This article is a part of The Ascent Summer Program 2020

By Tara Hebbar

It is commonly and often said that leaders are not born but made. As COVID-19 tears its way into each of our lives and leaves a lasting impression, it is proving to be a challenging test and an opportunity for leaders. As a Dental Dean and a maxillofacial surgeon, Dr Neelam Andrade has led her team to set-up and operate a jumbo COVID care  facility at Nesco, and within just a fortnight. In this global health war, she is on the frontline with only N-95 mask, face shield, PPE, and sanitizer to defend herself with. She and her team have set up this facility in a matter of weeks, with over a 1000 beds, availability of equipment and oxygen and an ICU. In addition to this, Dr Andrade has had to gather a team of doctors, nurses and every other profession, vehicle and equipment piece needed to make this possible. This is no mean feat, and with all the personal risk and sacrifice involved there are many leadership lessons we can all learn from Dr Neelam Andrade and everyone who risks their life in sacrifice for others.

Firstly, with such a huge task and such a short amount of time, she had to work extremely hard and long. She also had to get her team to do so as well. A very important trait every leader should possess, is leading by example.  Dr Andrade has led her team by example through every step and hurdle. With such a daunting task, she gave up on so many of her personal needs such as sleep and comfort.  I’m sure this determination motivated her co-workers and team. It is easy for a leader to hand out the task and not work as hard, but many like Dr Andrade not only work along with their team but often show them the way by working twice as hard. She says,  “ I worked very very hard, almost 12 hours at site and again from home in 4-5 hours, I hardly slept in the initial 15-20 days and took a break only after 25 days of non- stop working.” When a leader showcases this type of work ethic, it tends to be infectious and inspires everyone to do so.  For many initial meetings, there were no designated offices and not even a washroom, something the rest of us take for granted.  “I started with holding meetings with just 7 of us under trees on open grounds, with no office, no washrooms. Slowly as my team increased we got Porta cabins to sit after 10 days and finally an office open premises after 12-14 days.” By being there with them through it all, I’m sure Dr Andrade made it much easier for her team to cope with such conditions. 

Secondly, Dr Andrade is at a position where our entire country is extremely grateful for all the things she has done. Here she exhibits another great quality of leadership, being humble and thankful. Most big leaders, like her, don’t need to be humble. They have so many people thanking them that they can forget to be grateful themselves but that’s not Dr Andrade. Even with so many “fans”, she, like many others, has remained humble and true to herself and is thankful for so many things and people. 

“I am grateful for the administration who had confidence in my capabilities more than I had, for giving me this opportunity, I am grateful for the support and encouragement I received from my close family and I am grateful to my entire team and everyone who is working with me, even the ward boy, the nurse, the multipurpose worker, the ambulance driver, the engineers, architects, interns, pgs, labour staff, technicians, so many the list is endless.” 

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” – JK Rowling

This is just another lesson we can take away from Dr Andrade, she is not only grateful for those who are alongside her but those who do the small things and work under her. She has confidence in others and in turn makes them more confident about themselves. This humility expressed by her is something we can all inculcate in our lives. 

Lastly, she set this up, worked and continues working so hard and giving up so much. All of this didn’t give much attention, fame, or any more money. On the other hand she had to work harder than ever and lose out on things that she could’ve easily done in the comfort of her home. Her motivation didn’t include any of the above but her genuine care for patients and as a doctor, her need to help humanity and do her part in helping the world and saving the lives of so many. “I never leave a job incomplete, I was entrusted with this work, I had started a process, the whole team was dependent on me to steer the way. There were so many needy patients, who were waiting for admissions, oxygen, meds, doctors, I had to be on field finding answers and solutions, today everything is so well streamlined that in my absence also it will run. Money is not everything, I was not in this for money, it was a call for duty, care and service.”

In conclusion, leadership lessons and life lessons don’t only come from the CEO’s of big corporations and companies but also people like Dr Neelam Andrade. She has started something that may be smaller than a large company but leaves a much larger impact on the lives of so many. Just by staying at home, wearing a mask and helping out those who don’t have as much privilege, we can not only help frontline workers who risk their lives but do our part in keeping them safe and being kinder ourselves.  I would like to end this by thanking Dr Andrade and everyone like her who save lives and are constantly in the pursuit of helping others. They are the true heroes of this health war and a source of inspiration to us all. They make an enormous and everlasting impact on so many while they continue to have sleepless nights of sacrifice.

Tara is an 10th grader who loves to sing, read, play and watch cricket, basketball and tennis, play the guitar, listen to music, meet new people, and always learn. She is very passionate about the things she writes about, and does and is always up for a debate or casual conversation. Her main goal as a journalist for the Ascent is to inform and inspire people to change their ways for the better of the world.