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1. Portrait of the Author as a Mushroom
2. We are the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For…
3. How on Earth Can We Live Together? Feedback from The Tallberg Forum in Sweden
4. Business Unusual: The 3rd Annual Soul of Business Conference in JHB
5. The Man who brings Democracy to Work
6. Newsflash: Soul of Business in Cape Town
7. Women’s Leadership in October
8. Spring has Sprung
9. Good Fairies and Big Strong Men
10. The Soul of SA Business in Print
1. Portrait of the Author as a Mushroom

In one of my presentations I have a slide called Portrait of the Author as a Mushroom?. It’s a rather unflattering personal metaphor that came to me at a leadership workshop (led by Colin Hall) when we were asked to describe ourselves in one word.

It’s become a vivid symbol to me of the importance of engaging with the world. Like many mushrooms (the introvert types described by Myers Briggs who typically derive their energy from within rather than from dealing with others), I am often more inclined to hide in the cool dark than step bravely into the sunlight.

But although the shade of solitude can be replenishing and centering, it’s only by stepping out that we feel truly alive. It’s by speaking up and sharing thoughts that we are able to learn from and inspire others. It’s by discovering a common humanity that we remember we are part of something bigger and experience magical moments of connection and synchronicity.

On a personal level, it’s been a really tough year in many ways but as the weather warms and spring promises new beginnings, I realise that it’s not the books I’ve read or the quiet moments I’ve spent alone that have sustained or replenished me. The real gifts have come from stepping outside of myself and I’ve been blessed with many opportunities for doing so this year.

I’ve had the privilege of engaging with inspiring leaders both locally and internationally and I share some highlights with you below.

The chances are good that the now famous words incorrectly attributed to Madiba in his inauguration speech (actually written by author Marianne Williamson) were written for mushrooms by a mushroom.

“It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us”

The good news is that we’ve still got some wonderful events planned for the rest of the year. So this is a special invitation to mushrooms and their more extroverted colleagues to join us where you can and delight in the discovery of what happens when you have the courage to step into the light.

Writing this newsletter is my commitment to doing the same.
warm regards
Debby Edelstein


My approach to women’s leadership is shaped by the premise that our role today is far more radical than trying to score points in a culture that we’ve always found alienating. It’s about changing the game completely and creating a different, healthier set of rules.

So in March we introduced a new event called “We are the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For”. It was a rich space for posing some provocative questions and getting in touch with the untapped leadership potential of a remarkable group of women. (And one brave man called Adam who shared his birthday with us as well as his commitment to feminine leadership. Next year we need more men like him to join us.)

My favourite question to emerge:

If we knew that feminine practices of leadership were genuinely welcomed, what would we do differently?
Check out the pictures under Gallery on https://www.qualitylife.co.za/conf2.asp. This will definitely become a regular event on the QualityLife Company calendar.

3. “How on Earth Can We Live Together”. Feedback from The Tallberg Forum in Sweden

In June I was invited to participate in a five-day leadership conference in Tallberg, Sweden, with the theme “How on Earth Can We Live Together”.

Every year leaders from all over the world and from various sectors of society gather in the small Swedish village of Tallberg to talk about the challenges and opportunities that stem from global interdependence.

The formal program was studded with world leaders from business, government and civil society. But the richest learning came from conversations with remarkable people from all over the world as we walked and drove through the beautiful Dalarna countryside.

I was particularly lucky with my bus ride companions. (A three-hour trip from Arlanda airport to Tallberg begs for good conversation) United in the irritation of having our luggage lost by Swiss Air, I was entertained and inspired by the formidable but equally modest Dr Tariq Banuri, an economic policy advisor who heads up the Stockholm Environment Institute. His passion was infectious and saw me joining a two day workshop which focused on Lake Tonle Sap on the Mekong River in Cambodia. (!) Although I could contribute very little to the conversation about fishing and ended up feeling a little water-logged, I was impressed by Tariq’s design of the process and commitment to multi-stakeholder participation. He made sure that three fisherman were present at the workshop (a translator had to be present throughout) to ensure that the local fishing community was adequately represented.

At breakfast the next morning, I sat with Professor Howard Gardner of multiple intelligence fame. He was participating in an alternative workshop on education and seemed mildly amused at my dilemma “How can I abandon Cambodia for education”? He told me I sounded like a New Yorker cartoon and said he couldn’t help me decide. (Self-interest prevailed over guilt and I went to education)

It was strange to experience a part of the world where it doesn’t get dark at night. Bliss for an insomniac and late night conversation junkie. On the bus drive back to Stockholm I met Subhash Agrawal, editor of India Focus who runs a think-tank that advises international players on Indian trends and strategic issues. It was yet another gift of this kind of international meeting that a girl from Jo’burg should meet a kindred spirit from Delhi. I also got to meet some amazing South African leaders. One of these was Iqbal Surve, of Sekunjalo who will be participating in our Cape Town Soul of Business Conference.

Favourite Tallberg quote: by Charles Handy (have to admit to being a bit starstruck about meeting one of my all time favourite gurus)

“Wear dark suits and whisper radical thoughts”

4. Business Unusual: The 3rd Annual Soul of Business Conference in JHB

In August, we held our 3rd Annual Soul of Business Conference with the theme Business Unusual. It was a powerful learning journey for all of us who were there but the real test will be the ideas that participants bring back home and integrate into their actions as leaders. We’ll keep you posted. (Great pics on the website https://www.qualitylife.co.za/gallery_a.php.)

My own conversations in Sweden reminded me once more of the words of Open Space Technology founder Harrison Owen who discovered that the most valuable part of any conference is the coffee breaks. So this year we were even more committed to building breathing space for conversations into the conference and will do the same in Cape Town in October. Always a challenge with such an exciting speaker line-up!

Favourite feedback: by Francesca Sammarchi, CIO Lekana

A huge thank you to Dunne and Debby for managing to put another quality event together. You understand the ripple effect, so you must know that your efforts are appreciated by a large proportion of people that do not know you exist! I’d like to share some of the “ripples” from Lekana. After the conference last year my department adopted a local charity, raised funds and were able to make some major changes that affected the lives of 90 odd old folk over a period of time. (these are often the forgotten generation within our society). This was all done democratically and all the funds raised were by staff through staff – my involvement was limited to creating the environment for them to do so. We then challenged other Lekana departments to do something similar and now have two main initiatives running. Most important for me was that these are ordinary staff making a difference, not only giving money but of their time … over time.

5. The Man who Brings Democracy to Work

One of our keynote speakers at Business Unusual was Anthony Fitzhenry, the modest founder and CEO of IT-infrastructure company Axiz. Anthony has become the poster-child for what is described as ‘the employee ownership’ model in business circles. Axiz insists that all employees “from floor sweepers to executives” acquire shares in the company the day they join, paid for by way of a modest salary deduction. The business model draws heavily on Mondragon, a co-operative established in Spain’s Basque country in 1954. It’s also based on an inverted hierarchy in which management are accountable to company employees. You can read more about Anthony in the book Meet the CEOs: Essential Leadership Styles in Today’s Business World (Penguin).

6. Newsflash: Soul of Business in Cape Town, October 18, 19 and 20, 2006.

This year for the first time, we’re taking the Soul of Business Conference to Cape Town. Thank you to General Manager Chris Godenir for suggesting we do this and for offering the Peninsula Hotel as a venue. There are some amazing business unusual initiatives taking place in Cape Town and we are very excited to learn more about the inspiring leaders behind them. Some of our Jo’burg speakers will be joining us but there will be a strong local flavour too. You can check out the full programme on https://www.qualitylife.co.za/program_19_10_06.htm.

7. Women’s Leadership in October

Last month I participated in a Wits panel discussion on “How women leaders and academics manage the glass ceiling” at the invitation of Professor Margaret Orr. Margaret runs The Centre for Learning, Teaching, and Development at the University of the Witwatersrand where I’ve run workshops for both academic and support staff.

The discussion (chaired by Denis Beckett who was on top form) was part of the launch of Buttons and Breakfasts. (Wits University Press.) It’s a powerfully candid read about the struggle to succeed within a male dominated academic environment edited by Margaret Orr, Mary Rorich and Finuala Dowling.

More Wits news is that I wrote an article for the Wits Business School Journal on women’s leadership earlier this year. Write to me at debby@qualitylife.co.za if you’d like a copy and I’ll email it to you. I’d love to know what you think.
October’s a very busy month! I’ll be running my Women’s Leadership programme Chaos, Creativity and Conversations twice, once at the invitation of the YPO and once as a public QualityLife Company workshop.

8. Spring has Sprung

Earlier this month I presented There’s Fairydust on my Filofax: How to Create Magic at Work for the teachers at the beautiful St Andrews school (where headmistress Pauline Jackson tells me they manage time-keeping without the use of bells). We are loving the rewards of a garden which we planted in February this year. Poppies, sweet peas and pansies abound, it’s a good lesson for a last minuter like me of how some things take time and need to be planned for in advance!

9. Good Fairies and Big Strong Men

In November it will be time for Good Fairy Week again. Last year organisations around the country participated and spread good cheer to people they’d never met. Unemployed people found jobs, weary mothers went on time-sharing holidays and anonymous bouquets of flowers were delivered to homes and offices all over South Africa. Not in our wildest dreams did we realise how popular this “Pay it Forward” concept would be and we worked late into the night for weeks matching fairies and wishers!.

This year we’d love to ask for some volunteers to help us with the matching process. So please email your details – only if you’re prepared to get fairydust under your nails – to debby@qualitylife.co.za. It’s also been suggested that we should change the name to be less gender biased. Although a few brave male souls joined us last year, it seems that most men don’t like to be described as fairies! The best suggestion will win a special fairydust kit and a place of honour on the QualityLife Company gallery

10. The Soul of SA Business in Print

QualityLife Company and South Africa – The Good News are teaming up to publish a book on the Soul of South African Business. The intention is to find the organisations and leaders who are forging new paths in business that are more conscious of the challenge of integrating people, business and broader society. Some of the themes we’re going to be exploring include Spiritual (values-based) Leadership, Corporate Social Investment, Volunteer Programmes, Enterprise Development (trade not aid), Business Unusual and Sustainability. We’re looking for companies that would like to be aligned with the values of this important project and who are in a position to sponsor a portion of it. If you’d like to be involved, please call Dunne on 0118809749 or email him on dunne@qualitylife.co.za.