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Being an Adaptive Leader

Discussions intricate, connections deeprooted, ideology intact. These are the words that will certainly come to my mind whenever I will recall this session.


The session started with the Dream pitch activity, this activity is my absolute favorite. I strongly believe each person has a heart dream, a unique drive to make a contribution, and fulfill a purpose. Discovering your passion, and dedicating yourself to pursuing it, can make a big difference in your happiness, self-motivation, and achievement. When all the pieces fit together, combining your passion with your strengths, you can achieve things you never imagined. It is entirely possible to reinvent yourself, even changing careers at any age. LedBy encourages us to believe dreams encompass goals and more. They give your life purpose, direction, and meaning. They shape your life choices, help you build toward the future, and give you a sense of control and hope.

We had two pitchers for the session today Aena Arif and Ilma Nafees -

Aena talked about the idea of making it happen, she reflected on the idea that the system we live in, only we can change it since we made it. She ended her pitch with the lines "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars". This quotation of Oscar Wilde from Lady Windemere's Fan reminds us that life is full of sometimes insurmountable seeming challenges.

Ilma Nafees presented her Dream in an equally compelling way, her presentation opened with the lines “India’s beautiful daughters” Her pitch revolved around how despite significant changes in the situation of women in independent India, there is still a big difference between the constitutional status and the reality of deprivation and decline. Whatever freedom has been flown in Indian society, has been breathed and enjoyed by men in the society. Women belonging are still left out of the winds of change. They are still living in selfish circumstances surrounded by poverty, ignorance, superstitions, and slavery. Despite stringent laws against dowry and passing arts, the dowry monster is still flagging the lives of thousands of dismal women every year.

Both the pitches were extremely poignant and self-reflective. The Pitch your dream was followed by a short break. After the break we were joined by Jill Hufnagel and Jen Brothers, Jill is an international expert on adaptive leadership and case-in-point learning, she provides consultation on unwieldy organizational challenges and designs and delivers immersive leadership workshops built on deep capacity development and possibility thinking. Whereas Jen on the other hand is a leadership facilitator and coach, as well as a therapist and ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). They began their discussion with a very poignant question: What does it mean to be a leader? The question was thought-provoking and equally engaging. I and my co-fellows started brainstorming together and a variety of answers started floating in the air. Someone said a leader is a person who cleans the chaos, another one said the leader contextualizes a problem. The discourse was heightened by what a leader should be and should not be. “A leader should be proud but not arrogant, '' someone added. After the absorbing discussion, we were sent to breakout rooms along with our co-fellows to build more upon the idea of leadership and provide a rationale for our definition of a leader. After the engrossing exchange of dialogue in the breakout room, we were called back to the main session for a debrief. Jill and Jen opened the floor for discussion and debate with 3 questions:

  1. What was the process like?

  2. Was it difficult to think about who/ what forms your idea of leadership?

  3. What do you value and what you don’t value in a leader?


The responses from the fellows were compelling and engrossing indeed. The discussion floor was closed by Jill and Jen with an activity, we were asked to close our cameras and come back on video only when we are fully engaged and engrossed in the session. The fellows did what they were asked, slowly and gradually we started coming back on videos only to find Jill standing far away and asking us “What do you want from me”, to personally this was rather a big question. Fellows were coming in with different needs and expectations from the session and from Jill in particular. The setting and mood started shifting a little, Jill started appearing less and less approachable, her distant and cold tone was adding to it. The questions and concerns of the room slowly shifted towards her, the uneasiness of the room was spellbinding. Jill, after the activity got over explained how she was pulling up an act with the fellows in order to explain the difference between authority and leadership. The gist of the discussion revolves around the idea that Authority is a position; leadership is the character of the person.Authority doesn’t grant you automatic devotion, nor does it inspire those around you. It lends you the power to give orders, but a good leader realizes their role involves much more than giving orders and observing the results. Presumably, you were given your authority thanks in part to your experience and knowledge. Use your knowledge to inspire and empower, not as a way to establish superiority or hold out as a badge of rank.

Jill and Jen conducted this activity to help us articulate the difference between authority and leadership. There’s a major difference between the two. Can we articulate it? Many people can’t, but almost everyone knows the difference when they see it.

The session stopped here with two open-ended questions- Role of authority and Your relationship and expectation from someone who is in authority over you? The fellows will have to ponder upon these questions before the next session. The activity and the session both were enthralling, to say the least. This session was focused more on the idea of who a leader is, the other half of this session will focus on the idea of “Adaptive leadership”, it will take place on the 25th of September. I am looking forward to the session.

Author: Naila Alavi is a LedBy Fellow'21 and a Teach For India Fellow.


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