Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle...

Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership


“It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It is also a very clear path to happiness.” – Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, in that very interesting and powerful German accent of his, gave a very thoughtful and inspiring answer to a female listeners’ question during a Tim Ferris Podcast. The essence of her question was about how a woman should go about the very challenging task of being a leader.

In this writing I will abbreviate and paraphrase his answer as it was a very long powerful lesson in politics, history and business – “Angela Merkel does not think about being a woman when leading Germany it is about the person and having strong leadership characteristics. I am sure that Catherine the great of Russia did not think of being a woman as she led her country, it is about the person.”

Related: Why Donna Rachelson Believes The Secret To Your Business Success Lies With Women

“The Terminators” answer lends more weight to the theory that leadership has very little if not nothing to do with gender, background, or position and much more to do with having a clear vision, inspiring others, and being an example that others want to follow. Leadership is about being passionate about what you do and leaving other leaders behind by adding value to them and serving them.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to two inspirational leaders who happen to be women. Here is what Bonnie Cooper and Esna Colyn shared on wearing the mantle of leadership. 

“Leaders create energy”

Taking on the dual roles of being the Chief executive of BPD Advertising Agency and the Chief Marketing Officer of Roman’s Pizza requires a vast amount of energy, and Bonnie Cooper has bucket loads. Creating an energetic environment and an inspirational atmosphere is what true leaders do. She pointed out to me that high levels of enthusiasm and drive are critical factors when success is contemplated.

She asked me to emphasise that she has many flaws but immediately added that the very same flaws can open the door to opportunities when you admit them and put in the hard work to change. This positive attitude towards personal transformation can ignite inspiration in other team members who are willing to improve themselves.

Bonnie admitted to being an extreme introvert. Some see introversion as a detractor of performance especially within roles where public speaking, constant group engagement and corporate presentations are the rule and not the exception. She is however one of many examples of people who has obliterated this assumption. The determination in her eyes, the expansive body language and the confidence in her voice provides undisputable testimony to the fact that she has purposefully evolved her introversion into being an influential presence.

Leadership is about character, being the model of behaviour that you desire for your team to adopt. Bonnie is an inspiring example of how constant change and a focus on self- improvement can help others to leave their comfort zones behind to become leaders.

She strongly believes in empowerment and in part sees that as creating an environment where you as team member have no option but to venture outside of the self-imposed boundaries of your own comfort zone.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

“Respect is all that matters”

This statement is part of her e-mail signature and part of her belief system, and in having interacted with her I can honestly say, part of her actions. She will admit when she was wrong and show you the respect of a sincere apology.

Bonnie respects her team members by truly having an open-door policy and as a team member you are given the freedom to make mistakes, if you own them and fix them.

“A boss will blame and take credit, a leader will give credit and take the blame.”

The above quote alludes to the huge level of responsibility on a leaders’ shoulders and the high level of character that a leader must maintain to win and keep the trust of her team members. You can trust Bonnie to say what she thinks, to apologise when she is wrong, to roll up her sleeves shoulder to shoulder with her team when the hard work needs to be done and to give credit when and where it is due.



Question the status quo

A  leadership lesson that Esna has learnt is to understand her business by constantly questioning the status quo through the following questions:

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What is the economic engine that drives your business?
  3. What do you want to be the best in the world at?

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Key leadership principles

She highlights the importance of asking for help and to seek guidance as a leader and to never stop to read and learn.

Strong leaders entertain strong beliefs and Esnas’ belief system is applied in her business through the following key principles:

  • Work with and grow passionate people of great character and integrity.
  • Bring people into the organisation that are stronger than yourself.
  • Aspire to change the world and leave a legacy.

She does not hesitate to mention that to consistently apply the above principles are tough. The CEO of Imbalie believes that authenticity is the most effective vehicle of communication when it comes to motivating all key stakeholders around the purpose of the company.


Esna sees the late Nelson Mandela as an inspirational leader who’s example she looks up to. She is proudly South African and aspires to the changes that he facilitated in our country and in the world. Speaking of inspiration and aspiration the quote that Esna most resonates with comes from Joshua 1:9 – “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage, do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Imbalies’ theme for 2017 is “#LIFT OFF“ and she sees all franchisees as leaders and entrepreneurs whom in unison with the organisations’ leadership must make this theme a reality.