By Georgina Barrick, MD, Insource.ICT Edge Recruitment Specialists

The story goes that every morning in Africa, a lion and an impala wake up. The impala knows it has to run to stay ahead of the lion, or become a meal. The lion knows it has to be faster than the impala, or starve. So, how does living  and working here here may give us the business edge on people from other countries?
While stress has become a common place physical state in South Africa, I think we should look at the difference between “stress” and “distress” – especially as a certain amount of stress can often be a great motivator and driver.

Nobody can deny that we have extensive social, political and economic issues in South Africa that, in combination, other developed countries around the world may not have to deal with on a daily basis. For locals, it’s hard to imagine taking the dog out for a walk at 10pm, as one could in Toronto or Oslo. However, for many Canadians and Norwegians, the resilience required to deal with the daily fears and commitments found here, may be alien.

How could this set us apart as business leaders? Being “on edge” is distress – taking your business “to the edge”, taking calculated risks and making tough calls – requires emotional strength and resilience and it’s this resilience that we can cultivate,  using our experience and the experiences of others.

Usually defined as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity, resilience seems to carry the key traits companies look for when employing leadership talent. So, how does this benefit South African organisations?

In her article How Resilience Works Diane Coutu, director of client communications at Banyan Family Business Advisors in the Pennsylvania, says: “Resilient people possess thee characteristics: A staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise.”

All of these, I believe, are vital to the success of both individuals and the companies they run or work for. Without accepting things “as they are” rather than “as we’d like them to be”, no leader has the truth on his or her side. Believing that the work you are doing is meaningful and ethical is key to attracting like-minded teams and clients. Improvising, as any leader knows, is often required daily and can mean the difference between failure and success.

As the lion and impala story implies, working within the South African market really does create a resilience that may not be necessary to stay ahead in larger, more regulated markets. Ours not a marketplace where success arrives on our doorstep. It’s a fairly small market for many companies who don’t have a footprint throughout the continent and competition can be fierce.

Ask any South African you know if they are aware of their surroundings when they pull into their driveway at home, or when they’re approaching an ATM to draw money, or even when they are stationary at red light in an intersection. Chances are, they’ll tell you stories about noticing a “loiterer” and taking great care during their transaction, even if the loiterer may appear to be another business or woman. Living in a society like ours has given most of us a sense of when to be cautious and when it’s safe to proceed with our activities.

I’m not suggesting that the risk of crime or violence is not traumatic – it is. But what we have developed over the years that can work for us in the office is a level of intuition or awareness; a keen sense of when something is amiss; and a backup plan. These all come together to create a leader who is agile enough to switch tack mid-project and is likely to take calculated risks.

Just as the impala uses every sense, every intuition, to determine where the lion is, the most successful business men and women in our country are not frightened so much as they are alert. It is this awareness – this consciousness and the resilience that comes with practising it daily – that may well be a differentiator, when compared to business leaders in countries where there is little to stop you reaching the end of your business day without incident.

Again, I am not advocating crime or fear as a building block to resilience – far from it. What I am advocating, though, is that we keep using the circumstances we are in and read about daily to hone our senses to ensure agile, resilient and appropriate response to issues inside and outside of the office.

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