Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng never imagined himself in a leadership position. He was focused on surviving med school, residency, fellowship, etc. But after landing his dream job working in the ICU at the Ottawa Hospital, he knew he needed to do more than just practice medicine. He needed to make our healthcare system more efficient — and that’s just what he’s doing.
Dr. K is currently the department head of critical care at The Ottawa Hospital, where his research focuses on improving efficiencies and access to palliative care services with an emphasis on the need to fight racism in healthcare.
In addition to caring for the sickest of the sick, Dr. K is also the host of the popular podcast, Solving Healthcare; founder of the Research Optimization Network, a research group focusing on reducing health spending without compromising care; and founder of Solving Wellness, a virtual health and wellness platform addressing burnout in healthcare professionals.
During the pandemic, Dr. K became a trusted public voice as he addressed the misinformation and fear-based messaging around COVID-19, especially when it came to school closures and youth mental health. He and his team created the charity, Bridges Over Barriers, to support children’s mental health, while also being the driving force behind the movement, Feeding Our Frontline Workers, and leading research on how to reverse metabolic disease within marginalized communities.
Needless to say, Dr. K and his team have been busy over what was an incredibly stressful time, especially in healthcare. He credits his team’s success to his method of unapologetic leadership, a values-first, action-oriented leadership philosophy outlined in his new book, Unapologetic Leadership.
We recently sat down with Dr. K to explore the principles of leadership that have guided him and his team through their many successes and how he helps audiences do the same as a keynote speaker.
Speakers Spotlight: First, let’s talk about unapologetic leadership. What is an unapologetic Leader?
Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng: Being an unapologetic leader is synonymous with being an authentic leader. An authentic and courageous leader uses their values to determine their actions.
What I slowly came to realize over the pandemic is that I was the most successful when I leaned into my values and used them to determine how to act and manage any potential negative comments or adversarial approaches. The second I started to show my true self, that’s when people started responding to our message.
My book, Unapologetic Leadership, outlines the principles I lean on to be an effective leader; of using your values to guide your actions. It takes courage to voice or operationalize change, so my book is a real attempt at motivating people to maximize their potential, whether they’re in a traditional leadership role or not.
SpSp: You and your team accomplished so much together over what was an incredibly busy and stressful time in healthcare. How did you keep your team motivated and energized to try new things and start new projects?
Dr. K: I’m a rah-rah-rah guy. The way I keep my team motivated is by expressing how important they are to us and celebrating our accomplishments — every time we get a grant, we celebrate. And I lead with impact. When discussing new projects, I start the conversation by talking about the impact they can have on people up front.
The other part of that equation is that we’re a team that executes, so they can see the tangible effect of their effort; they can hear the stories of gratitude from those impacted by their work. Like when our first ever mentee of our black mentorship program got accepted into four medical schools. That fuels us.
With my team, I’ve made action a priority — when in doubt, we act. That’s our principle. We don’t dwell on things. We have time stamps on our project where our goal is to have something done by that date and we celebrate the fact that we’re acting along the way.
Don’t get me wrong, we have failed a ton in the process — grants have gone badly, funded projects have gone badly, proposals have tanked — but every time we fail, we learn significantly from it. That’s the benefit of acting — we learn and now we’re far more successful on securing grants. So it’s about reframing failure as a learning opportunity. You’ll always be better off if you take those big swings.
SpSp: A big theme that stands out in your keynotes and book is the impact fear has on leadership. What techniques do you recommend to help people reframe their response to fear?
Dr. K: Nothing erases fear from the equation, but we can take steps to diminish its hold on us. It starts with leaning into your values. So, my humble advice is to emphasize the impact you can have when you lean into your values. For example, I value courage, justice, and doing the right thing, so when it comes to decision-making, I put that front and centre to guide my decisions.
A concrete example of this is the advocacy work my team did in trying to keep schools open during the pandemic. I was looking at my three boys and how school closures were impacting them, alongside data from other areas in the country where having schools open had little change in the outcomes. I wasn’t ok with seeing our kids suffer, so doing the right thing for me in that moment was to speak up for those who couldn’t.
The fear I was up against was being judged and, especially when you draw that much attention to yourself, compromising my job. But at the end of day, I have to look in the mirror and be ok with what I see.
My other hack, if that’s what you want to call it, is asking myself how I would behave if I knew my kids were listening. This helps push me to stay true to my values and take action on them.
SpSp: As a keynote speaker, what is the biggest question you help clients answer?
Dr. K: Many of my keynotes have been about racism — not just speaking to where we want to be but how to actually get there. How to improve diversity within teams and organizations, exploring the value in it and sharing real-world results.
As a leader, I also motivate audiences to innovate and find creative solutions. I leave audiences inspired to create change — we all have it in us, we all have the ability to think outside the box. I show people how to act on that.
As a doctor, I also speak to metabolic health and prevention. I was inspired to focus on preventative healthcare during the pandemic and the effect it can have on our communities. I want to help people reduce their risk of seeing me in the ICU.
SpSp: What’s inspiring you now?
Dr. K: The podcast I’m loving right now is The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish. It’s an inspiring look at how to approach life and live a more fulfilled life. It explores problem solving and how to spark creative thinking.
From addressing burnout to dismantling systemic racism and building teams that act, Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng is an inspirational and empowering keynote speaker on leadership, DEI, and wellness.
Contact us to learn more about Dr. K and what he can bring to your next event as an experience and transformational healthcare leader.