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Creating Workplaces of Civility and Resilience with Shola Richards

I met Shola Richards almost ten years ago and I do remember how unforgettable he was and remains to this day. In a particularly good way. At the time we met, he was leading Training and Organizational Development at UCLA Health. He was clearly passionate about his work and the importance of engaging and developing people. Since then, he has been an activist for positivity in the workplace. He is now CEO of his own firm, Go Together Global and is a keynote speaker for line leaders and CEO’s all over the country who are serious about workplace civility, resilience, and inclusion. He is a sought-after keynote speaker for premier global organizations and was recently asked to testify in front of the Select Committee on Capitol Hill to share his expert recommendations on how to bring more civility to Congress. (Link: https://youtu.be/_nztarWIQa0)

I wanted to catch up with Shola and learn more about his work since the pandemic and the increasing social pressures we are seeing today. I wondered how he is seeing changes in the workplace and in the minds of leaders.


Sherry: Shola, tell me about how you originally chose to focus on workplace civility.


Shola: It unfortunately, came from a dark place and a long time ago being with an organization and a team that was the opposite of civil and the opposite of kind. Earlier on in my professional career, I mistakenly assumed that this was how the workplace was to be. I was told, “it is not supposed to be fun, for that is why it is called work.” This stuck with me, and I realized that people do not have to be mean to each other. I saw the effects of incivility by seeing stress, depression and awful outcomes that did not seem normal at all. I also dealt with my own challenges in a toxic environment, where it drove me to the brink of suicide. I realized there had to be a different way.


Sherry: In your book, Go Together, you introduce a concept that is so relevant today. It is called Ubuntu and please tell me more about that.


Shola: Ubuntu is a transcendent African philosophy which means, “I am, because we are.” It is the power of our shared humanity and means human connectedness, kindness, and compassion. In the workplace I chose to focus on how to operationalize Ubuntu. I looked at teams that were deeply cohesive. I found that when I observed connected teams that did this well, these “Ubuntu” teams were doing eight things well. Let me share them here.


They include:


· Accountability – teams take ownership over their words, actions, and behavior

· Attitude – teams are positive and solution-oriented

· Communication – virtual or in person; teams communicate with respect

· Conflict – teams address disputes directly, quickly, and professionally

· Recognition – teams are appreciated for their positive contributions

· Role fluidity – team members are willing to step outside of the designated roles, when necessary to further the success of the team

· Support – teams are committed to allyship, and creating an equitable and inclusive environment for everyone

·Trust – teams create an environment of personal, professional, and psychological safety


There are a lot of competencies that contribute to great team performance and my research indicated these were the most key factors. I’m currently delivering training courses on the “Keys of Ubuntu” to help leaders to unlock these traits on their work teams, and it has been super rewarding.


Sherry – how are organizations doing in achieving ubuntu team success?


Shola: It depends – I will say that one thing that the pandemic has brought out is that leaders who are not adapting to this new normal are quite visible. A question I get asked most recently is, “how do I know when people are working effectively from home?” I ask them, ‘is their work getting done? When they reply yes, then, my response is that you are good. Some people want to go back to the 2019 way of working. Today, we are looking at different ways of leading. If you are not able to empathize with the various situations that happen by working at home, then, these skills need to be tapped into more deeply. Those leaders who are stuck in the old model will be exposed. We are being asked to understand and connect to the diverse needs of our workers.


Employees have choices and they do not have to commit if they are not feeling valued or learning. Flexibility is of great importance to many employees today. If a manager is what I refer to as a “control enthusiast,” it will be hard to a maintain a high performing team that operates in a trusting environment.


Sherry – What are your clients calling on you to do?


Shola: It comes down to the past two years and how hard it has been for many. The Oracle corporation study recently says the last 12 months have been the hardest of our lives, at least 70% say this. The ubuntu philosophy says we are in this together. That is why people are calling me. Rather than turn inwards, which we often do, the ubuntu philosophy reminds us that we are connected to a greater community. Clients call me to help educate and build awareness in this unique environment and address some of the challenges that managers are facing.


I focus on these three areas of work:

·Workplace civility

·Resilience of leaders

·Equity and diversity and inclusion


Sherry: Is there another book in the works?


Shola: You mentioned that you see managers overwhelmed. Resilience is not always understood in the current context. Some say, tough it out or – it is not as hard core as that. In my resilience work, I talk about setting priorities and establishing boundaries. I do not always see time for self-care or reflection showing up on their calendar. Setting priorities is about how you decide where to place the energy in your time. People are often clear on the importance of personal priorities, but it does not show up on their calendar. I collaborate with teams to help them be clear on their priorities. Once we have this, then, boundaries are set. These are the safeguards you put in place to protect the priorities.


Do you prioritize rest? You do not do this when work is done, but why not plan it on your calendar? Imagine a day for yourself. The number one reason for athlete injury is overuse and lack of rest and that goes for professionals as well.


Sherry: How can we be role models of self-care?


Shola: Our role models are taking care of themselves and others as well. Have you worked with managers that send emails at night? It is probable that employees will see this and potentially feel a need to respond which then creates unnecessary anxiety.


Sherry: What can each of us do tomorrow to be resilient?


Shola: Focus on creating an environment where people feel safe, where they can say, “I need help.” Model it yourself. The person that gets on the dance floor first models openness to learning and making a mistake. They admit their own difficulties, or they admit they are struggling. That goes a long way. The leader who shares openly will inspire others to follow suit. It is powerful to create that relatability with your team. People want to see that. They do not want to see perfection. They want to see we are open and as everyone, have our challenges.

Leaders who express their humanness will engage their employees in an open way. We realize that employees are acting on what they want, so it makes sense to reach out and understand them directly.


Sherry: You have successfully published two books. Is there another book in the works?


Shola: Honestly, I was convinced that Go Together was going to be my last book, but it was written in 2018. And as we both know, so much has changed since then in our world, our work, and workplaces. I’m kicking around the idea of a new book that will address the challenges of navigating this new reality, so stay tuned for that. I also would like to encourage our colleagues to read my book called “Making Work Work: The Positivity Solution for Any Work Environment.” This is a book I wrote that discusses workplace civility and I’m currently working on a training course developed around the content in the book. It will take concepts on how to create a civil workplace and will include a train the trainer and certification process—I’m incredibly excited about it. My working definition of positivity is “the act of consistently using kindness and mutual respect to create improved outcomes.” This is what will make workplaces work. Watch for progress on that front. Shola Richards - Build Workplace Cultures of Peak Performance


Sherry: Thank you Shola for a great catch up and doing the work you do for our managers and leaders who are constantly learning, unlearning, and adapting to this new future. As the world has melted away old technology and traditions, it has also changed the connections in every realm of our lives – from how we work to how we communicate and how we learn and so much more.


Thank you for focusing on Ubuntu, our shared humanity and helping us navigate one of the biggest inflection points in our history of work and life.


I read this great quote from Heather McGowan which she wrote in her 2020 book called, The adaptation advantage. She shared that psychologist Dan Gilbert said, in a 2014 TED Talk that “human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” We are prepared for the past but are we unready for this future? Heather says that this is especially true now as we continue to move from response to recover and into the reimagine phase of post covid.


I interviewed Heather in 2020 and wanted to share this story again too, seems appropriate. Let Go, Learn Fast and Thrive with Heather McGowan (sbcompany.net)


Check this out – learn more about Shola Richards

Ubuntu: The One Word to Change How You Work, Live and Lead | Shola Richards | TEDxSouthLakeTahoe - YouTube

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