Shola Richards

Shola Richards is a dynamic keynote speaker, an authority on workplace happiness and engagement, author of two books (Making Work Work and Go Together) and a positivity writer with a passionate worldwide following.

Shola was the Director of Training at UCLA before taking the leap to full-time keynote speaking and consulting.  As a fellow University of California employee, I was fortunate to see him speak on several occasions and utilize his talents for the betterment of UC Davis.For my inaugural edition of the CUWFA newsletter I was able to interview Shola about how his books and theories relate specifically to the Worklife practitioner in higher education.

  1. Making Work Work is essentially targeted to bringing positivity to the workplace. In Worklife, we often feel that this is at the core of everything we do. Programming is designed to offer tangible solutions for the employee/student enabling them to find the space to bring meaning and positivity to their work. Of the many tools in the book, can you identify one specific aspect that you think can be embraced and easily translated to the Worklife realm?

    In Chapter 6, “Number One: Relentlessly Respecting Ourselves” I discuss the value of establishing boundaries.  When it comes to one specific aspect of establishing boundaries, I believe “worklife separation” is a concept to embrace.  We commonly hear of “worklife balance” which is nonsensical and mathematically impossible...nine hours of working plus eight hours of sleep leaves little room for this “mythical balance.”  In my research and through talking with successful leaders, I find that those who are most accomplished are maniacal to ensure that their work does not creep into their lives outside of work. I have two daughters, a wife, a puppy and make a point to separate work from my life—a key aspect in creating boundaries.

    I had a boss who had no issues with calling my personal cell phone for a meeting update at 8:00pm on a Friday night when I would be out with my wife.  I first let the call go to voice-mail and she simply called again.  I had to learn to be very clear on creating boundaries by stating that I would be happy to talk about it on Monday morning, but right now I was enjoying my time with my wife.  Annoyed at first, my boss eventually learned to respect my boundaries.  Strive to be fully present for your loved ones and equally present in your work.  It is impossible to do this 100% of the time, but the closer you can get to this separation the more effective you will be in both realms.

    What about those times when you want to blur the lines between work and life such as checking work e-mail while waiting for soccer practice to finish? 

    That’s okay, as long as it is just time that would be wasted anyway, such as waiting at soccer practice or walking the dog.  More importantly, just make sure that if you are doing something important, you set the boundary.  Worklife integration can become far more sinister if it is interrupting your life.

  2. Your second book, Go Together, is about bringing the Ubuntu philosophy to the workplace. Please explain.

    Ubuntu and how you think it could be promoted to our constituents at our Universities and Colleges. By definition, Ubuntu means “I am because we are.”  It is the essence of being human, we can’t do anything truly meaningful alone, we need to rely on each other to do our best.  It comes out of the African Proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  In terms of how this can be applied to a University setting, problems at work come from a lack of connection which can cause us to act in a way that is uncivil.  Not being connected leads to less civility, leading to a lack of trust, which ultimately leads to a lack of effectiveness and results.  This may seem like“fluff” but there is a practicality of it.  Finding that level of connection, even viewing someone’s behavior with a level of curiosity and not going straight to judgement, is a useful tool.  The often “siloed” aspect of working in higher education, particularly at medical centers, is a result of this tribalism, this “us vs them” mentality.  The way around that is to keep reminding others of your shared humanity and shared goals of just having your university’s name on your badge.

  3. As you have an extensive background working in higher education, please identify one of your specific theories/practices you feel we should bring to the unique culture found at institutions of higher learning.

    One of the things I believe in is that we need to have a willingness to stand up to unacceptable behaviors.  The hierarchical structure in colleges and universities creates a situation where some people are able to get away with unacceptable behavior because of who they are, the funding they bring, or their status. If people behave badly, and we know it, and we let it happen, it’s one of the most destructive things we can do.  Research tells us that one’s boss has more impact on one’s overall health than their primary care physician.  Lip service to bullying degrades trust, well-being, and ultimately morale.  The first step is authentically acknowledging that an issue is worthy of everyone’s attention.

  4. Here is my favorite quote from your recent book, “How can someone like Viktor Frankl find meaning and purpose in a Nazi concentration camp while other people are reduced to petulant toddlers when the pumpkin latte they order from the barista is five degrees cooler than they expected?” Please explain....

    I feel we are becoming less and less resilient.  We are losing perspective as to what is a threat to us.  This type of behavior is a sign of someone who will be easily destroyed in the workplace by change or things outside of their control.  We have such a finite amount of energy, we should try not to waste it on things we cannot control.  I have a Six Minute/Six Month rule...if what I’m worrying about will not matter six months from now, I refuse to spend more than six minutes worrying about it.  These minor issues don’t deserve our time, our energy or emotion—and realizing this allows us to be our best self at work.  We find that happy people focus on things they can control and unhappy people waste energy on those things they cannot control, including the warmth of their lattes. In Go Together, I encourage focusing on what you can control: your actions, your effort and your attitude, best illustrated in the Viktor Frankl quote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.

  5. Worklife practitioners have a unique position in administration to be agents of culture change. From your perspective, please identify one of your many areas/theories where we can focus to move towards an improved workplace experience.

    This comes full circle back to the focus of one thing you can control; self care.  I’m big on self-care, if you are not well, you cannot contribute to a culture of wellness. There are two forms, the first being soft self-care, such as meditation, yoga, reading, pets, vacation—all awesome, I’m all for it.  The second form is “tough love self care”, including creating healthy boundaries, removing ourselves from toxic relationships (some people need to be loved from a distance) therapy, eliminating or reducing time on social media, asking for help, forgiving yourself and others, and challenging unhealthy behaviors used to numb yourself.  These things cause us to be unwell.  It’s important to take a look at these things and commit to addressing them as a form of tough love self care.

Thank you Shola for taking the time to address how worklife can embrace and utilize the Positivity Movement!

What We're Reading

  • Making Work Work: The Positivity Solution for  Any  Work  Environment by  Shola Richards
    Written to specifically help anyone to  create  a  positivity  movement  in  his/her workplace immediately after reading it.
  • Go Together: How the Concept of Ubuntu Will Change How you Live, Work and Lead by Shola Richards
    Explores a radical new concept  for  rethinking  our  personal, professional, and social lives: togetherness.