Tesse Akpeki FCG

Head of Not-for-Profit Governance Practice at Bates Wells LLP in London

The power of listening and empathy in leadership

Tesse describes herself as a 'networker, mentor and empath – a supporter of compassionate dialogue in the workplace to improve relationships’. 

Now in her fifties Tesse Akpeki has had a long and impressive career as a company secretary working in the not-for-profit (NFP) sector.  

Her NFP ethic is rooted in her previous experience of community involvement with a Baptist Church in Wembley, the Quaker movement in the East End of London and working at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) as Head of Governance. She is also a devout Christian with a strong sense of kindness and forgiveness. She has recently been appointed as an advisor to the Bishop of London.

Tesse started her career by working her way up the ladder in Nigeria, initially as a lawyer working in criminal defence then as a commercial solicitor, before moving into work as a human rights lawyer. After a stint as the head of legal and a company secretary for an accountancy firm in Lagos, she returned to the UK – the country of her birth – only to have to start right at the bottom all over again. 

She performed a number of low-level jobs before getting into governance. ‘It was tough’, she says, ‘But character forming, because the experience helped me to understand and identify with a variety of people from all walks of life.’

Tesse is now lead governance consultant at London law firm Bates Wells LLP, runs her own practice, is a CGIUKI Fellow and currently mentors CGIUKI members. 

When asked how she goes about tackling bias in the workplace, Tesse says, ‘I believe strongly in listening and the power of story-telling to bring people together and create empathy.

'I also believe that company leaders should support the mental health and wellbeing of their staff.'

Last April, following the tragic and sudden death of her brother in a hit-and-run accident, she channelled her grief into launching a digital community initiative encouraging leaders to support their staff and board members. 

‘It was amazing’, she says, ‘On the first day, only 20 people joined but then just a couple of days later 1,500 people connected and were having conversations with each other online.’

'She started a podcast, Tesse Talks, and soon got around 75,000 views of her first posts on LinkedIn and around 2,000 followers.'

Tesse is also passionate about using networking to overcome bias and connect with difficult or hard to reach people.

'We should make alliances with people with challenging behaviours, invest time in relationships with them and become part of lots of networks and groups to achieve this.'

‘One easy way you can do this is to be generous and comment supportively on someone else’s post on LinkedIn. If you champion them, they may champion you back.’

When asked whether she thinks that diversity and inclusion is now more valued by corporate companies, she responds, ‘Over the years, I’ve seen an increase in the importance of people-focused issues emerging in governance. In particular diversity and inclusion has risen to the top.

'The pandemic has shown that we must be able to bring our whole selves to work. It is essential to create a balance between wellbeing and conformance, between performance and compliance.'
'This is why we need men as well as women to bring out the value and essence of femininity in leadership and what it can lead to.'

Tesse had a positive experience of empathy and generosity of spirit through male allyship while facilitating an assignment with international non-governmental organisation, ActionAid UK, a few years ago.

'The organisation has won a prize for its feminine leadership model and men on the board actually championed this unique leadership model.'
'This is why we need men as well as women to bring out the value and essence of femininity in leadership and what it can lead to.'

Tesse Akpeki FCG

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