Courage, Confidence, Resilience and Professionalism: Essential skills for budding businesswomen

Published On: 27 January 2022|

Two speakers at the inaugural Economic Activation Workshop of The Student Women Economic Empowerment Project (SWEEP), identified resilience and courage as the key qualities necessary to succeed in business.

Launched in October 2021, SWEEP is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme inspired by widespread concern over the under-representation of women in entrepreneurship. In the context of gender-based violence, it is an empowerment programme that seeks to reduce women’s financial dependence on males by providing a safety net of transferable and practical skills and opportunities, backed by a foundation of academic stewardship.

In the second session on Day One of this online workshop, both Dr Linda Meyer (above), Director: Operations and Sector Support at Universities South Africa (USAf) and Ms Terine Lott-Cupido, Founder and Managing Director EmpowerLink Services, used American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, as their example of someone who embodied resilience, courage, and confidence.

Both cited Angelou’s ability to rise out of difficult beginnings to succeed and become a recognised for her courage. Parts of Dr Meyer’s presentation (Growing Boldness and Professional Power in the World of Work) mirrored those of Ms Lott-Cupido’s Empowering Entrepreneurs for Success: Leading with Courage, Confidence and Professionalism. Both women stressed the need for confidence while shifting, changing, and adapting.

Thus, Dr Meyer quoted Maya Angelou: “If I’m not good to myself, how can I expect anyone else to be good to me?” She said: “We are our biggest critics judging ourselves more harshly than anyone else. Negative self-talk drags you down. Find the strength to become the best version of yourself.”


Dr Meyer told the student women that the world is changing exponentially. Technological advancements are doubling every 18 months, and 90% of knowledge circulating in the world was generated in the last seven years. She also mentioned the World Economic Forum, which reports that 60% of current jobs will not exist in the next decade.

She described resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, of having the capacity to bounce back from trauma, tragedy, and threats. “We need to have innovative processes. For resilience, understand your limitations and choose what you expend energy on,” she said.

Ms Lott-Cupido (left) concurred, saying: “Leading with courage means seeing both positive and negative feedback as an opportunity. Like Dr Meyer had said, know your values and stick with them but be willing to adapt and be innovative.”

Ms Lott-Cupido’s advice:

  • Be accountable when you make mistakes.
  • Be true to who you are. Be authentic.
  • Share your core values with others.
  • Develop your skills to be able to hold courageous conversations.
  • Be transparent and show empathy. Know when to walk away.

Dr Meyer added:

  • Work on self-esteem and autonomy. Don’t let people influence you in this area.
  • Your self-esteem is critical. Keep only people who are genuinely happy when you succeed.
  • Cut out those who do not fit into your value system, who bring you down.
  • Be competent. Look at what you’re good at and do it with pride.
  • Be insightful. Understand people and situations and be able to see someone else’s side.


Dr Meyer told the participants they should ask for what they want and be prepared to get it. “Be mindful of asking spiritually from the universe. Ask at the right time and be specific in your prayers or meditation as to what you need to craft the world you want.” She added that it was crucial to develop courage “to stand up for yourself because only then can you stand up for others”.

She said one of the most difficult lessons in life is the ability to say “No”, adding that courage provides the ability to say no to things that “don’t gel with your soul, that make you uncomfortable”. She stressed the need to stand up for yourself and for those around you, something that allows you to find your space in the world and your sense of self-worth.

In her presentation, Ms Lott-Cupido asked the virtual audience how an image of people jumping against a sunrise backdrop made them feel. Responses were: happy, free, joyful, carefree, optimistic. Asking them to remember that feeling, she said images release feelings and emotions and envision the future. If the leaping-for-joy image made them feel good, they had achieved something — they had stepped into courage and into boldness – if they had experienced this feeling in the past, it was possible for them to feel it again.

Both Ms Lott-Cupido and Dr Meyer applauded Maya Angelou’s ability – despite adversity – to have the courage to move forward. Ms Lott-Cupido said: “Every successful person had a Day 1. Unlocking your potential starts with your mindset; you can move forward and beyond that, whatever your circumstance. Dare to dream. Take courage to achieve those goals.” She said overcoming fear helps you step into courage and build your confidence, one day at a time. “Mindset is important when setting goals; remember there will be challenges but take the first step anyway. If you don’t fail, you won’t grow.”


Dr Meyer said it was essential to set and keep boundaries to stop people bullying you into feeling you must play a particular tune. “We live in a male-dominated society and, as women, often enable this bias. We walk into boardrooms and pour the tea!

We need to have expectations of being equal, so don’t move from your boundaries. Show that you respect yourself and those around you. Stand your ground professionally.”

This standpoint, she said, need not be antagonistic. It had to come from a place of unwavering values and ethics.

Miss Lott-Cupido echoed this in her segment on Professionalism, saying: “Professionalism is about your conduct in the working world – your attitude, how you communicate with others leaves a lasting impression on your reputation. Remain professional in all your dealings. Set boundaries – in the workplace through Professionalism, as well as boundaries regarding your time. Separate work from home/family time.”


Both women stressed the need for self-care, for ME time, to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. Dr Meyer called it Personal Mastery – the time needed to invest in oneself. Self-respect, she said, was about self-care, self-awareness and personal mastery around the things that bring you strength. She said this led to living and working purposefully towards a vision aligned with your values. It puts you in a state of constant learning about yourself and the reality in which you find yourself.

“Be courageous for yourself, be kind to yourself. Remember, we’re not perfect. We have flaws. So embrace what it is you love.”


Dr Meyer believes that the budding entrepreneur needs a mission statement for her life. “In the absence of a clear direction, you need to understand your purpose and what you want to achieve. What will your legacy be?

“Your personal values are your steering, your navigation system. If something feels uncomfortable, stop. Don’t argue with your ethics, values, core being and spirit. Understand what your personal ethics are and stick to them.”

Ms Lott-Cupido, disclosing that she came from humble beginnings in the context of which her parents struggled to pay for her tertiary education – says her mindset from early on was that she could do anything — ethically. “My parents and grandparents instilled values in me: a strong work ethic; putting pride in my work; making sure I used all opportunities, like education.” She stressed that a solid value system underpinned the kind of life that determines a good reputation and the ability to be a good, socially responsible leader.

Dr Meyer, in turn, urged the women in the audience to be “servant leaders”. “This is not about being a doormat; it means that everything you do is in service to the broader humanity. You create habits that enable your emotional intelligence; that let you live and be grateful for your talents and the trajectory your life has taken. Our businesses are not isolated from us; they are an extension of us and show our values around quality, self-respect, meeting deadlines, treating customers and staff with respect.”


  • Be passionate. Have a belief in yourself and why you’re doing this.
  • If you’re stuck, speak to a mentor or coach who can help you through.
  • Get Support: your mental health matters. You must take time for yourself, get balance and exercise. “I use Robin Sharma’s book and The 5 am Club. I rise at 5:00 am, do 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of personal growth, 20 minutes of journaling. It’s my ME time while my family is sleeping. I envision a successful day. Self-care is very important.”
  • Learning lies in application. Marketing is key: know your ideal customer. You need to be a problem solver offering solutions to your customer.
  • Know your end goal. Ask why you want to be an entrepreneur or pursue a specific career. Your Why keeps you going.
  • Your future depends on you. It would help if you had courage.
  • Start with the end in mind. Set annual goals, then break them down to monthly, weekly, daily goals. Make regular decisions and take action pertaining to your goals. Be intentional about how you use your time daily.
  • As a manager/leader, you need a clear vision of where you’re going. Let mentors help you navigate your journey.
  • Guide to your team. Promote teamwork through a clear strategy of where you’re going and what you’re offering.
  • Communication is key. Provide solutions to customers – internal or external to the business and communicate with your stakeholders.

Leading with confidence.

  • You’re on your own journey. Learning and applying new skills gives you experience. That leads to confidence. Practice makes you more confident.
  • Remind yourself you have something to offer.
  • Positive affirmations are key.
  • Journaling
  • Gratitude helps you to be mindful.
  • Learn from mentors who have gone before you – ask for help.

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.