What does it mean to be courageous in business in 2020? And in a year like few others, how can people develop professional and personal resilience to deal with setbacks and challenges? The latest in the Building Resilience series of webinars explored these questions in more detail. Here are eight key talking points and insights from the event.
The ‘Building Resilience’ webinar series is aimed at young finance, accountancy and business professionals, students and One Young World Ambassadors. For this edition, entitled ‘courage in adversity’, presenters Lyle Malander and Mandy Muchnick introduced guest speakers Kate Robertson, the Co-Founder of One Young World, and Freeman Nomvalo, SAICA CEO and Chartered Accountants Worldwide Board Member. The webinar also featured a panel discussion with OYW ambassadors and Chartered Accountants Nathaniel Japhta, Dr. Mosima Mabunda, and Kalm Paul-Christian.
1. Courage recognises when change needs to happen
Courage in business is intrinsically related to change: recognising when it’s needed and being brave enough to take action to make the change happen. Freeman Nomvalo quoted the Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli who said: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
Change won’t always be successful, but that is why it’s important to try, particularly when a career is in its infancy.
“Experiment; you begin to try new things; you give yourself the opportunity to fail and make progress. But in order to do that, you need to train yourself while you still have an opportunity,” Freeman said. This process of experimentation builds the stamina for the change that will be needed as the world adapts to life after Covid-19, he added.
2. Be prepared to take risks
Kate Robertson considered the meaning of courage in business. While the word is often associated with whistleblowing, in a broader context she said it’s about looking at a situation and figuring out how to make it different or better. This introduces an element of risk, she said.
“Taking a risk in business quite often requires courage. There are some buccaneering entrepreneurs around the world who take enormous risks – think of Elon Musk – but for most people in business, courage emerges in a measured, careful form,” Kate said. “For all of us in business, there comes a question of: what risk do you need to face to make this difference; to make this big change? And that kind of courage is less an intellectual pursuit than a gut thing because you have to draw very deep.”
The next part of the webinar featured contributions of guest speakers and One Young World ambassadors who acquired the qualities of courage and resilience through facing adversity.
3. Be ready to make tough choices in difficult moments
Nathaniel Japhta recalled how he faced a difficult moment that tested his courage early in life. He grew up in a difficult, under-resourced neighbourhood in South Africa. As he travelled to sit his final pre-university exam, he was held up at gunpoint. He faced a crucial decision: he could turn back – which would have been understandable after the shock of the incident – or keep going. He chose to keep going, sat his exam, and qualified for university.
4. Recognise opportunities for change
Nathaniel remembered that, even after being accepted into university, he found it was a difficult environment where he didn’t fit in. This experience also shaped him. “I searched for two years to find someone like me and then I realised, I needed to become that person for other people… and that’s who I try and be now,” he said. Nathaniel subsequently founded Pro 226 Africa, an organisation active on the Cape Flats that tackles social and education problems by linking corporate individuals and university students to under-performing schools.
5. Your limits aren’t always your true measure
Dr. Mosima Mabunda faced multiple challenges in one at the start of her career. Newly relocated to London with her husband, she needed to find the capital to fund her study for an MBA at Oxford University, while seven months pregnant with her first child. Even after giving birth, she combined her studies with working as a locum in a hospital ward which meant long hours away from her young son.
Despite these difficulties, Dr Mosima said she was grateful for the experience now because it taught her that she was able to do more than she had thought she was able to. “I took from that experience that you have more capacity than you realise. Sometimes it takes being pushed against a wall to make you realise that … what looks like a closed door or a wall is actually a growth opportunity; it’s an opportunity for you to show up differently and try different things. There is always a way.”
Now, Mr Mosima is the head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery, one of South Africa’s most innovative companies. “Given what I’ve been through and what I’ve had to overcome, I now believe in the art of the possible. I now thrive on problem solving and enjoy it,” she said.
6. It takes courage to show empathy
Kalm Paul-Christian now has a successful career in investment banking, but he suffered many setbacks on his way there. He explained how he needed to move to a different home many times during his school years, once because of nearby gang violence. This affected his school grades. He also had challenging experiences at university, and then in his first job, which taught him that other people will sometimes look at an action or outcome without realising what other factors might be influencing it. “Don’t expect people to be committed to understanding your situation. That’s not to say that the world is against you, but natural blind spots of privilege mean that people are not necessarily going to look at what’s happening behind the scenes for you,” Kalm said.
“In finance, people are quick to hand out consequences because of regulatory concerns but people rarely make mistakes or do bad things because they are lazy. Usually, there is something going on in the background. Just ask if you can do anything to help them,” he added.
Dr Mosima agreed, saying that she now aims to create psychologically safe spaces in the workplace so that people who may be enduring difficult times in their personal lives can talk about it. “Everyone is going through something. It’s a lot more important now, for me to be proactively empathetic with the team.”
7. Apply emotional intelligence to respond to adversity
Building resilience involves a combination of physical and psychological effort. Dr Mosima said published research shows that someone who looks after their wellbeing and adopts a healthy lifestyle puts their body in a position to withstand any shocks that may come. “It’s always a good idea to make sure that you invest in doing the right things to make sure you’re healthy. Having said that, the way that I have learned to grow and view resilience: it’s a way of life and it’s a way you interact with the experiences that life throws at you,” she said.
Moments of crisis usually trigger one of two responses: one coming from fear, which only creates more stress and tension, and the other which sees an opportunity to grow.
8. Resilience and courage come from self-awareness
Resilience also comes from mastery and self-discipline, Kalm added. This also builds the courage needed for when it’s time to change direction in your career or personal life. “The sooner you learn self-discipline, for work, family, romantic relationships, community commitments, the better your life will be. Trying to reach certain milestones, you might start to self-doubt… but if you’ve done that work on self-mastery and introspection, you can be much more comfortable with what you want for yourself,” he said.