What can business leaders learn from Cheryl Zondi?

Cheryl Zondi has been the first witness to testify in the trial of Pastor Omotoso, charged with rape and human trafficking.

This 22-year-old student has provided significant lessons for leaders of major corporations.

The one thing Cheryl Zondi has demonstrated above all as she has been forced to discuss the most intimate details that a women twice her age would understandably be uncomfortable discussing in a public forum, is courage.

She has had to endure an adversarial approach from Omotoso’s defence intended to get her to crack or contradict herself in the hope that the defence can secure their client a “not guilty” verdict. And, in the face of extreme aggression both inside the court as well as outside, in the face of death threats that God will kill her, she has stood her ground.

I would like to see a number of seasoned executives take the same amount of pressure and conduct themselves in as exemplary a manner …

Cheryl has demonstrated very clearly that courage is not about what you say. It’s about what you do. Talk is cheap. Anybody can talk a big game. It’s when they run onto the field and show what they can – or can’t – do that the truth emerges.

Executives and political leaders who refuse to take responsibility for their actions have no courage. They may talk big but it’s what they do – or don’t do – that tells the truth about them. Have you noticed how many of them are not available when they are contacted for comment? They simply don’t have the courage to face difficult questions because of their actions.

Apart from a lesson in courage, Cheryl has also provided a lesson in influence. As a result of the example she has set, other victims have now decided that they will testify as well. You see, what courage does is “en-courage” others – give them courage. People are influenced not so much by what you say but by what you do. Behaviour of leaders is a major influencer in people’s lives. As Cheryl has taken courageous action, she has influenced the behaviour of others in a similar situation.

While we have so-called business and political leaders who allegedly engage in illegal and unethical actions, we will always have a major crime problem, due to the trickle-down effect. When leaders are seen to get away with dishonest actions, others think, “If they can, so can I,” and all bets are off.

Thinking that influence is effected by stirring words only is naïve. Today, people are far too sophisticated to be swayed by words only. But when actions are demonstrated, they speak a lot louder than mere words. Cheryl hasn’t stood on any platforms telling others to do as she is doing. She has simply done what she’s believed to be the right thing and … look what’s been the outcome. Others have expressed the desire to imitate her behaviour.

She could have adopted the stance that testifying or not testifying wasn’t going to change what was allegedly done to her, so why bother. She could have preferred to not be exposed to such intimate questions, but her strength of character shone through and she chose to do what she did for the good of others.

Very few business and political leaders have shown the courage or strength of character Cheryl Zondi has shown. If our country’s leaders showed just a fraction of the courage of this 22-year-old student, South Africa might well be a very different place.

Alan Hosking is the Publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag. He is a recognised authority on leadership skills for the future and teaches business leaders and managers of all generations how to lead with integrity, purpose and agility. In 2018, he was named by US-based web site Disruptordaily.com as one of the “Top 25 Future of Work Influencers to Follow on Twitter“.

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