Shola is a dynamic keynote speaker, best-selling author of Making Work Work (#1 New Release in the Workplace Culture category on Amazon.com), a workplace positivity expert, an award-winning Director of Training & Organizational Development for an elite Top-10 U.S. Hospital, and a positivity writer with a passionate worldwide following. His articles have been read by readers in over 160 countries, and his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Forbes, Black Enterprise, Complete Wellbeing India, Business Insider Australia, and in numerous other publications all over the world that recognize him as an authority on workplace happiness and engagement. Shola Richards’ life’s mission is an ambitious one: To end generations of professional suffering, simply by changing how we treat each other at work.
Shola spoke to the Bravo team on how leaders can create more positive workplaces, why appreciation is more important than money and how having a more humane approach at work can do wonders to your organization!
‘Kindness is one of the life-altering gifts we can offer!’
Q: You are a self-professed kindness extremist, affectionately nicknamed ‘Brother Teresa’. In your quest to make this world a better place, what advice would you give the younger generation?
Shola Richards: Kindness matters. How many likes, shares and followers that you have on Instagram and Facebook, or other superficial things may seem important, but in the end of our lives, no one will care or remember those things about you. As the late Maya Angelou once wisely said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is why kindness is one of the life-altering gifts we can offer, and it’s worth learning that as early in our lives as we can.
Q: You talk about how the five-step Attitude Adjustment Pyramid from your book ‘Making Work Work’. It gives people the energy and resilience to keep moving forward. Can you talk us through?
Shola Richards: Sure! It’s my favorite way of keeping my mindset positive, especially when work and life gets hard. There is far more detail in my book, but for a quick overview, but the purpose of the Attitude Adjustment Pyramid is that when you conquer the first level, then you can progress to the second level, and so on. Level 1 is Detox, which refers specifically to consciously removing (or at least, drastically reducing your time with) any negative influences in your life. This includes, but is not limited to, people who bring mindless drama and frustration into your life, watching the news excessively, or spending too much time on social media (especially if it upsets you). Level 2 is Preparation – I have found that dealing with life’s challenges becomes so much easier when you are expecting a challenge instead of expecting everything to be smooth and easy. Level 3 is Conviction, and this is about the steadfast commitment of choosing our values over our emotions. Level 4 is Improvement, which is my reminder to consistently take positive action by leaving everything and everyone we touch a little better than we found them. And finally, Level 5 is Presence — it’s my simple reminder that we only have to be present and do the right thing, Just Today. In my book, I weave it all together and give practical tips about how this can be used to improve anyone’s mindset.
Q: You have a very humane approach on workplaces. Your life’s mission is an ambitious one: To end generations of professional suffering, simply by changing how we treat each other at work. What motivated you to work in this area and go on to be a founder of the Workplace Positivity Movement?
Shola Richards: I was in a very dark place when I started this movement. I was depressed, suicidal, and basically a broken human being who was suffering greatly due in large part to the treatment I was enduring at work. Once I realized that I was not alone, and that literally millions of people all over the world were dealing with similar challenges at work, I had to do something to help. That’s why I started the Workplace Positivity Movement, before I was ready. In a sense, that’s the key — always starts things before you’re ready.
‘Your employees know when you’re not being genuine.’
Q: In a post you speak of and I quote, “Positivity is no longer just for the optimists, the idealists, and the dreamers. Positivity is for the people who are willing to take meaningful action. Positivity is for the doers.” What would you advice CEO’s and managers to bring more positivity at their workplace?
Shola Richards: It’s always the simple things. But if I could name one thing, I would start with all leaders should ‘walk the talk’. As a leader, don’t say that your employees are your #1 priority if you refuse to say hello to them in the hallway, burn them out by forcing them to be available to work and answer emails 24/7, and leave everything and everyone you touch a little bit better than you found them. One of the most critical lessons in leadership is that the people who you lead are not dumb. They know when you’re not being genuine, and it’s worth it to remember this at all times.
‘Money comes and goes, but genuine recognition can stay with you forever.’
Q: In Making Work Work, one of the points you make is that employees value gratitude and appreciation of work done even more than money. Could you elaborate?
Shola Richards: Money comes and goes, but genuine recognition can stay with you forever–and many studies support this. Personally speaking, I can barely remember the raises or monetary gifts that I have received in my career, but I always remember the gratitude and recognition that I have received. Conversely, studies have also shown that the #1 reason why people leave their jobs is not due to a lack of money, it’s due to a lack of recognition. People will stick around in a job where they are sincerely valued, even if they’re underpaid – but it’s doubtful that they will stick around if the situation was reversed.
‘Don’t underestimate the power of positive action, because a kind word literally can have the power to change someone’s life.’
Q: Many organizations lack the culture to facilitate recognition. What could be done to bring about this paradigm shift so that people are kinder and more appreciative of each other?
Shola Richards: Action is the key. Changing cultures sounds like such a scary and daunting undertaking, but all that you have to do is start where you are with whatever you have. Just beginning by sincerely appreciating a colleague could literally be the start of a culture change. Don’t underestimate the power of positive action, because a kind word literally can have the power to change someone’s life.
Q: What is the one piece of recognition/appreciation/compliment that you have received that has changed your life?
Shola Richards: Years ago, I started my blog, The Positivity Solution, and I was really struggling to gain readers and build traction. I was trying for months to get an opportunity to write a guest blog post on other popular blogs, but every single one of them rejected me or ignored me. I was getting really discouraged about my writing ability, until I met a woman named Kelly Gurnett who wrote a popular blog called, Cordelia Calls it Quits. I submitted a guest blog post to her, and she replied with the kindest and most enthusiastic email about my writing that I had ever received to that point. It literally changed my life and gave the confidence to continue sharing my writing with the world–I cannot possibly be more grateful for her words of encouragement.
‘Be courageous. Stand up to the bullies in your organization’
Q: How can HR professionals promote a culture of positivity within companies?
Shola Richards: Be courageous. Stand up to the bullies in your organization, and demand that they stop hurting their employees, and if they don’t comply, then show them door. Sadly, in some HR departments throughout the world, they are willing to turn a blind eye if the offender is a high-producer or has a high-ranking title. That is why courage is needed to change this troubling trend.
‘Leave everything and everyone you touch a little bit better than you found them’
Q: How can we, as individual employees be more kinder, more empathetic to our fellow workers? How does one do this on a day-to-day basis?
Shola Richards: I gave a quick tip earlier, and it’s simply to commit to leave everything and everyone you touch a little bit better than you found them. This is my daily mantra that reminds me to be kinder and more empathetic to our coworkers on a day-to-day basis.
Q: You are quirky, you are amusing, you are a diehard optimist, you are full of life. You are a Workplace Positivity Activist, Keynote Speaker and a Best-Selling Author. You are a dad to two daughters. How do you manage to do this all?
Shola Richards: I have no idea! No, seriously — I love people, I love my work, I love writing, I love speaking, and most of all, I love my family. It’s easy to find the time and the energy when you’re doing things that you love.
Q: And finally, what does Shola mean? It sounds so good to the ear but we would love to know its meaning too.
Shola Richards: Thanks for the compliment on my name! It means ‘One who is blessed’. As a fun fact, in Yoruba tradition, it’s primarily a girl’s name (which means that I get a lot of Ms. Richards mail sent to my home!) Also, as another fun fact, my name autocorrects on most iPhones to ‘Ebola’. The struggle is real!