Sasha Laghonh on Empathy and Connection as Business Tools
Sasha Laghonh, Founder of Sasha Talks
Can you start by telling us about your entrepreneurial journey? What led you to your current business, and what is it that sets your leadership style apart from others?
I come from a business background which provided a window to learning how to run different parts of an organization. Given there are many parts to a whole, I've honored commitments that overall stressed partnerships alongside leadership and management. Sasha Talks was an opportunity to integrate my multiple skill sets into one avenue that can help individuals and businesses seeking to capitalize upon their growth challenges and hidden opportunities in the market. My leadership style is to engage where needed otherwise allow people to discover the answers they need from within themselves. This is where learning how to delegate is an asset when one pays attentions to the strengths and blind spots of the team.
You've been recognized for your focus on empathy and human connection within your organization. How did you come to realize the importance of these values in leadership, and how have they shaped the way you run your business?
I often say business is not any different than life. I recall a college professor of mine who bluntly said, "if you can't manage your life, you won't be able to manage business". Learning how individuals play a role in society helps because ultimately people are the sole glue that nurture values including good business acumen. Most people treat business as a long term game. This means one needs to invest in themselves to activate the leader within them. Knowing oneself allows the leader to participate in society within healthy parameters when inspiring and influencing positive outcomes.
Can you share an example of a situation where employing empathy and connection as business tools made a significant positive difference in your organization? What were the challenges and outcomes?
My work attracts people from private and public organizations that are seeking solutions. The scale and scope varies based on whether they're individuals or groups due to the nature of their professional request. I've learned early on not to make assumptions in life or business. People are accountable for their own growth therefore it's wise to learn about the audience you're serving before dispensing solutions that can be implemented in their respective environment. Empathy and connection plays a significant role in most of those engagements because everyone represents a different part of the learning curve. The challenges surface when co-existing with parties that aren't willing participants to change their patterns to enhance their performance. The desire, belief and action has to be there to make any form of change in order to set the environment up for success. I do not invest my time in people and organizations that lack initiative because lip service yields a negative ROI. It's hilarious when third parties are expecting me to prove myself to earn their buy-in to help [them] with putting out their fires. In those cases, I say "next". There is always another party to rock n' roll with you to create positive transformations. Go there, it will be worth the effort! Don't lose yourself in other peoples' emotions. It's a dangerous mud slide to encounter. Emotions don't move mountains. They're worth having but there's a time and place for them. Focus by bringing sensibility to the table. If your audience makes more sense then you do, it's a sign you're misaligned with the obligation at hand.
Empathy can often be misunderstood or oversimplified in a business context. How do you define it in your leadership practice, and how do you ensure that it's applied authentically?
Everyone holds different life experiences which often get reflected in how people work and engage with one another. It's not always about liking or agreeing with the other party. Empathy isn't about enabling bad ideas and behaviors. Empathy challenges us to become better listeners to understand what is going on.
It's not always about having an answer to address the matter at hand. Not having an answer is okay but it's still important to work on one if needed. Exercising empathy challenges us to reflect upon the greater vision and how we'll get there from where we sit today. In such cases, no action is better than advocating temperamental behaviors which do not garner empathy, at least not in my opinion. Empathy shouldn't be reactionary nor should it align with virtual signaling. Authenticity speaks for itself, it's not rehearsed. It's not lip service. Leaders who engage in such latter theatrics aren't leaders in my book.
Connection is not just about understanding others but also connecting with oneself. How do you maintain a balance between personal well-being and fostering connections with your team?
This comes down to managing healthy boundaries between myself and the world. It's the only way it allows me to focus on self-care while honoring my multiple roles in my life. It's important to disengage from the world --- we live in a world that rewards the 'go' philosophy -- go, go, go! It doesn't attract better or faster results in the long run. It's taken me time to transition from the 'go' mentality to embracing a more 'flow' lifestyle which comes with life experiences. Go with the flow while knowing when to lead and when to step back. Knowing when to step back is critical so others can step up to showcase their abilities and purpose when co-existing with you on an initiative. We're often stronger and more effective through teamwork.
In terms of scalability, how do you maintain these human-centered values as your business grows? What strategies or tools have you found most effective?
The values have been present from day one. How they're implemented and communicated may change over time but without them I doubt Sasha Talks would exist today. I'm the same person from the day of initiative, perhaps more evolved today in terms of my life outlook. I guess maintaining them would mean that I continue learning about life as a person. I believe we can always adopt new values that reflect our growth because eventually it will be reflected in our business acumen.
For those who are new to leadership or are struggling to build empathy and connection within their teams, what practical advice can you offer? Are there any exercises or habits that can be cultivated?
There is no formula for developing a personality and connection with the world. My friendly guidance is to focus on self care mentally and emotionally then ask yourself how you want to make a positive difference in your work endeavors which require working with people. People can serve as your asset if you know how to identify the right talent, or they can serve as your greatest downfall if you're holding on to a bad batch of apples. Sugar coating these realities doesn't help anyone. The good workers suffer before they check out working with you if you're going to be a self centered leader. I've seen self centered leaders who turned out to be self proclaimed leaders. Such personalities do not last long in such roles because they lack the understanding of the responsibility that comes with it.
You've shared some truly insightful thoughts on leadership. How have these principles been reflected in your products or services, and what has been the response from your customers?
I believe my work, like life, is an on-going dialogue with those whom I've served and continue to serve hereon forward. Listening to the needs of the clients as well putting myself in their shoes can be a humbling experience at times. Bad leadership can happen to good people. I know I've lived through it from experience. Because my services deliver custom solutions, one size doesn't fit all. This demands me to continue engaging in different markets by discovering the latest tools to serve new partnerships.