Finding Your Path to Leadership in the Midst of Adversity

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There is a Chinese proverb that goes, Do not pray for an easy life, instead pray for the strength to endure a difficult one. There is a political theory called “relative deprivation” that explains unrest based on our expectations of where we should be versus where we are at the moment.

, nor do we act when we believe we have been given enough. The impetus for change comes when we see the chasm between what we feel we deserve from life and where we are now.

The latest edition of Women in Leadership highlights the careers of many different women who have risen from less-than-perfect situations, women who experienced challenges, saw the gap and then created a bridge to cross over it. One such woman, Councillor Saima Ashraf, of the Barking & Dagenham borough discusses the many trials of early marriage, spousal abuse, divorce and poverty, as well as, how she overcame them all.

Exclusive interview with Councillor Saima Ashraf

Exclusive interview with Councillor Saima Ashraf

Her life was not an easy one, but one that challenged her over and over again. It was in the challenge, in that adversity, that she not only found out who she was but what she was capable of. Each of us can take a lesson from her life story and apply it to help ourselves overcome the challenges in front of us.

Don’t give up

Ashraf had come from a happy, close-knit family living in France. At 18 was sent off to a new country, whose language she did not know, and with a very different culture to be married to a man she had never met. It was in Pakistan that she experienced for the first time in her life both physical and mental abuse, as well as, the pain of depression. She didn’t give in or give up, and seeing where she is now in life, it was clear that her perseverance paid off. Most successful, self-made leaders are just people who looked forward instead of looking back.

Learn and adapt

For the first six years of her marriage Ashraf focused on learning the languages of Pakistan, as well as, learning how to be a wife and mother. She and her family would eventually move back to France and then on to the UK where she, once more, experienced a language and cultural barrier. In the UK that Saima was dropped off at a hostel with her children, unable to speak the language, so she drew pictures. She watched, she learned, and she adapted. She had adapted and overcome these barriers in Pakistan, and now understood the process of absorbing what knowledge she could from the world around her. In that hostel she learned about the laws protecting her against domestic violence. She discovered her rights and for the first time in her life, accepted the challenge of not just living but thriving. All leaders thrust into situations that were murky or dangerous, learned what they could about their situation and quickly adapted.

Share what you know with others

Leaders are people who hear the call, respond, and follow through. They take their knowledge and experience, then translate and share it with others. Ashraf learned from those helpers in the hostel and government workers who assisted her. She volunteered for Oxfam, got involved in the Labour Party, where she would meet MP Margaret Hodge who saw her potential and her courage. It was Margaret who encouraged her to run for office so that she could help others like herself.

In her story are all the elements of tragedy and heroic success. Ashraf could have gone either way. What makes her story so powerful is that she found herself in the adversity and became someone that others can look up to, use as a role model of strength and perseverance, and also rely on for help. She is more than a leader. She’s a hero. Councillor Saima Ashraf didn’t have an easy life. No, she had the strength to endure a difficult one.

For the full interview with Councillor Ashraf, download your copy of the Women in Leadership publication now.

Women in Leadership Publication

Women in Leadership Publication


About Aji R. Michael

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2 Comments on Finding Your Path to Leadership in the Midst of Adversity

  1. Hannah
    26th July 2016 at 7:15 pm (2 years ago)

    When we go through challenges, we learn more especially if we are smart. Challenges will always have an outcome but we are to decide whether they be positive or negative. There is absolutely no excuses really for allowing them over-ride us. This I have learnt and through them I am absolutely becoming better

    • Aji Michael
      26th July 2016 at 7:52 pm (2 years ago)

      Yes Hannah, challenges are meant to help us become better.


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