I was seeking a jolt of reality and some mental recalibration. Blogs, conversations with friends could only take me so far.Alexandra Iljadica, Youth Food Movement Australia
Alex Iljadica is an alumnus of our 2013 Polykala Leadership Intensive, in this post, we catch up on Alex’s work and how she’s using the training.
Tell us about your work in the world…
Youth Food Movement Australia – The Youth Food Movement Australia is on a mission to grow a tribe of trailblazers to ‘unbreak’ our food system. We do this (mostly) via Upstart, our trailblazer program run in 5 cities across Australia. Through Upstart we build the skills, knowledge and experience that young people have around food. More than that, we empower them to take those skills, knowledge and experiences out into the world and create the food system that they believe in. That might be creating a campaign turning leftovers into delicious tucker; inviting farmers into the city to share their story; or preserving 600kgs of tomatoes to enjoy all year round, with the help of many hands of course.
Why did you decide to do the Polykala Leadership Intensive?
I was seeking a jolt of reality and some mental recalibration. Blogs, conversations with friends could only take me so far. I was interested in relying on the skills, processes and wisdom of others to give me what I needed going into this new season of my life. On a practical note, I was looking for something I could do intensively over a weekend, and then apply as needed in my work and life. A 12-week or year-long program didn’t appeal to the urgent bear inside me that wants results immediately.
What were your expectations going into the program?
Going into the program I was expecting something new and abstract, but not much more than that. I understood the program was built on theories of adaptive leadership from Harvard, and that it was experiential and physical, but I very intentionally went in with neutral expectations so as to be open to the process. For example, I don’t think I expected to be sitting on chairs or in a traditional classroom setting, but I didn’t come with any idea what the room would look like.
I expected that the program would give me the space and process to chip further away at reality: to delve deeper into the things I do that influence the people around me, to observe what is really going on in a situation, and to play with alternative responses to my habitual and learned ones. I also expected to cry; honesty from yourself and others and letting go will do that.
What was were the key things you took away from the program?
The most tangible take-away is the process of Adaptive Leadership: observing, note-taking, making an intervention, organising your observations, reflecting on whether your current behaviours are useful to you or the situation.
The intangible take-aways are completely personal and unique. I will share one: the program allowed me to see how I am a peacemaker and often avoid conflict. This is in many ways anathema to change as the intention of a peacemaker can be to keep things in harmony. However, sometimes conflict is necessary for a system to adapt and change. My intuitive response for harmony robs myself and others of learning.
What was the most surprising thing about the program for you?
Humans aren’t as unique as we like to think we are. I was surprised by how common the stories we tell ourselves were among my cohort; stories that get in the way of our leadership practice.
I was surprised by the generosity of others on the program to push themselves in a moment of stress and vulnerability so that the group could learn from that behaviour, where it leads, and how it plays out in our own lives.
I was surprised by the movement sessions and how they allowed me the space to test/play behaving in new ways. In complex and adaptive environments it’s not always clear what the cause and effect factors are, and any intervention you make (designing a new program, launching a campaign, having a difficult conversation) is unlikely to give you concrete signs of effecting things in a positive or negative way. By using my body, moving with others in strange new ways I overcame my concerns of looking like a fool, making a mistake, making things worse. Those were all new behaviours for me to try on in a complex and adaptive situation. Applying this with the safety of the program made it much easier in real life after the program.
How have you used what you learnt in the Polykala Leadership Intensive?
I am now aware that I foresee and imagine conflict before I experience it. I realise I cannot make leadership interventions in conflict if I am never in a state of conflict.
I am speaking up more in both mundane and pivotal moments of life. Prior to the program, I was driven by a fear of looking the fool, appearing weak and unknowledgeable. There is a much smaller space for those thoughts in my mind, and a greater awareness about entertaining them. Now I choose actively to entertain them or not.
I am now aware of the systems of relationships that I am in and of those around me. I am now perceiving my relationships with others as a complex system, where previously I simplified them and the people involved. This has given a new sense of freedom and allowed me to see what I previously couldn’t.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer someone who is considering doing the program?
If you like intimacy; if you prefer the practical and tangible; if you’re in an ugly situation and your attempts to change things appear to have gone nowhere (or made things worse); if you’re willing to be generous; if you have an itch to move yourself forward and want to work at it; if you want to know what’s really going on, Adaptive is a good place to start.