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7 Questions on Leadership with Matthew Akano

Name: Matthew Akano

Title: Head, Fund Operations

Organisation: Ventures Platform Limited

Matthew is a venture capitalist with over ten years of experience in strategic growth, corporate advisory, compliance, and process improvement across various sectors and industries. He is currently the Head of Fund Operations at Ventures Platform Fund, where he provides strategic direction to the core fund administration, reporting, ESG, business integrity, and finance functions. He ensures alignment with the fund's vision, mission, and values and maintains effective relationships with external stakeholders, such as service providers, bankers, and investors. He leverages his forensic accounting and audit skills to enhance the fund's performance, transparency, and governance. He is passionate about supporting innovative entrepreneurs and startups in Africa and beyond.

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

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


Jonno White

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

One of the most challenging aspects of being a leader has been navigating through ambiguity and uncertainty. In a rapidly changing business environment, it's not always possible to have a clear roadmap, and that can be both exciting and challenging. I've learned to embrace ambiguity and make informed decisions even when faced with incomplete information. Additionally, managing and motivating a diverse team with varying perspectives and working styles has been a continuous learning experience. I've found that adapting my leadership approach to meet the needs of individuals while maintaining a cohesive team dynamic requires constant attention and flexibility. I actively seek feedback from my team and use it to refine my leadership strategies. Overall, the challenges have been valuable learning opportunities that have contributed to my leadership growth.

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

My journey to becoming a leader has been shaped by a combination of experiences and a commitment to personal and professional development. Early in my career, I recognised the importance of taking on challenging projects that allowed me to stretch my skills and learn from both successes and setbacks. I actively sought opportunities for leadership roles, whether leading a project team or taking on additional responsibilities.

One significant turning point was when I was appointed the regional head (Northern Region) to oversee the national sim registration exercise for a telecommunication firm in Nigeria and had to manage over 200 team members, it was a test of how leaders demonstrate gritty and resilience. This period really shaped my leadership style (which is largely democratic). This experience showcased my ability to navigate complex challenges and allowed me to lead a team to success. During this time, I discovered my passion for empowering others and creating a collaborative and supportive work environment.

I've also invested time in continuous learning, whether through formal education (As I’m currently finalising my PhD research with Charisma University), professional development programs, or mentorship. These experiences have honed my communication skills, strategic thinking, and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Over the years, I've understood that leadership is about supporting others and fostering a culture of trust, collaboration, and continuous improvement. I actively seek feedback (even when it is not “palatable”, embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, and strive to inspire those around me to reach their full potential. Each step of my journey has contributed to my evolution as a leader, and I remain dedicated to refining my skills and positively impacting both individuals and the broader team.

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

I believe in maintaining a well-structured and balanced work routine to ensure both productivity and personal well-being. My typical workday begins with an early morning routine, usually starting at 5 am. I find that beginning my day early allows me to focus on high-priority tasks when my energy and concentration are at their peak.

After waking up, I dedicate the first part of my morning to activities promoting personal well-being, such as exercise and mindfulness. This helps me clear my mind and sets a positive tone for the day.

Once I'm at my workspace, I review my priorities for the day and set specific, achievable goals. I prioritise tasks based on urgency and importance, using a combination of project management tools (Asana) and a to-do list (on my notepad). I find that breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps helps me stay focused and organised throughout the day.

I also incorporate short breaks to prevent burnout and maintain a high concentration level. These breaks might include a brief walk around my space, a moment of relaxation, or a quick chat with a colleague.

As the day progresses, I make a conscious effort to address emails and communication during designated time slots, allowing me to maintain responsiveness without constant interruptions. I aim to wrap up my workday typically around 7 pm, ensuring a healthy work-life balance.

In the evening, I take time to reflect on the day's accomplishments and areas for improvement. This reflective practice helps me refine my approach and set priorities for the following day.

Overall, my approach to structuring my workdays revolves around prioritisation, time management, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance to ensure sustained productivity and personal well-being.

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

Recently, I encountered a situation that reminded me of the importance of active listening in leadership. While carrying out the current position assessment (CPA) of departmental goals, I realized that I had been making assumptions about the team's understanding of certain aspects of the goals and deliverables. It became evident that I hadn't been listening as effectively as I thought.

The lesson I learned was the power of truly understanding the perspectives and concerns of each team member. I started conducting one-on-one meetings to encourage open communication and actively sought input from all team members. This not only improved the overall understanding of the project but also fostered a more collaborative and inclusive team culture.

I was reminded that leadership is not just about conveying information but also about creating an environment where every team member feels heard and valued. This experience reinforced the importance of continuous self-reflection and a commitment to adapting leadership styles based on the unique needs of the team.

Moving forward, I am incorporating this lesson into my leadership approach by regularly checking in with team members, actively seeking feedback, and creating opportunities for open dialogue. I believe that cultivating a culture of effective communication and active listening is crucial for achieving collective success and fostering a positive team dynamic.

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?

"The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale.

The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale is a classic self-help book emphasising the transformative power of maintaining a positive mindset. In the context of leadership, the principles from this book can profoundly impact shaping a leader's approach and influencing the overall team dynamic.

A close scenario where a leader, for the purpose of this, let's call her Sarah, was facing significant challenges within her team. The morale was low, and a pervasive sense of negativity was affecting productivity. Sarah decided to implement the principles she had learned from "The Power of Positive Thinking."

She began by reframing challenges as opportunities for growth and encouraged her team to adopt a more optimistic outlook. Sarah started each team meeting with a focus on achievements and positive aspects of the work, setting a tone of optimism. She also emphasized the importance of self-belief and resilience, using anecdotes and teachings from the book to inspire her team.

As a result, the team's mindset shifted. They started approaching problems with a can-do attitude, and the atmosphere became more collaborative. The increased positivity improved team morale and led to innovative problem-solving and a boost in overall productivity.

Moreover, Sarah's leadership style evolved to become more supportive and encouraging. She actively practised positive reinforcement, acknowledging individual and team accomplishments. This created a virtuous cycle where team members felt valued and motivated, leading to greater success.

In this way, "The Power of Positive Thinking" influenced Sarah's leadership by providing a framework for cultivating a positive and resilient team culture. The book's principles helped her navigate challenges and inspired a positive transformation within her team, ultimately contributing to greater success and a more enjoyable work environment.

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

I would advise a young leader to prioritize continuous learning (formal or informal) and adaptability. The ability to learn from successes and failures, coupled with a willingness to adapt to evolving circumstances, is key to long-term success in leadership. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, stay curious, and foster a mindset that values learning as a lifelong journey. This will not only enhance your leadership skills but also contribute to the success and resilience of your team and organization. In a nutshell, Keep learning to unlearn what you have learnt to create space to relearn new things and get a mentor early.

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

One of the most meaningful experiences during my time as a leader involved a challenging project that required the collaboration of a diverse team. As we worked towards our goals, it became apparent that communication barriers and differing perspectives needed to be addressed.

Instead of imposing my own ideas, I decided to facilitate an open dialogue among team members. We held a series of brainstorming sessions and check-ins where everyone could freely express their thoughts and concerns. It was a challenging process, but through active listening and fostering an environment of trust, we uncovered innovative solutions and aligned our efforts more effectively.

What made this experience truly meaningful was witnessing the transformation of the team dynamics. By acknowledging and valuing each team member's input, we not only achieved our project goals but also strengthened the team's cohesion. This reinforced my belief in the power of collaborative leadership, where every individual's perspective is not just heard but genuinely considered.

The positive impact on the team's morale and the successful outcome of the project underscored the importance of fostering an inclusive and collaborative work environment. This experience has since shaped my leadership approach, emphasizing the value of open communication, empathy, and teamwork in achieving collective success

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