July 9, 2020
Although he claims to have taken on the presidency of Howard University almost reluctantly, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick has been able to draw on his training as a surgeon in this leadership position, which he has held since 2014 while still performing surgery regularly.
The training has been especially valuable as he and his team have faced the challenges of the past few months: shutting down the university to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now planning for reopening; treating an influx of pandemic patients at Howard University Hospital in the predominantly African-American city of Washington, D.C.; and addressing the social-justice movement of which Howard’s students are often leaders.
“Equanimity under pressure” is an operating-room principle, one that carries over into leadership roles, Frederick told Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker during the latest in the company’s weekly webcasts. In the boardroom, it can translate into slowing a team down to focus on what actually needs to be done, he said.
It also means listening, said Frederick. A common mistake among leaders, he said, is to believe that they should be first to act when in reality the most valuable function they can perform at a given moment is to hear out other team members.
As Frederick and the Howard University team have addressed the challenges of the past few months, seeing patients deal with the stresses of illness during a pandemic can give you a grounding, said Frederick. It’s a perspective that comes naturally to Frederick: diagnosed with sickle cell anemia as a child, he said Wednesday, “I was a patient long before I was a physician.”
Similar to many other university presidents, Frederick said Howard is planning a combination of in-person and remote education for the fall semester. It will require a careful balancing act, due in part to Howard‘s drawing on a student population from 46 states and 71 countries, with potentially a variety of different expectations for social distancing on a campus environment.
“That’s a milieu for putting something in a petri dish that could be explosive,” Frederick said.
The hour-long discussion also focused on best practices for corporate recruitment at historically black colleges and universities, and the race for a COVID-19 vaccine. On-demand replays of the July 8 webcast are available by clicking here.
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