#ConversationsWith Esther Adegunle

I'm pleased to announce the launch of Conversations With #AfricanWomenLeader series! We kicked off speaking with Nichole Yembra, and today, we will be speaking with Esther, and many more women in the coming weeks. These women are leaders, trailblazers and they will share their experiences with us in a conversational, down to earth style that connects with who they really are so we can understand their motivations and learn from their experiences. I am so inspired by their stories and i can't wait to share them with you. So, find a comfy spot and let's get started.

Meet Esther Adegunle. Fun fact: Esther and i worked together for a few years, and one thing that you notice very quickly about Esther is her "grace". I admire this. Esther always carried herself with grace, and poise. While we worked together, she always set a good example, in her work, in her personal life, and was never shy about talking about her relationship with God, in fact, it was clear that this anchored her. We will see this come through in our conversation with her i bet. Esther is a multi-faceted professional, a management consultant by training, a development professional, an author, mom and a serial entrepreneur. See why i think she is awesome?!

Without further ado, grab your warm cup of tea, and let's get right into it!

Maria Ro: Esther welcome to GlossyWhitePumps, it is amazing to have you here to share your story. Tell us, who is Esther, and what inspires you?

Esther: Thanks for having me. What inspires me? Hm. I’m inspired by my assignments and purpose, I have God given assignments that I am accountable for. I want to get before God and hear “Welcome my good and faithful daughter, you have finished the work, Well done!"

I’m a development consultant with an economics background. I am currently working with DAI as the Head of Business Development. Prior to joining DAI, I spent significant years with two of the big 4s – Deloitte and PwC respectively.

In Deloitte, I worked as a Management Consultant focused on strategy development, business plan development, business process review, and operational due diligence. As a Senior Industry Analyst at PwC, I developed thought leadership and sectoral reports across the agriculture, finance and real estate industries.

My medium-term goal is to be a significant part of Africa’s economic and social development. In 2013, I founded BeyondADegree, a foundation which focuses on helping students transit to life after school (career or entrepreneurship tract) and continues to support in the organization of events for students.

Aside from writing, work and community development, I manage a social and fashion enterprise Belle & Grace, which makes breastfeeding easier for nursing mothers. The enterprise manufactures and sells unique Africa inspired apparel, aprons and accessories showcasing Africa’s beauty in its products and initiatives.

I am married to my best friend Sam and we have a beautiful and active toddler!

Maria Ro: Esther, what i find so fascinating about your story is how you go as you're led. I also honestly do not know how you do it! You have this multifaceted story, that i find so beautiful. So, tell us. How did you get to the point where you become a Business Improvement Manager at a leading development agency, an entrepreneur - the founder of a business and a not-for profit, a business and also an author? What led you here?

Esther: It’s truly a story and they did not happen overnight. All these happened in about ten years, through different seasons. There was a time I took time off work to do what I knew God wanted me to do – start BeyondADegree foundation. It was not about having an NGO, it was about helping students transit to life after school. I and my team have done this for six years now, we have helped over three hundred students to harness opportunities after University.

My business Belle&Grace started like a hobby. I was looking for aprons and could not find them. So, I decided to get my fashion designer to make some. Afterwards, we have produced many accessories and clothing items in the last seven years. Recently, the brand has transformed to help new mums and mums during breastfeeding and life as a new mum with our products and initiatives.

I became an author about a month ago, but I had been writing short stories for over three years and sharing on my blog. In my career, for a long time, I always wanted to do more than consult for businesses, I wanted more impactful work. I remember my manager in PwC looking at me and saying you will fit perfectly in a development company.

I knew already and was positioning for it. I was going through mentoring, I was attending networking events, I was reading to get clarity, I was reaching out to development leaders and I was giving my best in my place of work. There were times I was tired and was going to just “throw in the towel” but I clearly heard God say, stay and learn.

I knew already and was positioning for it. I was going through mentoring, I was attending networking events, I was reading to get clarity, I was reaching out to development leaders and I was giving my best in my place of work.

Maria Ro: One thing that i notice very quickly is how deliberate you were about charting your course. Many times people see the eventual success and do not see all the work that went behind it waiting for an opportunity. Thanks for sharing that with us. If we were to ask you, what does leadership mean to you? What would you say? Also, if you could go back in time to a younger you. What would you tell her?

Esther: Leadership to me is service. Leadership is building a team that can function without you. Leadership is ensuring the team members are growing and developing themselves.

Hmm, if i could go back in time, i'll tell myself, Esther, it’s great to finish with good grades, well done with a first class and distinction in BSc. Economics (UNILAG) and MSc. Business Analytics & Consulting (Warwick Business School, UK) respectively. Listen, there is so much more in the real world, sharpening your emotional intelligence skills, it is as important as the IQ you have gotten thus far.

I would say this because leadership is beyond knowing the technical things it’s about working with diverse people, it is about disagreeing to agree, it is about focusing on the goal and it is about living a purposeful life.

Maria Ro: Spot on! Balancing that theory with practical. Understanding that grades are only one part of the story. To be honest, i think many young leaders hear this. It's great to be good on paper, but the real world works by different parameters. Building proficiency to reaching a position of authority on the subject is a key tenet of leadership in both theory and practical, but Esther, how does one go from novice to expert. How have you done it, and what is your advice to anyone looking to build skills in an area of passion, while they are still beginners?

Esther: Three simple things. One, consistency: Don’t abandon the ship because there is a storm. As long as you are sure that is your purpose, keep at it. You may change the approach as you learn but don’t drop it.

Two, continuous growth and development: We need to be deliberate about our growth, even in the weekly activities. For me, it’s taking time out to read articles, write articles and watch the news. The world is changing so fast and we must embrace it and keep upgrading our skills. As they say, you can’t be caught un-fresh, I like to think, you can’t be caught unaware and unprepared. “Know one thing about everything and everything about one thing”… my former mentor used to say

...and finally, mentoring: Get a formal mentor if you can, organizations like WIMBIZ have a formal mentoring system. I have used mentorship in different levels of my career. It is a great way to learn and make less mistakes. People say experience is the best teacher, my former mentor, says and I agree that other people’s experience is a cheaper and smarter way to learn.

Maria Ro: Let's go into a bit of you as a woman, and as a leader. How do you handle other people’s biases on you, as a woman in authority? What is your go-to response to those awkward situations when people might downplay your authority or competency just because you’re a woman?

Esther: To be honest, 99% of the time, I don’t see it! I know it exists, but my childhood shielded me from it. I grew up with three guys that had dozens of male friends. I went to a mixed school and we competed for the same awards and prizes, notwithstanding one’s gender. So, perhaps I had been refined not to see it.

However, if it comes up I am ready to respond with my results. One thing that speaks louder than gender is RESULTS, it does not carry a gender. So, I will say respond with results and LOUD IT WHEN THEY COME! So, don’t just produce results, (many women do this excellently), go ahead and distribute it to the right people. Let others see it and my husband recently told me, PROCESS the results too.

Make the results even more valuable!! Share the results in many forums, don’t be shy about it!!

So, don’t just produce results, go ahead and distribute it to the right people.

Maria Ro: You know, Esther. You're so right. I always always talk about this. Showing up is sooo important. Talking about your work is so important! What will you tell that young woman though, who is on her leadership journey, who is ambitious and hungry for impact, struggles with believing that these big goals are possible, what do you say to her?

Related Post: Doing The Work Is Half The Work

Esther: I simply say it is possible! There are so many women achieving it, we are doing it and will continue to do great things. You need to see it, it’s difficult to achieve if you don’t see it.

So, deliberately put yourself in meetings you see yourself leading in years to come, you can start as a spectator but it puts something in you - the experience! Practice and prepare for the greatness ahead, you don’t want to be caught unprepared for it!

Maria Ro: Esther, you're a mom! To beautiful Queen Folagbade. She is soo cute! To me, every mother is in a sense a leader. How would you say motherhood influenced you as a leader?

Esther: Very interesting question, motherhood has taught me so many things including life and leadership lessons (Shhhh…don’t tell anyone - my next book will be on my motherhood journey). Motherhood has taught me three major lessons.

Focus on what matters: In our leadership journey like motherhood, many times we need to focus on the important things. My daughter asks for numerous things everyday, the society expects me as a mother to be and do certain things, yet I know what is important for my daughter so I keep my focus on those things.

This I utilize too as a leader, I try not to focus on the little things, I focus on what needs to be done, when we get the work done, if I sense the need to discuss the little thing, then I give it as feedback. So, I am not focusing on the team member’s mistake in a report. I correct it and give feedback afterwards.

No comparison: I have learnt not to compare my motherhood journey with others. Likewise, I don’t compare my leadership journey with others, we are in different paths with different destinations. I need to go through my process to get to my destination and you too yours.

Lastly, get support. Motherhood like leadership requires support. I work with teams, together we achieve, not alone!

Maria Ro: I really identify with the last bit. Getting support. Sometimes we think we can do it all alone and then we overwhelm ourselves. Knowing that through team work, and getting help, we actually do better is so, so important. Esther, how do you rest? Being a mom, a leader, and doing all these amazing things must not be easy. What do you do to de-stress?

Esther: I love to design, so I go on Canva and design, sometimes it’s designs I can share with others, other times it’s designs of God’s promises to me. I also really enjoy my prayer walks where I can worship and just pour my heart to God! This helps me too, especially in the mornings.

I watch movies, so I could sit and just watch a film on Netflix it or go window shopping at the mall 😁😁😁

Maria Ro: The idea of prayer walks just sounds fun. Mindfulness and exercise at the same time. Talk about win-win! Esther, how do you handle the lows of entrepreneurship, of career, of leadership. I'm certain you have faced challenges. There are times where it might have seemed so rough, quitting was tempting.  How have you tackled the rough lows in your leadership journey?

Esther: I focus on my purpose and why i am doing it. I remind myself of the lives and nations waiting for me to reach, that keeps me going. I remind myself that my life is a story for others to learn from so I need to share how I did it, so it’s part of the process too.

Related Post: Finding Purpose, What is your why?

Maria Ro: That's amazing, and to wrap it up tell us one fun thing about you that we don't know.

Esther: I am a storyteller, I love to tell stories and inspire people to hopefully take actions based on my stories. Hence, I have written over 70 stories on my blog. I also just recently published a book, "Driving In Lagos", you can check it out on Okadabooks.

Maria Ro: I already have my copy, so go get yours, people! Thanks for talking to us, Esther. It was great to have you.

Esther: Thank you for having me.

Maria Ro: Connect with Esther on Medium and Linkedin

Stay updated for the next post on same time, Monday, June 15th at 11:00 WAT. To get notification on each new released feature, subscribe here.

See you next week!


Maria Ro

What is #AfricaWomenLeader Series?

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