Adedayo Akande Of the University of Health Sciences Antigua: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be optimistic — There is nothing worse than a leader who is a “Debbie Downer.” No matter how difficult things might get, it’s always best to remain positive. Your attitude has a direct impact on your team and their performance.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Adedayo Akande.

Dr. Adedayo Akande is a Chicago-born/Antigua-raised businessman. He is the Chairman and President of the Caribbean-based Medical University, the University of Health Sciences Antigua. Dr. Akande became Vice-Chairman of UHSA upon the passing of his father, Dr. Yele Akande, the founder of the 40-year-old organization. In 2018, Dr. Akande became the chairman and president of UHSA. During his tenure as President, UHSA has witnessed numerous developments, even during the pandemic, including expanding its international programs and venturing into new areas of business such as psychedelic research.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started my career working for a Fortune 500 company, building my career in the corporate world. Although one of the primary reasons for this pathway was my intent to eventually bring my experience to my family’s business, I was not in the medical education space. However, after the sudden passing of my father, my plans were cut shorter than anticipated. Suddenly I found myself in the unfamiliar medical education industry. However, after quickly learning, I was able to bring my experience to benefit the organization.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

One of the funniest mistakes that I made when I first started was having somewhat of an inferiority complex due to being in a new industry. However, I soon realized that everyone on my team values my guidance as a leader, so I soon recognized the importance of having the necessary experts around me to provide their knowledge. Over the years, I’m proud to continue surrounding myself with those who have the essential skills that allow us to venture into new projects as needed.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I credit my mother to getting us to this point. Although she had a different way of leading the organization, I do recognize all that I learned from her during her tenure as Chairman since the passing of my father. I will say that operating a family business comes with its challenges, particularly if working with a parent. However, since her retirement from the organization, much historical knowledge has been passed on, which is useful for future decision-making.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Since its inception, our motto has been “medical school to the world.” This not only stands for the fact that our students come from many parts of the world, but it also stands for the impact that our organization makes. Students who graduate and enter the workforce can positively impact future generations on a global scale. Our graduates treat mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, which is unbelievable when you really think about it. Sure, graduating as a physician is impressive. But when you think about the impact these individuals can make on the lives of the public, it’s quite unbelievable. All from a medical college based on a small Caribbean Island.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Not long after becoming president, our institution lost a source of student loan funding. Although out of our control, it impacted business operations and affected student enrollment. We worked to get past this matter. However, we soon experienced COVID-19 like the rest of the world. As a result, we were forced to change our business processes entirely, as we moved a portion of our academic programs online since travel to our campus was not possible. This transition was difficult, but we were able to quickly make this change primarily due to my technology background. During these times, it has been a matter of not just keeping open communication with our students and our team, but focusing on our next steps. With the variant looming on the horizon, the changes we made may be more permanent for the time being. However, adapting to change and the “new norm” is just something we must do, and our team has done a great job throughout all of what we’ve been through.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I honestly have at times, but knew despite any hurdles, that I couldn’t. I credit my wife for the motivation to continue through these challenges. Oftentimes, she is the voice of reason for many scenarios. I also rely heavily on my faith. The reality is that leaders may not always have an outlet to voice their concerns, so it’s important to find that source, whether it be a spouse, mentor, or even online advice, as a means to find balance. I also believe the position I serve is much bigger than just me or my family. There are many who are relying on us to allow them to make a positive impact in this world.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Being a leader is not an easy task during challenging times. I would say a critical component is the ability to be transparent, yet empathetic. Those two particularly go hand-in-hand when it comes to decision making during uncertain times.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Take a step back and realize all that has been accomplished. When you are working towards a common goal, there will be challenges. The goal is to focus on the big picture at all times. The pandemic might be the most uncertain thing experienced for most organizations, including ours, but knowing the past and what we aim for in the future significantly impacts morale positively. Also, celebrating minor accomplishments is essential.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

The best method to communicate news is in person or in a pandemic world, via conference is now satisfactory. However, during this process, leaders need to understand why a problem has taken place and thoroughly understand how this might impact their team. Simply delivering bad news without really understanding how it will affect others can distort your message and oftentimes cause a negative outcome.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

The only constant in life is change. Plans will change, and that’s the reality. At the end of the day, leaders should have a vision of where they want to go. Without vision, there is failure. Of course, there may be hurdles, but I believe if you keep making steps towards your ultimate goal, it will be achieved.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Although communication with your team and clients is essential, the ability to make decisions and move forward quickly is a necessity.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  • Not communicating enough and moving too fast without consulting key individuals. This is an easy mistake, particularly in a small business, where oftentimes decisions must be made quickly and while there may not be too many individuals to discuss ideas with.
  • Lacking empathy for employees. Difficult decisions are never easy to make with employees. Particularly during times of uncertainty. When making decisions, it is always important to recognize why the decision was made and how it will affect others.
  • Not adapting to change. I personally believe that this is a common mistake in any organization because change cannot be avoided. The negative effects of organizations not adapting to change has been seen in all industries.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

A primary strategy is “cut your coat according to your size,” which is a statement my father often said. It stands true in all scenarios. For instance, in successful times, it’s important to be wise about expansion because things may not always go as planned, as we have seen in recent years. For example, we have been able to operate our organization without the need for outside capital. Of course, this has its challenges, such as growing slower, etc. However, it has helped to avoid putting ourselves into situations of uncertainty. As we revise these decisions and now seek assistance to grow, it is still important to maintain certain principles to avoid mistakes while expanding quickly.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Lean on your team — Although a leader’s job is to guide others, your team is where things really happen. People are in position to do their job and share their knowledge, take advantage of that.
  • Be proactive — If there are things on the horizon that either don’t look right or if there might be opportunities, make the decision to act.
  • Find balance — Life is already stressful and being responsible for others, particularly during challenging times, is even more stressful. Despite what occurs, always remember that life is to be enjoyed no matter how negatively things might seem.
  • Seek out positive/meaningful relationships — One would be surprised about where great advice comes from. I’ve received valuable advice from individuals from an array of different backgrounds and industries. Much of that has been extremely valuable to me and my organization.
  • Be optimistic — There is nothing worse than a leader who is a “Debbie Downer.” No matter how difficult things might get, it’s always best to remain positive. Your attitude has a direct impact on your team and their performance.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I rely heavily on a bible scripture quote, which is “All Things Work Together For Good.” I believe this in all aspects of my life and business, particularly during challenging times. There is always light in challenging times and once you come out on the other end, your experience will simply make you a stronger leader.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I can be found through our University’s website, I am personally on LinkedIn as well.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you for the opportunity!

Adedayo Akande Of the University of Health Sciences Antigua: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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