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:-)

Debby Edelstein

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

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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

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.

Faith in our Future (by a 17 year old South African)

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A guest blog post by my son Adam Edelstein

I wouldn’t call myself an optimist, nor would I call myself a pessimist. I understand the danger when walking alone at night in the middle of Newtown, but I also see the small acts of kindness prevalent in South African society. I see the shifty looking meth head walking on the other side of the road, but I also see the laugh shared by passing strangers.

With four of our cities being in the top 50 most dangerous in the world, many people seem to think our future looks grim. Corruption is rife and most of our country’s truly great leaders are either not in politics, over 80 or have already abandoned the country.

And yet, when I go get a coffee from around the corner from my house, and the guy at the counter gives me a high five and a huge grin, I don’t feel despair or bitterness. Make no mistake, I think there is a massive weight on the shoulders of our generation, but I don’t think we’re quite as alone as we think we are. I feel, in fact, quite the opposite. I feel hope.

When asked where one intends to work after university, many people say ‘London’, ‘New York’, ‘Paris’. I myself want to travel, and hopefully work all over the world. I also, however, intend to make a contribution right here in sunny South Africa, the most diverse, energetic and, frankly, also one of the scariest countries in the world.

I’ve seen a few, thankfully rare, individuals express loathing for our beautiful country. They feel hopeless and angry towards the ‘corrupt government’ for failing us so dismally. They say that they ‘can’t wait’ to get out of this garbage dump, and finally see the beautiful beaches of Australia.

To put it bluntly, our beaches are better.

The government has failed us in many areas and they will soon have to face up to their mistakes, and yet it is important to remember the many who truly try to change South Africa for the better. The many individuals who focus on the people, rather than the paycheck, and have dedicated their lives to fighting crime and the forces of evil.

As the generation that I am privileged to be a part of grow up, and finally face the true heat of South Africa, we won’t take ‘Sorry.’ for an answer. We are the generation that not only changes the face of this country, but the face of the world.

Already, calls for change have been echoing in school halls all around the country, and bills for internet censorship and media secrecy have been met with outcries that the government cannot help but listen to. The voice of the youth has always been powerful, but the potential of our generation has exceeded that of any before us. School children calling their teachers to their classes, ensuring they have a matric education. Teachers striking against the terrible conditions they are forced to teach in.

Perhaps the change we bring about is due to our size, but maybe it’s actually due to our nature. We’ve been brought up by the wisest teachers and parents the world has seen so far, and we’ve witnessed some of the world’s worst disasters.

We are the countless protesting against rape in, not only South Africa, but America, the Middle East, and Europe. We are misogynists and racists, but far more of us are gay pride, gender equality and anti-bullying activists. We ignore the few who seek attention to be popular, we see one another for who we truly are and we don’t see individuals by the colour of their skin, but rather by the nature of their hearts.

We are the largest, most revolutionary generation this Earth has ever seen. We are Generation Y, the Millenials. We have the responsibility and drive to change the world and the power to overcome more problems than the world has ever known before. Not only will we fix the cracks and flaws in modern society, but we will take our race to a place only dreamt of by past populations.

So no, I am not an optimist, and sometimes I feel exceedingly grim when looking at the obstacles we have to face in the coming years. And yet, I have hope that there is true innovation and goodness in this country; hope that the terrible crimes I hear of can be remedied, not by ‘teaching women to defend themselves.’ But rather by teaching young boys that rape is unacceptable, that no means no.

I have hope that by teaching the future leaders of our country that everyone is an equal, and that your character is measured by how you treat those who can do nothing for you, the majority of us will be supremely powerful leaders.

We are the leaders the world has been waiting for, and our time is now.

The Dark Side of the Little Red Hen

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Never mind the usual leadership gurus, it’s the story of the Little Red Hen and her can-do approach that has shaped my work life.

There are a few childhood narratives that strike a chord at the right time and have the power to stay with you forever. Together with a few other favourite stories my mother read and told (like Pookie the Rabbit whose whimsical illustrations gave me a love of blue flowers forever) the force of the Little Red Hen remains strong within me.

So imagine my delight to learn in Time that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the recently released Lean In, was also  influenced by this famous fable. In sixth grade, Sandberg took second place in a Florida-wide oratory contest when she used the folktale of the little red hen to talk about the importance of everyone doing their bit for America.

There’s a strong sense of industry, self-sufficiency and reliance in the tale. When the dog, the cat and the duck refuse to help her make bread “Then I will make it all by myself” said the Little Red Hen. “And she did.”

So over the years whenever I get frustrated that my ideas haven’t attracted the right support or sponsorship, I hear the feisty words of the Little Red Hen and remember “Then I will make it all by myself”.

It’s a liberating way to live. And I’ve launched a few businesses on the strength of this philosophy.

But as much as I love her and all that she represents, I’ve learned that there’s a dark side to the Little Red Hen and her self-sufficiency.

It’s the shadow side of the entrepreneur.

Benjamin Zander  conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and author of the Art of Possibility told the story of how he once apologized to his students who didn’t attend an important concert because he, as their leader, failed to convey sufficiently how inspiring and beautiful that concert would be.

This I’ve learned is one of the most important roles of a leader – the ability to communicate a vision that takes people with you and allows them the joy of participation.

So I’ve learned that the Little Red Hen is missing a few tricks and these are a few ideas I’d like to share with her:

  1. Yes you’re tough, multi-skilled and resilient but are you a great leader? Take time to share your vision of toasty, freshly baked bread and how delicious it will be
  2. When you invite others to participate in your vision, you’re sacrificing complete control. There will probably be a mess in your kitchen that alone you wouldn’t make. But there’s fun, festivity and a sense of something bigger that can emerge if you tolerate the mess
  3. Don’t take perverse pride out of being a bad delegator. Everyone can learn to bake if you take the time out of your busy day to show them how
  4.  Sharing the bread you’ve baked is far more fun when you do it together in a spirit of love and generosity. Have your friends over and give them a slice

With love and appreciation for all you’ve taught me.

Debby