whatever tugged on their own hearts, and who role modelled the courage required for each of us to live the biggest life we are each capable of living, doing our unique part to create a kinder, more equitable and loving world.