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7 Questions on Leadership with Youssouf Diallo

Name: Youssouf Diallo

Title: Client Onboarding Specialist At Aza Finance, Doctorate Researcher at UCAD

Organisation: Aza Finance, UCAD

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

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


Jonno White

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

As a leader, one of the most challenging aspects I've encountered is balancing diverse responsibilities and priorities. Given my background in African and Postcolonial studies, as well as my involvement in founding and leading the youth-oriented association "TAKE_THE_LEAD," I have often found myself juggling various roles and tasks.

For instance, managing both academic research endeavors and the administrative demands of running an association required a delicate balance. It was challenging to allocate time efficiently, ensuring that I met the academic and organizational goals while maintaining a high standard of quality in both areas. This balancing act demanded effective time management, delegation skills, and the ability to stay focused amid competing priorities.

Additionally, leading initiatives in global citizenship education and youth empowerment involved collaborating with individuals from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Communication and understanding varied perspectives were key challenges that I had to navigate. This experience emphasized the importance of cultural competence, adaptability, and effective communication strategies in leadership.

In summary, the most challenging aspect of my leadership experience has been managing diverse responsibilities and navigating the complexities of working with individuals from different backgrounds while maintaining a high standard of performance across all areas of responsibility.

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

I became a leader through a combination of learning, adapting, and embracing opportunities. Over time, I developed a keen understanding of my strengths, a commitment to continuous improvement, and a willingness to take on challenges. Leadership, for me, is an ongoing journey of growth and learning from diverse experiences.

My journey into leadership is a tapestry woven from my academic pursuits, personal passion for positive change, and a diverse professional background. As a PhD researcher at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD) specializing in African and Postcolonial studies, I developed a profound understanding of critical issues and a sense of responsibility to contribute meaningfully to societal advancement. At last, Founding and leading "TAKE_THE_LEAD" in 2020 further crystallized my leadership journey. This youth-oriented association aimed at empowering young leaders in sustainable development and global citizenship education, aligning with my commitment to positive social impact.

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

My approach to structuring workdays revolves around balance and efficiency. I believe in starting the day with purpose, usually waking up early to allow for a mindful morning routine. This includes planning the day ahead, prioritizing tasks, and ensuring a healthy breakfast to fuel my energy.

The work blocks are crucial for maintaining focus. I typically begin with essential tasks, minimizing distractions during these periods. Short breaks in between help refresh my mind and maintain overall productivity. Lunch is a designated time to step away from work, ensuring a balanced and nourishing meal.

Communication, including checking emails and engaging in collaborative work, is strategically placed during specific times. This helps prevent constant interruptions, allowing for dedicated periods of concentration. I try to schedule meetings when my energy levels are naturally high, ensuring effective communication and collaboration.

As the workday progresses, I maintain a proactive stance in wrapping up tasks and reviewing accomplishments. This not only provides a sense of achievement but also aids in planning for the next day. Evenings are dedicated to personal time – whether it's spending quality moments with family, pursuing hobbies, or simply relaxing.

The winding down process begins at least an hour before bedtime. This involves activities that signal to my body and mind that it's time to shift into a more relaxed state. I reflect on the day's events, considering what worked well and where improvements can be made. A consistent sleep schedule is prioritized to ensure sufficient rest and set the stage for a productive day ahead.

This holistic approach to structuring my workdays allows me to balance productivity with self-care, promoting both professional success and personal well-being.

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

A recent leadership lesson that I've been reminded of is the importance of adaptability and resilience in navigating unforeseen challenges. In a rapidly changing environment, being able to pivot and adjust strategies is not just a valuable skill but a necessity.

This lesson became evident during a project where unexpected obstacles arose. Despite meticulous planning, unforeseen circumstances demanded a swift change in approach. The ability to reassess, re-strategize, and inspire the team to embrace change was crucial. It underscored the significance of cultivating a resilient mindset both for myself and the team.

Additionally, the experience emphasized the importance of effective communication during times of uncertainty. Keeping the team informed, maintaining transparency, and fostering a collaborative atmosphere were key elements in overcoming challenges together.

This lesson reinforced that leadership is not only about setting a course but also about navigating the storms with composure and adaptability. It highlighted that, in the face of challenges, a leader's ability to stay agile, resilient, and communicative is fundamental to the overall success of a team or project.

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?

One book that has had a profound impact on my leadership is "Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek. This insightful work delves into the dynamics of effective leadership, drawing on real-world examples and biological principles.

The book's central theme, inspired by the military practice where leaders ensure their team's needs are met before their own, deeply resonated with me. It transformed my perspective on leadership from a positional authority to one based on service and empathy.

Sinek's narrative about creating a Circle of Safety within teams left an indelible mark. It highlighted the crucial role of leaders in fostering trust, collaboration, and a sense of belonging. This resonated deeply with my commitment to empowerment and positive change, both in academia and my work at AZA Finance.

The impact was immediate. I began implementing strategies to prioritize the well-being of my team, ensuring they felt supported and valued. This shift in leadership philosophy positively influenced team dynamics, collaboration, and overall job satisfaction.

Moreover, the book reinforced the idea that leadership is not about individual success but about creating an environment where everyone can thrive. This philosophy has become a guiding principle in my leadership approach, influencing decision-making, and fostering a culture of shared success and mutual support.

In essence, "Leaders Eat Last" has been a transformative guide, shaping my leadership style to be not only effective but also compassionate, emphasizing the profound impact a leader can have by prioritizing the well-being and growth of those they lead.

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

If I could offer one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be to cultivate a genuine and empathetic leadership style. Building authentic connections with your team, understanding their strengths and challenges, and demonstrating empathy in your leadership decisions will not only foster a positive work environment but also inspire loyalty and commitment.

In a world that is increasingly interconnected, where collaboration and innovation are key, empathy becomes a powerful leadership tool. By understanding the perspectives, aspirations, and struggles of those you lead, you create a culture of trust and mutual respect. This, in turn, enhances team cohesion and performance.

Remember, leadership is not solely about achieving goals but also about guiding and empowering others to reach their full potential. By leading with empathy, you not only contribute to the success of your team but also make a lasting impact on the individuals within it. In essence, empathy is the cornerstone of effective and sustainable leadership.

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

One meaningful story that stands out from my time as a leader involves a project that faced unexpected challenges. Despite meticulous planning, unforeseen obstacles threatened the project's success. The team was disheartened, and the atmosphere was tense with uncertainty.

In that critical moment, I chose transparency and open communication. I gathered the team, shared the challenges we were facing, and expressed my confidence in their collective ability to overcome them. Instead of imposing solutions, I encouraged a collaborative discussion to explore innovative approaches.

What unfolded was remarkable. Team members from diverse backgrounds and roles contributed unique insights and solutions. The adversity became an opportunity for the team to showcase their resilience, creativity, and collaborative spirit. We not only overcame the challenges but emerged stronger, more unified, and with a heightened sense of achievement.

This experience reinforced the power of transparent leadership and the strength that emerges from a team when faced with challenges. It's a story that highlights the importance of trust, open communication, and the collective ingenuity that a well-led team can bring to any situation.

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