Lakeisha Robichaux Of Chief of Minds: 5 Ways Empathy Will Affect Your Leadership

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Team Collaboration: Empathetic leaders foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding, which enhances teamwork and collaboration. Team members are more likely to support each other and work together towards common goals.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is increasingly recognized as a pivotal leadership trait. In an ever-evolving business landscape, leaders who exhibit genuine empathy are better equipped to connect, inspire, and drive their teams towards success. But how exactly does empathy shape leadership dynamics? How can it be harnessed to foster stronger relationships, improved decision-making, and a more inclusive work environment? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lakeisha Robichaux.

Lakeisha is an absolute powerhouse, a leadership expert, Human Resources veteran and CEO and Founder of Chief of Minds, LLC, a human resources firm, Chief of Minds Staffing, and Chief of Minds Insurance. A leading authority in complex operations, she is revolutionizing the way organizations succeed by optimizing operations, developing executive leaders and building high performing teams. With a strategic skillet that is unmatched, Lakeisha is a problem-solver, a success seeker, and the organizational leader that every company needs by their side-and at their table. Lakeisha honed her expertise at several Fortune 500 and 100 companies in executive leadership roles. Garnering a well-earned reputation for driving results, she led those organizations through significant cultural change, proving that peak performance is possible through the right people. Although she has great success in business, her greatest and most important success is being a mother to her two handsome boys and wife to her husband.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about empathy, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I fell in love with business and entrepreneurship at an early age. I started my entrepreneurial journey by crafting purses and doing yard work for my family and neighbors around our Brookstown neighborhood. After graduating from college, I continued my HR journey and eventually launched my human resources firm, Chief of Minds, back in 2014. This was after several leadership roles at Fortune 100 and 500 companies focusing on HR, culture, leadership, and performance. I opened two additional businesses (staffing and insurance) to complement the HR firm and meet the needs of our clients. Today, I am married with two handsome boys and my days are full of school activities and sports for the boys, business meetings and calls, traveling, family time at movies/gatherings/restaurants, and binging tv shows since I don’t watch daily television.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When I started a previous company, I had the “if you build it they will come” mentality. I leased my office, designed flyers, joined trade associations and chambers, purchased all necessary equipment and waited for clients to flood my phone line with calls. I learned quickly that business doesn’t operate that way. I had to network, identify and understand our clients, build relationships, and nurture relationships, all while marketing, and running the business.

I learned that marketing and building relationships is important for business operations and growth. Many people do business with people they know, like, and trust. Although this was before digital marketing became popular, it’s still true today.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Persistence — Leadership is not for the weak. You have to be committed to a vision and focused on achieving that vision regardless of setbacks, negative feedback, and opposition.

Empathy — This is a characteristic that is important for growth personally and professionally. Having a genuine concern for others and expressing empathy creates a positive work environment and improves team performance.

Decisiveness — Making timely decisions with assurance and confidence is required for a successful leader. I learned quickly that I couldn’t waiver on decisions. Think about the pros, cons, goals, impact, and make a decision.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

A hard decision I’ve had to make was deciding to remove services that were no longer a value add to our business. Although our clients enjoyed the services, it didn’t make sense to continue to provide them as the tasks were too time consuming and no longer profitable.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define empathy in a leadership context, and why do you believe it’s a vital trait for leaders to possess in today’s work environment?

Empathy is the ability to understand, relate to, and consider the emotions, perspectives, and experiences of others. It involves recognizing and valuing the feelings and viewpoints of team members and using this understanding to guide actions, decisions, and interactions. Empathetic leaders demonstrate compassion, build strong relationships, and create an inclusive and supportive work environment.

Can you share a personal experience where showing empathy as a leader significantly impacted a situation or relationship in your organization?

A fairly new employee had a newborn child whom was constantly sick. This caused her to miss a lot of time away from work and she was concerned this could jeopardize her job being that she was a new employee. I reassured her it wasn’t a problem and as a mother I understood you have no control over your child being sick. The last thing I wanted was the burden of her worrying about the status of her job when taking care of a sick child.

How do empathetic leaders strike a balance between understanding their team’s feelings and making tough decisions that might not be universally popular?

By communicating the reasons why you made the tough decision and providing context so team members understand the necessity and logic. If/when asked questions, be open and honest about the impacts and challenges all while showing respect for the team members feedback and concerns.

How would you differentiate between empathy and sympathy in leadership? Why is it important for leaders to distinguish between the two?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It involves putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and experiencing their emotions from their perspective. Sympathy is the feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s issues and/or problems. It involves recognizing another person’s suffering but maintaining an emotional distance.

What are some practical strategies or exercises that leaders can employ to cultivate and enhance their empathetic skills?

  • Ask open ended questions to encourage open dialogue between team members and increase team collaboration. This fosters an environment of mutual respect and understanding, which enhances teamwork and collaboration.
  • Practice active listening and give team members your full attention and maintain eye contact. Allow them to speak without interrupting and paraphrase what was said to ensure understanding.
  • Practice self-awareness and reflect on your emotions and how they affect interactions with your team members.

How can empathy help leaders navigate the complexities of leading diverse teams and ensure inclusivity?

  • By recognizing individual needs and addressing biases.
  • Bridging cultural gaps and personal differences by promoting mutual respect and understanding among team members.
  • By listening to team members from various backgrounds and understanding their unique perspectives (this doesn’t mean that you will always agree with them, but listening and understanding goes a long way)

Based on your experience and research, can you please share “5 Ways Empathy Will Affect Your Leadership”?

1 . Stronger Relationships: Empathy builds stronger and quality relationships. When a leader shows genuine concern and support for their team members, it produces trust and loyalty. Relationships are strengthened, culture and morale is there, and it increases employee engagement.

2 . Employee retention: Employees are more likely to stay with an organization where they feel understood and supported. Empathetic leadership can lead to a reduction in turnover and retention in top talent.

3 . Improved Communication: Empathetic leaders listen and understand the perspectives of their team members. This fosters open communication, and promotes a culture of transparency.

. Resilience in Times of Change: During periods of change or crisis, empathetic leaders understand and address the fears and concerns of their team, and provide the support needed to navigate through tough times and emerge stronger.

5 . Team Collaboration: Empathetic leaders foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding, which enhances teamwork and collaboration. Team members are more likely to support each other and work together towards common goals.

Are there potential pitfalls or challenges associated with being an empathetic leader? How can these be addressed?

Yes, sometimes it can lead to a lack of boundaries. Over-empathizing can lead to blurred professional boundaries, potentially undermining authority and professional relationships. Leaders should set clear professional boundaries while still being approachable and supportive. Emphasize the importance of both emotional support and professional standards.

Emotional overload is another challenge that is associated with being an empathetic leader. Empathetic leaders might absorb the emotions and stress of their team members which can lead to burnout or emotional exhaustion. Practice self-care and set emotional boundaries. Get support from mentors, peers, or professional counselors.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

Bridging the workforce gap in different industries. We support various industries and one common challenge is the workforce pipeline. Some employees are not interested in leadership roles within their company and this has paused the succession planning process. In other areas, the skillset and experience is declining and there is a lack of interest in certain roles.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Access to quality healthcare for everyone.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn at LinkedIn

You can follow Chief of Minds on LinkedIn at LinkedIn

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.