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

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

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.

 

Why you shouldn’t speak up

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For years I’ve been telling women in particular about the importance of finding their voices and having the courage to speak up.  How we need to have the courage to confront, name what’s wrong and say how we feel because doing so  is an act of leadership which will pave the way for others who don’t feel the same courage at the time.

Of course, as we all do, I teach what I most need to learn and recently I spoke up about something I usually prefer to leave unchallenged.  Frankly I avoided this conversation because I didn’t feel like dealing with the backlash raising it would unleash.

Well as I expected, it unleashed some anger and bile and it made me remember all the reasons not to speak up.

  1. There will be people who will shout you down and make you feel unworthy, uneducated, ill-informed and silly
  2. You might be rejected by people who have more money, more influence and louder voices
  3. In some communities speaking up might even put your safety and life in danger.
  4. It is easier to keep quiet
  5. It can be scary to speak up
  6. You might embarrass your children
  7. You might upset your parents
  8. You might get unfollowed or unfriended

That’s it for now but I’m sure, if pressed I could come up with a few more.

So with all of these reasons not to speak up, why should we continue to do so?

Because as Anais Nin says “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Finding our voice and using it represents a life force. When we choose to ignore it we die a little inside. Speaking up celebrates life and our responsibility to make the world as we see it a little better. And even though that’s only one reason it’s the very best one I’ve got.

Is there still place for a women’s leadership conference?

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Yes I’m still asked this question, even though leadership conferences with all-male line-ups continue to be trotted out with alarming regularity. So I’m taking the liberty of publishing extracts of this general press statement as a blog post on the eve of the 8th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference.

At a time when many women hold top leadership positions, some might question the value of women’s leadership conferences. However, Debby Edelstein, founder, organiser and chairperson of the 8th annual Women’s Leadership Conference, says in a world where men still dominate the conference circuit, women leadership conferences are essential for mentorship and encouragement, giving women a platform to share their knowledge and experiences.

“There is an inordinate amount of conferences where it’s still regarded as acceptable to exclude women’s voices from the debate. Much of the context that we work within remains patriarchal and unwelcoming to women’s voices,” says Edelstein, referring specifically to a number of high profile conferences last year which boasted a conspicuous absence of women in their line-ups.

“I am exposed to brilliant talent on a daily basis, I’ve been championing the area of women’s leadership for 15 years, and I’m more motivated than ever to show women in leadership how they can raise their profiles to get the recognition they deserve.”

The Women’s Leadership Conference, which takes place on 22 May and 23 May 2013 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rosebank, provides such an opportunity, however, with one strategic difference: In addition to a strong line-up of highly successful women leaders, this year includes a few top male speakers (namely GIBS dean, Professor Nick Binedell; journalist, Victor Dlamini; CEO of Avatar Zibusiso Mkhwanazi and co-founder of the Citizens Movement, Bobby Godsell).

This is the first time men have been included in the Women’s Leadership Conference, a decision which was made following a survey of the women who took part in last year’s conference. “Although women still dominate the event, placing women speakers and men speakers together on the same line-up entrenches the message that there is an abundant talent of top women speakers who are capable of sharing the podium with their male colleagues, women who are equally poised to speak about leadership issues.

“Importantly, the inclusion of men also helps to ensure the women’s leadership agenda becomes a conversation that men are having too,” she says.

Women are still traditionally responsible for taking care of families and communities, and as they take up more leadership positions at work, we need to see a different approach that encourages a more even distribution of responsibilities across the board. “Women’s leadership today is about changing the game completely and creating a different, healthier set of rules and values,” says Edelstein. “This can only be achieved by discussing these issues with our spouses, partners and male colleagues.”

“We want to encourage women to recognise their leadership abilities, to see themselves as leaders and raise the game in terms of the topics they speak about.  The Women’s Leadership Conference creates this space,” concludes Edelstein.