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7 Questions on Leadership with Ashley E. Poklar

Name: Ashley E. Poklar

Title: Clinical Director

Organisation: Sentinel Foundation

Ashley is a counseling psychologist, educator, and mother of 4. She homeschools her children while working tirelessly with Sentinel Foundation to prevent child sexual exploitation and trafficking through awareness building for parents, youth, and community members and provides unique and targeted aftercare programming for those who have survived exploitation and trafficking. Ashley believes in the power of relationships to heal and to grow and that of nature to ground and reset.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Ashley's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

I often am the only female at the decision-making table, pushing for an agenda focused on intangible wins, such as increased awareness or preventative measures. As such, one of my biggest challenges as a leader is combatting my own self-doubt or inferiority complex. I need to come into these settings appearing confident and secure, even when I know I am entering an uphill battle, which, for me, can be quite difficult. Additionally, learning to not take things personally and engage in difficult dialogues from a space of curiosity, as opposed to defensiveness or needing to prove myself or my point, has been a steeper learning curve than I would have liked at times.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I guess I have always been a leader in some sense or another, being the oldest sibling. In the professional space, my frustrations with the systems within which I worked (the juvenile justice, educational, and healthcare systems) spurred me to take a more active approach to not only advocating for my individual clients (grassroots leadership) but also considering how to engage in systemic change to make a difference on a larger, and potentially more meaningful, scale. This focus on systemic change is what truly led to me becoming, somewhat unintentionally, a leader in my professional spaces. My knowledge bases in education, parenting, and child/adolescent psychology paired with my work in schools, community agencies, and healthcare settings gave me a unique capability to see the problem of child trauma through a systematically informed lens that very few practitioners possess. This paired with the ability to engage with stakeholders from a place of curiosity and a high level of cognitive flexibility allows me to create programming that bridges gaps without reinventing the wheel or taking away the wonderful services provided by others in the field.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I am likely in the minority here, but I don't really have a structured approach, besides a morning coffee! I thrive in a bit of chaos and easily get bored and unmotivated when my days are too structured or routine. That being said, I tend to do the bulk of my administrative work in the mornings in between homeschool lessons with my kids and my creative work in the evenings after everyone has gone to bed. My days run most smoothly if I can get some fresh air or time outside and engage in a meaningful way with both my four children and someone on the work side of things (if I am not communicating with others, the work starts to lose some of its purpose for me).

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

I was recently reminded of the importance of leading with curiosity after getting defensive when a solution was proposed for a problem I thought I had already solved. While my solution worked, and in many ways was better, the alternative solution had merits that mine did not. Had I led with curiosity, the discussion would have gone smoother, everyone would have felt heard, and I wouldn't have looked like the petulant child I seemed to appear as.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

I am a huge fan of "Antifragile" by Nassim Taleb and find it beneficial in all aspects of my life: personal, professional, and clinical. I appreciate his ability to share poignant examples of the need for stress (eustress and/or distress) to experience growth. It reminds me that growth doesn't come without some sort of pain or cost and if it does, chances are we aren't really moving in the right direction. As a leader, this knowledge helps me to refrain from becoming alarmist when there are growing pains, and to recognize that we can't all be happy all the time and do meaningful/purposeful work.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Engage in those difficult dialogues you may be hiding from, and do so by leading with curiosity.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

The most meaningful experience I have had so far as a leader was when my middle daughter (age 10 at the time) looked at me and said, "Mama, you are making kids' lives better." As a mother who engages in this type of work, I always question if I am putting too much time/energy into other people children at the expense of my own. This statement was a wake up call that everything I was pouring into others was also pouring into my own children as well.

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