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7 Questions on Leadership with Justina Ikwu

Name: Justina Ikwu

Title: President

Organisation: Canadian Association of Urban FInancial Professionals

Justina is a strategy and transformation professional with expertise in Financial Institutions and Social Impact. Her proficiency lies in cross-functional team leadership, adeptly navigating complexity, and pioneering innovative solutions. Beyond her professional role, Justina is actively engaged in empowering undeserved communities. She currently serves as the President of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, showcasing her commitment to positive change.

Justina holds an MBA from Queen’s University and an Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences with a Minor in Psychology from the University of Ottawa, both of which contribute to her well-rounded perspective.

Justina is recognized for her contributions and her dedication to driving growth, sparking change, and fostering a positive impact.

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

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


Jonno White

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

Managing a team of volunteers, who are driven by our shared passion for uplifting the community, requires a delicate balance. While we all share a common goal, it's essential to recognize that my team members have competing priorities and commitments. As a result, I need to adjust my pace and expectations, remaining sensitive to their individual situations, while also maintaining a sense of ambition and innovation within the team.

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

My journey into leadership began at the tender age of 16 during my high school years, specifically in the 11th and 12th grade at a Catholic boarding school. It was there that I was entrusted with a leadership role focused on managing the operational aspects of the spiritual well-being and development of 600 students. I distinctly remember the juggling act of balancing my daily tasks, overseeing a group of students, and excelling in a challenging 12-course load. This early experience, at such a young age, served as the foundation for the leadership opportunities that would come my way in my early adult years.

Post-MBA, I continued to seek out leadership roles, propelling me to join the Board of Directors of the CAUFP as the Director of Youth Engagement. In this capacity, I spearheaded multiple initiatives aimed at fostering socioeconomic empowerment for BIPOC youths. I then assumed the role of Vice President of the portfolio, where I led efforts to strengthen relationships with universities, managed a small team of four, and facilitated scholarships and large-scale job fairs for diverse partners and students.

All of these experiences culminated in my role as President in 2023. In this capacity, I've led a passionate, driven, and creative team of 16 board members, reported to advisory board members, foster relationships with past presidents and growing community members. Our focus has been on enhancing operational excellence, exploring transformative strategies for sustainable growth, and unlocking value for our partners and members. My journey from high school to the present has been a continuous learning process, and each experience has contributed to my growth as a leader.

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

My day is built around a weekly priority list that factors in peak productivity times and essential workstreams aligning with the organization's goals. I start at 6 am with morning rituals, a potential home workout, and prepare for the day. My workday officially begins at 8:30 am.

I use my mornings to address urgent emails, while afternoons are dedicated to brainstorming, presentations, and drafting. Early evenings are reserved for team and partner meetings. In between, I take short breaks to clear my mind.

The day wraps up with dinner, a walk, prayer, task prioritization for the next day, and I aim to be in bed by 11 pm. This structure allows me to make the most of my time and repeat the process the next day.

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

One of the fundamental aspects of leadership is setting the pace, leading by example, leveraging community influence through strategic industry relationships, and motivating teams to reach common objectives. Amidst the myriad activities that come with this role, a recent leadership lesson has truly underscored the paramount importance of empathy when engaging with all stakeholders.

This lesson has reinforced the profound impact of understanding and resonating with the unique perspectives, challenges, and aspirations of each individual within the community. It's not just about achieving objectives, but also about fostering a sense of belonging, ensuring that all voices are heard, and creating an environment where compassion and empathy drive authentic connections. I've come to realize that by leading with empathy, we can navigate complexities more effectively, inspire trust, and nurture a culture of collaboration and shared purpose. It's a lesson that resonates deeply and continues to shape my leadership approach.

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?

"Think Again" by Adam Grant has been instrumental in reshaping my approach to leadership. The book's core lessons emphasize intellectual humility, a willingness to reconsider, and the power of fostering a questioning mindset. By recognizing the limitations of our knowledge, embracing diverse perspectives, and maintaining a culture of open dialogue, I've learned to create an environment that encourages innovative thinking and informed decision-making. Additionally, the book stresses the importance of learning from failures and thinking beyond the obvious, ultimately making my leadership style more open, adaptable, and receptive to the valuable insights of my team. In essence, "Think Again" has reinforced the idea that effective leadership is an ongoing journey of growth and adaptation, underpinned by empathy and a commitment to continuous learning.

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

Leadership is both a noble calling and a conscious choice. Embrace it wholeheartedly, armed with humility, perseverance, and a forward-looking perspective. Recognize that you don't have to journey alone; your community is an invaluable resource. They will help you refine your thinking, keep you adaptable and open-minded while preserving your unwavering focus and determination. Always remember that leadership is not a destination but an ongoing commitment to growth, learning, and the betterment of those you serve.

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

Last year, I led the Youth Engagement team in organizing a major event. Unexpectedly, we had to postpone the event and were left with less than three weeks to restructure it as a hybrid program. Our team was diverse, but morale was low, tensions ran high, and roadblocks were aplenty, from technical issues to internal disagreements and realignment with partners.

Although many suggested postponing to the following year, I took a different approach. I called for an urgent meeting to address our tight deadline and conflicting opinions on execution. We brainstormed solutions, ensuring every team member had a voice. In that moment, I realized the profound impact of empathetic leadership. Actively listening to their concerns and fears, I acknowledged their stress and anxiety, helping identify the root causes.

We worked collaboratively to simplify tasks and allocate them according to team members' strengths and contributions, which significantly eased the tension. The project ultimately succeeded, and we met our deadline, but the real triumph was the transformation of our team dynamics. We had become a more united and empathetic group, carrying this collaboration into future projects.

This experience underscored the power of empathy and open communication in leadership, reinforcing my commitment to understanding my team's needs, providing support, and fostering a cooperative environment. It served as a reminder that effective leadership is not just about meeting goals; it's about empowering and supporting your team in the face of challenges.

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