Empowering Others with Self-Empowerment: Enacting Effective Leadership through Mindful Mentorship - in conversation with Fiemu Nwariaku
For many leaders, the vision and company mission comes before the team. It takes an exceptional leader to put his team first, to allow each member to tap into their innate skill set, then come together naturally as a team to accomplish the organization’s mission.
Fiemu Nwariaku, Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine, sees it as his mission to mentor and guide his team members to their organic strengths and talents, as a mechanism to create a positive impact in the organization and the community.
Having worked in academic medicine for over 25 years, Fiemu sees it as his life mission to support, promote, and improve the lives of those around him. Today, we are in conversation with Fiemu, who speaks about what shaped his passion for helping others and how he guides people toward their innate skills.
One of the things you stand for, and as you mentioned, your life’s purpose, is improving people’s lives. Professionally, you achieve this through technology in health care. But besides that, you also focus on making a difference in the teams you lead and the young people you mentor, whether students or young professionals. Tell us how you do this, your approach to making a difference, and where that passion comes from?
“Everyone has an innate gift. From a young age, I have been interested in helping others accomplish their goals.I look around at my colleagues and team members, and see how each individual possesses unique qualities and talents. Some individuals are good at writing, some are great at growing relationships and networking, others are talented with numbers, and so on. One of my goals is to align those innate skills and gifts with the mission we’re trying to accomplish as a team. Once you get people to engage around something bigger than themselves, they tend to flourish with whatever talents or skills they possess and come together stronger as a team. This is especially true when it comes to problem-solving, where many of us grow through the resolution process. When in touch with our natural skills and talents, we become more excited about the work and eager to meet and solve challenging problems. I believe that this is where true growth occurs.
“I have been extremely fortunate to have been supported and mentored throughout my personal and professional life. I could not have achieved much without the help of others. My passion comes from a feeling of gratitude and an obligation to share and help others achieve their goals.
“My maternal grandfather was the first to complete any formal education in his family. He rose to become a Minister in government, and I watched him leverage this position and influence to help others. He was critical in mentoring numerous individuals through education, employment and family support. He was one of my early role models, and I have always strived to make an impact, as he did.
“I was particularly fortunate as a young medical school graduate, to have a demanding mentor as my first boss. A surgeon, he challenged me to make a career decision early, at a time when I wasn’t inclined to do so. However, he held me accountable for my decision once I made the commitment, and encouraged me to prepare rigorously for a career in surgery. He also taught me to put the needs of my patients above all else. The process gave me an outstanding opportunity to develop professional independence early in my career. His belief in me gave me permission to believe in myself and allowed me to develop my own professional ambitions. I definitely would not have had the courage to apply for a surgical residency position in the US as a young Nigerian medical graduate, if not for his mentorship and encouragement. Despite the improbability of achieving the dream of becoming a surgeon in the U.S, his challenge made me believe that I was capable. This confidence has stayed with me through this day.
“So that is where my passion for helping others comes from. I realized how important it is to open windows for people to obtain a broader worldview. Many young people tend to focus on the present and on their immediate environment. Good mentors help us recognize that window, and grasp for dreams that may be just beyond our reach.
“I have tried to model this behavior professionally. Recently one of my very capable directors had serious self-doubt and a fairly narrow view of what she was capable of doing. I mentored her through a period and have been excited to see her professional growth. It is heartwarming to see how she now communicates and thinks differently. She has advanced professionally and even started her own business. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of her professional development. Seeing someone’s strength and witnessing their success through guidance and mentorship is tremendously gratifying.
“Part of our responsibility as mentors is to help people find their passion. Many times, people work just to work, almost robotic. However, if you listen carefully to the people who work with you, you’ll hear a theme in their conversations. I see my role as a mentor to help them align that passion with a component of their work. This could be anything from opening a new business to deciding whether to pursue a master’s degree. Once people act within their passion, they will be self-driven and give you their best work.
I find it better to encourage people and point them in the direction of self-direction than to provide a prescriptive approach where I’m asking or telling them what to do. In this way, your team naturally grows personally and professionally without much management. I refer to this as watching people ‘catch fire’, in a good way.”
Thank you, Fiemu, for your insightful thoughts.
Connect with Fiemu on Linkedin.