What If you could design your own women’s leadership conference…?

welead_320I’m becoming more and more convinced that all the skills I need can be found within my WeLead Circles. From marketing and design, to copywriting, music, project management and research – I can’t begin to tell you how brilliant and generous my tribe of WeLeaders has been in helping us make this the best women’s leadership event yet. Continue reading

The silly story behind #ThinkingThursdays

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Connecting people I know to people they need to know gives me a kick. I don’t even think of it as networking. And I don’t fully understand why it’s such a rush for me. But perhaps it’s because the process taps into the A-type wannabe-a-spy part of me (I love being able to rolodex the perfect person to solve a problem faster than anyone else can) and the whimsical, mystical part of me (there’s something magical about making the right connections for people and tapping into a cosmic interweb where people help each other just because they can).

But it frustrates me no end when I miss an obvious connection or only think of it too late for a deadline.

Until recently I thought this was an organizational problem (being intuitive about systems is not a strength) so I tried to brainstorm some solutions.

“Maybe I need an excel spread sheet” I put to my son Adam who is one of the people I most like to think with “so that I can plot out all the connections I have and map them against each other with a list of skills and attributes? “

But Adam told me that this spread sheet would take up streets and would be bigger than the CIA database. (And he wasn’t trying to flatter me. Firstly because this is not what he does and secondly because millennials don’t think that knowing a lot of interesting people is particularly impressive.)

I conceded that he might have a point. Yet another database would be unwieldy. An app would be too expensive to design. And it would all take too long to get right. So out of desperation I thought I should meditate on it. But to meditate on it I needed a perfect spot. Somewhere with trees and close to water. So I put out a request on Facebook to my trusty inner social media circle. Where was the perfect spot for me to think?

My Facebook network was typically generous with suggestions. One lovely person suggested I take advantage of the sprawling grounds of the private school where she teaches. And I was tempted. But then I walked into my garden and saw the pic which I’ve posted with this blog post.

Yes this water feature is the very one we had installed in our garden 14 years ago even before we fixed the wiring that ran through the house (old houses have all sorts of hidden surprises that are not visible on show day) But my rushing around screeching for solutions meant that I missed the obvious sanctuary outside my very own front door.

And that’s when #ThinkingThursdays were created. I need (sometimes desperately) quiet time to reflect and think. When I don’t give myself this time I get frazzled and depleted. It also means that I start missing obvious, simple, sometimes elegant solutions.

I don’t need an app, a database or a spreadsheet to rival the CIA. I need quiet time to reflect, to think and then to create. And that’s when I am most able to make the best connections between projects and between people.

Now I try to give myself the gift of thinking at least once a week (Thursday is a good day for me). I seldom manage to dedicate a whole day but even a hour or two works wonders.

It’s also the way that the #WeLead Mentoring platform was created (click here for more info) and it’s the reason we introduced #Mindfulness into the QualityLife curriculum (click here for more info).

But mostly it’s simply a way to keep myself sane, centred and probably quite a bit nicer. I suggest you try it. Just remember to look outside your own front door first

Warmly

Debby

An invitation to co-create a way for women to lead together: the #WeLead Manifesto (By Debby Edelstein & you)

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This is an invitation to join me in writing a new manifesto for feminine leadership. It’s an experiment in feminine, creative collaboration and this post is about why I need you

My creativity is a dance between finding my voice and creating conversation. It’s a kind of a dance in and out of the light. The cool shade of thought and contemplation and then the scarier notion of exposing blemishes in the sunlight in heady conversation with a carefully selected circle.

I have succeeded and failed at both aspects of this dance in equal measure. I have allowed fear, disguised as false modesty to prevent me from putting my best ideas out into the world. I have used collective wisdom as a safety net for being stingy about sharing my best work. (“There’s so much brilliance in the world already, what could I possibly add?”) I have regularly squeezed the handbrakes to stop myself from doing both in full flight. I have made excuses that have sounded so elegant that I’ve almost convinced myself.

This post is a public declaration of intent to stop self sabotage and stinginess and to experiment instead with radical collaboration and generosity.

From now on, I will reference and give credit to the people, authors and thinkers who inspire me. I will invite whoever wants to, to join me in co-creation. I will hold on to the confidence to share my best leadership vision and energy to make inspired projects happen.

  • The first step to lead in this new collaborative way is to get to a place where you accept that you have value to offer the world. (I’m about as close to this step as I will ever be)
  • Then perhaps you need help accessing your voice before you have the courage to speak or write your ideas. (that’s where you come in) I know there’s no escape from this most fundamental form of creativity –I have to articulate it and share it with the world before the next step.
  • Which is to engage others in conversation to take an idea from good enough to brilliant.

Sometimes I pick up a book that makes me want to jump. It stirs my thinking and shakes me so deeply that I physically have to put it down and stop reading. This counter-intuitive response has to be the worst form of procrastination.

In fact, maybe it’s more serious than procrastination and is actually a kind of a death-wish.

Because after all, a fear of experiencing intense creativity and the desire to return to the far more familiar state of inertia is an attempt to kill something beautiful rather than allowing it to flourish.

So it’s a rather serious problem. Because it means that I have the ability to elevate garden variety procrastination to an art form. It’s all very well to postpone tidying my desk. But procrastinating the ideas that excite me the most and which deserve to blossom in the world is a self-destructive way of living that I would not recommend. I also suspect that this is a malaise that anyone familiar with the creative process will find familiar.

One of the books that made me jump is We-Think by Charles Leadbeater. Today I picked it up again. I last looked at it years ago. It was also a good few years after being exposed to a workshop with Leadbeater for the first time at the Tallberg forum in Sweden when I didn’t yet know who he was. Charles Handy was in the same workshop and I was starstruck by the bigger name of another great thinker whose work I admired.

When I discovered We-think I loved it so much that of course I put it down. But it had made its mark and inspired the name of the women’s leadership circles I launched two years ago which I called Welead.

I chose the name because even though they were created for women, the name isn’t gender specific so that we can allow for the concept to evolve to include mixed gender circles. I like the implied collaboration in the word “we” which is integral to what we believe about a more feminine leadership approach.

Leadbeater explains in his forward how half-way through the writing of his book, he realized it would be “odd to write about the growth of collaborative thinking in the traditional way: the writer at his desk, isolated from the world, alone with his thoughts.

“With the support of my publisher, Profile, I posted an early draft on my website so people could download it, print it, read it and comment on it. They could also go to a wiki version to change the text and distribute it to their friends and colleagues” 

This approach excited me when I first read it and it excites me now. Co-creation is the most fun way to learn and it’s the way we learn about leadership in WeLead circles. If you’re an ambivert like me, (thank you Susan Cain for making it OK to be an introvert) then you’ll understand the need to alternate between quiet thinking and writing time and the more exuberant energy of bouncing ideas around in conversation.

It’s also a brilliantly efficient way to work and we need to do it more – both at school and university and at work.

My 16 year old daughter wrote a mammoth English literary essay this year. Their Grade was tasked with exploring the notion of power and powerlessness in 5 books – 3 prescribed and 2 elective options. It’s by far the most ambitious English essay they’ve been tasked with yet and she was feeling a little overwhelmed. So she completed 90 per cent of the essay and then spent an hour discussing it with her older brother. This conversation and the insight my son could give her made the difference between good and brilliant and it got me thinking.

Rather than letting my energy fizzle out towards the end of a big project, (or sometimes in the middle) who can I ask to help me with the last gloss of brilliance that will take my work from good to great?

That of course is where you come in. This is your invitation to join me write the manifesto for WeLead Circles.

  • What does the best possible form of feminine leadership look like?
  • Where have you experienced it before?
  • What have you read about leadership (collaborative, feminine or otherwise) that inspired you?

I invite you to comment, contribute and add your voice to a new way of leading in the world. Whatever you’re thinking, I want to hear it . It’s time to discover and describe another way of leading together and its far too exciting to do it alone.

“We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for”

#WeLead

If you’re really serious about gender equality here are some things you shouldn’t say

handsfromamySentences like this:

“I don’t believe women support other women”

“All my mentors have been male”

“I’ve always preferred male company because I know where I stand with men”

“women compete with other women”

I could go on…

I am lucky to know many powerful women around the world who do amazing things for other women every day. I know so many generous women that I can’t possible list them all. (although I will probably tag some of them on Facebook because the chances are good that they will share this post. And I really want it to be shared)

We have to stop spreading news about how women don’t support each other

In fact I think it’s one of the most sinister forms of misogyny around because it perpetuates a message that as a gender we are stingier, nastier and basically just not as nice as men. How can this be useful? How can this be scientific?

It negates the powerful generous women who have been doing so much for other women for years. It also gives too much airtime to the women who don’t.

I commend all the women supporting women right now – those of you who are mentoring, coaching, advising and helping just because you can. I am privileged to know quite a number of you. But there are also many of you I haven’t met and probably never will. You don’t do it for the credit or recognition. You do it because you’re generous and you like to help just because you can. You are to use a well-known Yiddish word a mensch. Which translated today means “a person of integrity or honour” But of course in its original German literally means a man. See how much work we still have to do?

I’m not negating the hurt that we’ve all felt when we’ve been let down or unsupported by other women. But it’s crazy to make this gender specific. I’ve been hurt and let down by men too.

And is it reasonable to expect unconditional support from a sisterhood just because we belong to the same gender? Men don’t do this. All they do is choose better friends.

How about we do the same?

“Do you really think we’re part of a supportive congenial network and that you are the only ones who suffer with politics?” a male friend once asked me

The difference is that men know that politics is part of organisational life and that’s that.

Some time ago I compiled a 5-step checklist to help girls to create healthy friendships.  All of the steps are equally useful for women of all ages so I’m repeating it here:

  1. We need to change the narrative that happens around girls and girlfriends. Yes there might be mean girls who bring your daughter down but focus on the friends who support her too.
  2. In the same way that Hollywood idealises romance, unrealistic images are often painted of “best friends” . I have some wonderful women friends in my life but none of my relationships bear much similarity to the kind between Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson in Bride Wars. Celebrate the small acts of kindness and support you get from your friends and your daughter will start developing more realistic expectations too
  3. Teach your daughter what it means to be a good friend so that she “becomes the change” rather than waiting for the perfect friend. Praise her for loyalty, courage, compassion and practical things too like remembering birthdays and phoning a friend when they are sick to offer homework help
  4. In my work with women leaders I ask them to reflect on who they turn to in times of crisis when they refer to the PHD (pull her down) factor. The answer is invariably “my women friends”. But sometimes we neglect these friends in our busy lives – something of which I am often woefully guilty. But in the tradition of appreciative inquiry practice, what we appreciate appreciates. Our relationships need time if they are important to us.
  5. Remind your daughter to choose friends who are worthy of her and her energy. Whether they are male or female, we need to encourage affirming relationships in our lives while we limit the toxic ones. This way we’ll have more time to spend with the people who deserve us and who we deserve in return.

Our #WeLead Circles are rich opportunities to experience female generosity and advocacy so please do drop me a line if you’d like to experience what it’s like to be surrounded by a dream team of powerful women who hold you accountable for achieving your goals.

But I’d like to throw out a challenge for women outside of our #WeLead community too. Send me stories of the women who’ve supported you. Give them the public recognition they deserve in a comment below or on my facebook page. (The best shout-out will get a prize.) Lets create a new narrative together

Book Summary: Love is the Killer App

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We had a great #welead chat on twitter last night. Our topic: Networking – How to do it better, more generously and more effectively. (Join us via @womenleadsa on Wednesday nights at 19h30 GMT+2 where we discuss important and emerging leadership themes under the #welead hashtag)

In addition to some great insights, it was also a dialogue between the idealists and the more cynical  about what networking is, why it exists and what realistic expectations might be from the relationships we forge for business,

Generosity and abundance are areas of great interest for me so this probably isn’t the last I’m going to say on the topic 🙂 But I did promise to post a book summary I wrote some time ago on a book by Tim Sanders which I think gives some great insights on the topic as the sharing of knowledge becomes increasingly important.  Enjoy

Tim Sanders’ Love is the Killer App (Hodder & Stoughton)

This book is not hot off the press but worth a read if you haven’t got to it yet. The title is catchy but deceiving because although love in business is a theme, by far the most comprehensive and practical part of the book is the way the author expounds on the value of knowledge as a business tool and powerful networking advantage. 

Important definitions in the book

Sanders defines love as the “selfless promotion of the growth of others”. When you help people be the best they can be, you are being loving. 

A killer app is an excellent new idea that either supersedes an existing idea or establishes a new category in its field. It soon becomes so popular that it devastates the original business model.

Love business is the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing your intangibles with the people in your worklife

Sanders says that the “good guys” can win at the business game, and proposes that the way to do it is to be a “lovecat”. This means giving generously of your intangibles. Your intangibles are knowledge, your network and compassion:

  1. Knowledge:
  2. Network
  • Reading is a source of potency so manage it like an asset. Become a walking encyclopaedia of answers for anyone who has questions
  • Books should be your diet staple – magazines articles are between meal snacks. For the most part, magazine articles are commercial vehicles – publishers use them to position their advertising. They don’t build your knowledge stronghold. So spend 80% of your time on books and 20% on magazines and articles
  • Find sources of reading referrals you can trust: editors, colleagues and reading circles which you create yourself
  • Read actively and interactively. This part is hard to get over if like me, you were raised on the ‘never write in your books’ school of thought. But since reading this book my guilt is allayed as I highlight and make notes to myself throughout. Sanders recommends writing notes on the first blank white page inside the book – just a simple one-line  summary that helps to reconnect with each of the book’s ideas, definitions and data points.
  • Stock your library with extra copies of your favourite books. It’s hard to beat the gift of a book, especially right after a meeting
  • Don’t wait until a book has hit the best-seller list to pick it up. You have to be ahead of the curve to leverage the knowledge master advantage. 


Despite the apparent new-age packaging of the title, the Sanders approach to networking is certainly not about pure abundance. But I do like his candour:

  • Eventually all the people to whom you are connected become maintenance-free reserves. These contacts lie in wait with the potential to repair a looming crisis
  • Even though you don’t exact a fixed price for putting them in your network, they may well feel they’d like to do something for you in return. (I think he should add that often it’s good to help just because you can and it’s the decent thing to do!)
  • Collect, connect and dissappear
    • Collect: Make sure you have a system for organising your contacts 
    • Connect: You only need a small number of contacts and some thought to start connecting. But don’t procrasinate once the connection forges in your mind. Sanders says that because of the pace of technological change, on several occasions in the past when he didn’t move with speed, one no longer had the need and the other no longer had the solution
    • Disappear: Get out of the connection as soon as it has fused.
  • Don’t ever expect a ‘broker’s fee’ for forging the connection. Otherwise people will start factoring the cost of working with you into the equation when they see you coming. Not only will they stop acting on your suggestions, they’ll start filtering you out and your network will shrink. It’s also far more time-consuming to broker a deal than to create a relationship.
  • Lovecats revel in the element of surprise and delight they can bring to the table and thrive in their ever-expanding network

Caveat: you do run the risk that some people may rub their hands together in glee like Ebenezer Scrooge after they’ve profited from the connection and leave you out in the cold. But think about it this way: your cost is zero and your loss is also zero. So even if you get scrooged four out of five times, that one time that people reward you for your generosity is nothing but upside for you. 

  1. Compassion

The new killer-app says Sanders is that nice, smart people can succeed. So don’t be afraid to get emotionally involved and to be a warm human being at work. But being a lovecat is not just about being nice. There’s so point in playing by these rules if you’re not smart too. (In other words, strike a balance between being nice and being a sucker!)

 Sanders says that his career only took off once he was able to get a handle on these intangibles. He has helped many people deal with some of the fears that permeate the business world (like becoming irrelevant because business is evolving all the time, being “downsized” due to profit pressures and so on), by reading, networking and reaching out to people. In this way, he believes you become relevant and business opportunities flow. 

Magic happens “when some friends and I started talking.” #wordsandmusic

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On Sunday night a few friends decided to get together to host a special evening with food, music and poetry. They called it #wordsandmusic and I’ve been thinking about what they did to get it so right.

“It all began when some friends and I started talking” says Meg Wheatley, one of the authors who has most shaped my definition of leadership.

While her quote refers to social change, it’s equally relevant when it comes to dinner parties. Because a conversation has the ability to gather magical momentum whether we’re talking about starting a movement or hosting friends.

First came the inspiration of Lionel Bastos (who I’m delighted to say will perform once more at our Women’s Leadership Conference this year with Wendy Oldfield) Now I know that Lionel is a great musician and also that he has retained his humility and remains a mensch. But I could never have guessed at his sensitivity as creativity coach as he shared the stage with Mandy Collins. He knew just how much to support and how much to let go – a rare talent

Then of course was the courage of the evening’s convenor Mandy Collins who took action and turned Lionel’s suggestion into reality by acknowledging that it was time to let the world hear her original music and her voice.

There’s something powerfully generative about doing what makes you scared. Mandy said she was terrified but by facing her fears and going where her creativity needed her to go she unleashed a special kind of magic. She did so with a gentle presence and musicality that saw her harmonise easily with one of SA’s best musical talents.

Poet Ruth Everson brought a gravitas to the evening with her courage with words that made us all feel that truth is the only option. What better gift could a poet give? The fact that she was Robyn Clark’s English teacher was one of the many delightful little connections which lit up the gathering like the fairylights in Mandy’s garden,

Clive Simpkins was the perfect MC. ( one member of the audience tweeted that he was “starstruck to have met him) As much facilitator as raconteur, he was perfectly tuned in to the atmosphere and to what needed to be said when. (Not only to all the performers but his easy reference to many members of the audience too made us feel we were at a big dinner party rather than an event)

There was also gratitude aplenty – I’ve hosted many events and I can’t tell you how often speakers forget to say thank you to the host.

But not this time. Everyone was beautifully aware that we’d been invited to something intimate and special and we were more than happy to pay for the privilege of being there. There was also a spirit of collaboration – not one of the performers tried in any way to overshadow any of the others

I left wanting more and inspired that there’s a group of people up the road from me who are genuinely committed to creativity and collaboration.

If you’d like to lead like Mandy and start your own conversation, this is the simple guide I give at many QualityLife events which #wordsandmusic followed so instinctively

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The PHD (pull her down factor) – How mothers can help their daughters change the world

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There’s one particular theme that has recurred in my work with women in leadership that I have resisted and challenged for years. And this is the complaint – reinforced by countless women – that the women they encounter in organisations are far less supportive than their male colleagues.

Surely we can’t generalise about more than 50% of the world’s population? Surely there are good women and bad women in the same way that there are bad and good men?

And is it reasonable to expect unconditional support from a sisterhood just because we belong to the same gender?

Even the editor of a South African glossy magazine who is a role model for many young working women, wrote in a recent editorial that “more men than women have had an empowering impact on my career.” And I couldn’t help feeling she’d let the team down with her comment.

Many men I have spoken to assure me that women tend to romanticise the ease of male relationships. “Do you really think we’re part of a supportive congenial network and that you are the only ones who suffer with politics?” they counter.

The only advantage they seem to share is that they don’t expect a brotherhood of loyalty. They know that politics is part of organisational life and that’s that.

But my reservations aside there are just too many women referring to the “pull-her-down” (PHD) syndrome as one of the main challenges facing women in organisations for me to continue dismissing it as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And despite my intellectual discomfort with sweeping generalisations, I haven’t forgotten the “mean girl” dynamics I had to contend with at primary school. And now that it’s my own daughter’s turn to navigate the teen years, I watch her struggle with the same issues I hoped that I had left behind me forever.

It seems that there is no girl or woman who isn’t familiar with the patterns of inclusion and exclusion that leave us hurting and our mothers helpless. So what is it? Does it exist? Why does it exist?

Feminist author Elizabeth Debold suggests that the roots of this behaviour go back further than we might imagine. Research on female primates show that many of our evolutionary foresisters spend their time grooming others to avoid being picked on and holding grudges against each other that make reconciliation impossible, all to gain an advantage in sexual reproduction!

But Elizabeth (who joined us via Skype at one of our women’s leadership conferences a few years ago) also believes it’s possible for us to grapple with our primitive drive to compete with each other so that we can realise a higher potential. (Which I can’t help thinking is a human opportunity rather than a particularly female one)

The challenge is that there is very little advice on what to do and how to behave in a way that builds resilience and compassion at the same time. Usually the values we encourage at the dinner table are very different to the ones that are celebrated on the playground.

So what can we do to help our girls develop a more positive way of relating to each other?

  1. We need to change the narrative that happens around girls and girlfriends. Yes there might be mean girls who bring your daughter down but focus on the friends who support her too.
  2. In the same way that Hollywood idealises romance, unrealistic images are often painted of “best friends” . I have some wonderful women friends in my life but none of my relationships bear much similarity to the kind between Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson in Bride Wars. Celebrate the small acts of kindness and support you get from your friends and your daughter will start developing more realistic expectations too
  3. Teach your daughter what it means to be a good friend so that she “becomes the change” rather than waiting for the perfect friend. Praise her for loyalty, courage, compassion and practical things too like remembering birthdays and phoning a friend when they are sick to offer homework help
  4. In my work with women leaders I ask them to reflect on who they turn to in times of crisis when they refer to the PHD factor. The answer is invariably “my women friends”. But sometimes we neglect these friends in our busy lives – something of which I am often woefully guilty. But in the tradition of appreciative inquiry practice, what we appreciate appreciates. Our relationships need time if they are important to us.
  5. Remind your daughter to choose friends who are worthy of her and her energy. Whether they are male or female, we need to encourage affirming relationships in our lives while we limit the toxic ones. This way we’ll have more time to spend with the people who deserve us and who we deserve in return.

By developing some conscious guidelines, we’ll start changing the narrative rather than leaving each generation to struggle it out for themselves. After all if we aren’t taught what it means to be a good friend on the playground, how can we expect a leg-up a few years later in the even fiercer battleground that is the workplace?

The PHD (pull her down) factor was the subject of our #welead chat on twitter last night. These chats around leadership are taking place every Wednesday night at 7.30pm CAT in the build-up to our 9th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference on May 22nd and 23rd.