3 ways to maximise your conference experience


It’s the #welead 10th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference tomorrow so here are some ideas to help you make the most of the conference experience.

A guest post by Kudzanai Mutendadzamera 


Making a list of areas you are hoping to develop beforehand can be very useful. This is a very good opportunity to take a personal growth inventory and rate your progress as a leader, even asking people you work with closely to give their opinion. Remember this is not just an investment into your career but an investment into leadership growth, awareness and identity. The process is designed to give you confidence as a female leader, so set clear goals to make sure you are prepared to make the content relevant to your leadership journey.


Having attended three QualityLife conferences there is one thing I know I will hear from a delegate, “I really wanted to ask the speaker/a fellow delegate *insert a very good question that even I want to know the answer to*”

As Debby Edelstein reminds delegates regularly, she often recruits talent from her audience. But in order for her to know what you think, you have to have the courage to Speak up!

“Don’t expect that you’ll get to the corner office by sitting on the sidelines.”  Sheryl Sandberg reminds us.

The line-up of excellent speakers and the rich assortment of delegates provide multiple opportunities not just to meet people, but to gain cross-sectoral insight and information. Come early so you find out which delegates are attending who may be of use, and be sure to take full advantage of networking exercises during the conference which are designed to assist even the shyest among us.

Remember also that the #welead experience is all year long. It provides dialogue and support through the weekly Wednesday #welead chat on twitter, as well as #welead circles. Be bold, network, and make use of the broader #welead community during and after the conference.


Keep your conference notes and all the business cards you collect from the event and set a date where you can look over them and commit to making some changes and staying in touch with all the great people you are guaranteed to meet

Kudzanai Mutendadzamera is a Law graduate living in Johannesburg. Part of the International Youth Leadership Network, she is passionate about developing young leaders and helping them invest in their personal development.

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


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




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


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.


How to have coffee with an influencer (or me)

The “law of meeting karma” (a Debbyism) is very top of mind for me at the moment as we plan our 9th Annual Women’s leadership conference. So I’m reposting this:-)


I don’t much like the term influencer. Partly because it’s the kind of label that many people seem to attach to themselves in their twitter bios, not unlike guru and thought-leader.

Still, as sure as I love sour jelly beans there will always be people we want to get to see because of their perceived value to us. But by the law of meeting karma there are always people who want to see us too.

In the democratic world of the social media universe you see, we are all influencers and schmoozers to a greater or lesser degree.

So take comfort dear coffee-hunter in the knowledge that whoever you are chasing, they are chasing someone too. That’s the law of meeting karma. (just check out anyone’s twitter feed for proof)

Considering I have insight from both sides – as hunter and hunted, as influencer and as schmoozer – here are…

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Work like you’re on holiday


I always do some work on holiday. Much of our first #wiredwomen conference happened via twitter on trains in Europe. Last year ExCo (that would be me and Dunne) had a great strategy session at the Palace while both kids were at camp. And this year, in between walks, chilling and putting body and soul back together, we sharpened our vision and redesigned our website (still to be revealed) It’s the kind of thinking that we seldom have time for during the year.

It feels a bit like tidying my desk on a Sunday in preparation for the week ahead. It’s hard for a chaos junkie like me to learn this lesson, but as Gretchen Rubin author of the Happiness project says “outer order contributes to inner calm”

I know that many people disapprove (I am rapped over the knuckles by well-meaning friends and family when they see work-related status updates on facebook) but the truth is, I find a creativity and clarity on holiday that often escapes me in the hype of the year.

In fact my best ideas probably happen in between. Often I’m able to accomplish more in the few hours the family is still sleeping on holiday than in entire days spent slogging at my desk. Which makes me wonder of course how efficient I might be if I worked a whole lot less during the work year, played a whole lot more, went for more walks and gave myself the gift of uninterrupted extended relaxation time more often.

And that will be my resolution for 2014. To bottle this feeling and try to organize my year as if I’m on holiday the whole year through

Wish me luck – I’ll keep you posted🙂

What entrepreneurs, bloggers & Rumplestiltskin have in common

My Dad says that much of the work that I do is to create something out of nothing. I’m not sure whether he thinks this is a good thing but it’s a concept I think about a lot.

I thought about it again when I read Matthew Buckland’s article on entrepreneurship yesterday where he describes “the entrepreneurial way “— starting your own company, raising capital for it and do what entrepreneurs do best — create something out of nothing and follow their own destinies.”

In fact  if I was to choose a fairytale character I relate to the most it’s probably the rather random Miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin because when there is important work to be done, I know  that, like her, I should lock myself in a dark room and spin straw into gold.

That I think is the challenge of the digital economy. To take the straw that is verbage, information and clutter and transform it into something that adds value to the world.

It’s also the dilemma of the freelancer, the leader navigating uncertain territory, the knowledge worker.

In an age which prizes collaboration and working together, all introverted workers (who thanks to Susan Cain and her book Quiet are now proudly coming out of the closet)  know the value of locking yourself up, facing a dark night of the soul and trying to produce gold.

Gold of course doesn’t need to be lucrative. (although if you’re in business, whether or not people want to buy is a convenient test of whether or not you’ve hit the mark) But sometimes it’s a sense that you are proud of the contribution you’ve made.

Whether or not it’s completely original, as long as it has a unique and authentic stamp to it, there’s nothing to beat the feeling of pride when you’ve created something you’re proud of. Something that makes you feel: ‘I worked hard, this might not be perfect yet but it’s good and I’m ready to show it to the world.’

And this is probably why we should all blogImage