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IWD 2024: Resilience: is it the most important leadership trait of all?
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

International Women’s Day is not only the opportunity to celebrate women in STEM and beyond, to recognise their achievements and to listen to their stories — it’s the chance to reflect on what makes a great female leader. 

Confidence, creativity, passion, vision, empathy…

I think we can all agree that these are traits we recognise, respect, and admire in our female peers. 

But at the heart of it all, what is the key to success? To OUR success as female leaders?

A recent study of 3000 working women from 10 countries, conducted by the Female Quotient in collaboration with Cisco, found that 65% of women feel resilient in their professional lives.

This resilience appears to increase further as career status grows, with 73% of women in senior-level roles saying they feel resilient.

Resilience, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, means “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened.”

This would suggest that professional women are facing adversity yet bouncing back, stronger than ever before, with a new-found sureness in their ability to prosper and succeed.

Is resilience really the most important leadership trait of them all?

Like many business owners, 2020 was a crash course for me in professional resilience, but it was the adversity I faced in my personal life that taught me lessons I could never have envisioned.

As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the globe, with uncertainty growing by the day, the business I ran with my husband, Nigel, was hit hard by the increasing restrictions we faced.

After all, how could PASA — a thriving live events company operating in the procurement space — flourish when large public gatherings were being stopped in their tracks?

Ever the resilient leader, Nigel had weathered a few storms in his 21 years as managing director of our business, and he was not about to let this challenge beat him. If anything, he was at his most energised and creative during this time.

He was adamant that technology was the answer: “If delegates can’t come to us, we will bring our events to them,” he said.

Together, we sat through numerous platform demonstrations with organisations from around the globe, exploring each one in-depth and excitedly discussing their pros and cons.

Eventually, while the world embraced Zoom, we settled on Remo.

Not only did adopting new technology save our business, it transformed it. 

To this day, three of PASA’s 13 annual events are hosted completely online, with many others also utilising the same technology we discovered during those unsettling pandemic days.

As 2020 progressed, our business began to stabilise and the world settled into a peculiar ‘new normal’.

That October, two weeks before our biggest conference — which had become a ‘must attend’ for procurement leaders across the ANZ region — Nigel and I enjoyed a casual weekend walk on the beach with our beloved dogs.

In that moment, as the waves lapped peacefully against the shore and the sun warmed the golden sand, life was good.

It would have been impossible, unthinkable even, to predict what would happen next — within a split second and in the most brutal of ways.

Nigel suffered a major heart attack on that beach. There was nothing anyone could have done, I was told. He was gone.

It’s hard to describe the shock, the confusion and the grief. 

It would be easy, and certainly acceptable, to shut down. To close the door to the world for a little while. To press pause on the business that Nigel had loved so dearly and so passionately.

But that’s not what he would have wanted. The show, or more specifically, the conference, must go on.

With a continuity plan in place for the business — following a near-fatal accident several years earlier —  it was now time to action it, which is how I came to be PASA’s managing director.

In the weeks that followed Nigel’s passing, each member of our loyal team stepped up and wrapped themselves around me, executing the final three events of the year with grace and ease — utilising the new platform.

To this very day, my majority female team is the company’s biggest asset as it goes from strength to strength, with our approach to embracing new technologies a close second.

Which brings us back to my original question: is resilience really the most important leadership trait of them all?

While this is debatable, of course, I believe wholeheartedly that it is. 

As I said in Nigel’s eulogy, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”

While those years will bring curveballs, challenges, disappointments and even tragedy, it’s resilience that makes life worth living. 

It’s resilience that gets us out of bed in the morning to lead the way — to be happy and successful again after something difficult or bad has happened…