Every so often we come across what we term a SHARP leader. This is a leader that demonstrates high levels of maturity in their abilities and attitude towards sharing what they have, respecting those around them, and ensuring performance takes place.
Elizabeth Zambonini is a SHARP leader!
We felt a real sense of this during a recent leadership conversation, as we explored her attitude and approach towards the often difficult and stressful issue of confrontation.
Ponder some of the following excellent principles Zambonini offered.
In her own words: “I’m not someone that goes straight into confrontation, I prefer to watch and wait and see how things unfold…” This is a very mature approach as it indicates a high level of respect for others and the circumstances surrounding the issue in question. Equally important is her desire to gather information before she makes decisions or judgements. She goes on to say: “…but when the time comes to confront, I have all my facts, I’m not trying to be rude, I always try to be respectful whatever the situation is, and I’m looking for the win-win.” Here we see just how SHARP she is – regardless of the situation, respect is a necessity; she relies heavily on facts and this points to the performance side of her SHARP leadership. In addition she wants to share a winning platform with whomever it is she is dealing with. How many of us can say that we want to be able to win with the other person in a moment of confrontation?
Listen carefully to what Zambonini says next: “I don’t shout, I don’t lose my temper easily, but I am quite strong and I like to use facts to support what I do. Truthfully, I can back somebody into a corner with facts and there is no way out, but then I always think it is important to show them the way out, and the way out is to become their mentor or allow them the choice.” This is a truly powerful approach with all SHARP leadership elements in place.
Her final words regarding confronting, and another principle that she has learned through advice from another: “Sometimes we have to make the hard calls, and I don’t make those calls lightly. But I have looked them in the eye and told them straight what the concern is. I’ve never backed down from one of those situations which would probably have been nice to hand over to somebody else. I always think that as the leader you must take the good and the bad, and that may be one of those bad days, but that person can still leave with dignity.”
Elizabeth Zambonini, affectionately referred to as “Liz” by her team, is the CEO of The Hope Factory, a not for profit Enterprise Development initiative, the ultimate aim and purpose of which is to “develop, equip and support previously disadvantaged South Africans to establish and grow their businesses.”
From founding The Hope Factory in a garage in Cape Town in 2001, Liz has grown it into a sustainable and successful NGO with national representation and which is now one of the leading enterprise development organizations in the country.
From a turnover of R12 000 in the first year, Liz has grown the turnover in 11 years to over R15 million. She now employs over 50 full time staff as well as 80 contractors, and currently provides training for over 120 people per year.
Her journey to this point began somewhere interesting.
Liz described how she seemed to have three driving passions when she was younger – business, a creative passion and a love for people. Although initially pursuing a B Com degree, she migrated over to, and began her professional life in the field of fashion design. Here she worked for three years, but then something began to happen that she describes as a “quarter-life crisis”. She took a year off and went to work in London for Social Services. This was a period of deep introspection and searching: “It was very clear to me that when I came back, I was coming back to make a difference.”
What follows is what we believe to be the core of her success: “I went to London alone and I spent a large amount of time thinking. I was reading a lot of ‘meaning of life stuff’ and I guess you could say I was on a ‘meaning of life’ quest. I needed to be clear on the key things I wanted to do with my life and what the most important values were for me.” At 25 years of age Liz began to ask herself questions that many only ask late in their lives, if at all. This again points to a maturity of character that has been a key catalyst and foundation for her development as a leader.
She then went on to share how she would spend hours in the library reading and learning about what exactly had taken place in South Africa’s history. This is more evidence of her desire to work with facts rather than a perceived reality based on what someone else might have told her. “I read the classics like ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and all those things and then I researched; researched what was being said, researched what the ANC and what Government was saying at the time; I did a lot of research and a lot of thinking.”
We want to highlight this because when we sat with Liz it became clear to us that she is an incredible woman and leader and knowing how she became such is much more valuable than simply sharing her personal leadership style and approaches.
What is clear is that Elizabeth Zambonini took the time to understand on a deeply personal and relevant level the things that matter most. She was able to clear away much of the distraction of this very busy world in which we find ourselves by creating a focus for her life. This focus was found by looking deep within and then searching out an opportunity that aligned with her inner drives and values. Because of this focus, and this alone, she has been able to stay the course and become the SHARP leader she already so abundantly manifests and which she continues to cultivate.
We are excited to see where Elizabeth might be in a few years time and what further impact she will be making through The Hope Factory and in other meaningful ways.
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