How to Go Together : Shola Richards
By Vanessa Gonzales, CSDA Communications Specialist
Shola Richards is an author, keynote speaker, and consultant whose focus is on workplace civility, how we treat each other in the workplace. He also focuses on key areas outside of civility like resilience, how we show up after tough times, especially after two years of COVID on our world. Shola is passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how this affects how people show up for work. Whatever can help colleagues show up with kindness, dignity, and respect for their fellow colleagues is what he is about!
Over 16 years ago, Shola worked for a very toxic work environment. It was a challenging time, but it helped him understand the importance and need of this movement. “When I came out of this,” Shola said, “I realized that no one was effectively addressing issues of toxicity in the workplace, and if there were people who were addressing it, I certainly wasn’t aware of them. After complaining out loud about why people aren’t doing anything about ending toxic behaviors in the workplace, a friend of mine said, ‘Hey, you’re someone. Why don’t you do it?’ That question started me on this journey.” 65 million Americans are dealing with toxic work environments – that’s more than the population of 14 states. It’s not okay to deal with someone who is actively harassing, bullying, or marginalizing you. Shola shared that these are not victimless crimes; this suppressive work environment will hurt you and the work of your districts and organizations.
Shola Richards created the Go Together Movement, a transformational roadmap of mindset, behaviors, and tools that transform workplace cultures and drive results. This movement is based on the idea from an ancient African proverb: “If you want to fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.” Shola reminds people to see each other through the lens of our shared humanity. Show up in the way you can be proud of if your kids, loved ones, and those you respect are watching you. “I often operate as if there is a hidden camera and footage is being taken that will be shown to my daughters when they’re older,” Shola shared. “It is a reminder of how I show up in moments of conflict, when I am treated a certain way, and during challenging times when I am exhausted. I want to make sure I behave in a way that is positive and meaningful. We must take some action now to heal the world so that our future generation will be proud of what we’re leaving them.”
“The illusion that we are separate from each other, more different than similar, is eroding our ability to work, live, and lead effectively,” says Shola. He suggests focusing on the powerful idea of ubuntu instead. While there is not a one-to-one equivalent in the English language for this word, Shola explained that ubuntu is a transcendent African philosophy that means I am because we are. It’s the height of human connectiveness, human compassion, and human kindness. “If I could add to the words in my book [Go Together: How the Concept of Ubuntu Will Change How You Live, Work, and Lead], I’d add that … ‘And, our differences should still be okay,’” said Shola. “If someone is coming to the table and they are autistic, black, or trans, we should be able to look at people that are different and think ‘hey, there is a lot that binds us together and the things that are different are still cool.’ I feel we should start looking at the world through these lenses, instead of using our differences as excuses to separate. We can do powerful things in looking at this from a place of not only are we similar, but we have differences, and those differences are okay.”
Shola shared that psychological safety is a crucial component to a positive workplace. We are dealing in a time that is polarized and divided with the pandemic still lingering around, and it is often exhausting to show up to work. “Having a positive workplace that encompasses psychological safety is one that at the very least employees can figuratively raise their hand to their colleagues or boss and say, ‘I’m struggling with this,’ or ‘I’m burned out,’ or ‘I need help’ without fear of being shamed or humiliated for doing so. People should be able to share what their challenges are in a meaningful way.” said Shola. “Part of what gets in the way of a positive work environment is that people don’t feel they can communicate freely about what’s really going on so they’re forced to pretend or to hide information because the boss will get upset. An environment of honesty and respect allows people to do to their best work and to be engaged in their work.” For example, an employee can share that they struggled with a presentation, and their boss will listen, give feedback, and the opportunity for improvement. Psychological safety is a baseline of what a positive work environment looks like. There will be more coming at the CSDA Annual Conference that Shola will share on what makes a positive workplace, such as: handling conflict, communication, accountability, the attitude you bring to work, the ability to recognize others, the support of others, and the ability to build trust. Psychological safety is one thing that is powerful to help people be real and to really share what’s going on in the workplace.
Other important topics Shola will cover at the CSDA Annual Conference & Exhibitor Showcase is how to bring civility back to the work we do, how to create trust in the communities we serve, and how we keep going when things get really exhausting. It can be hard to do the right thing, especially when exhausted. Shola will bring inspiration, but more importantly will share practical, actionable tools districts can implement to improve the workplace. His goal is for individuals to walk away with something that will make their districts and communities a better place and ultimately a better California and a better world in the process.
California Special Districts asked Shola Richards to share one piece of advice to our readers. His response was: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Some folks are really struggling right now because they are in leadership roles, such as running a department, or being a parent, teacher, or coach. They feel like they are not supposed to struggle because of their role and the need to keep moving. “I can’t say enough about the willingness to ask for help is probably what differentiates the successful people who are able to thrive versus the ones who are struggling or on a fast track to some sort of physical ailment. Some don’t want to appear weak, but being weak is pretending that you’re strong when you’re not,” said Shola. “Being strong is asking for help. Own it, get strengthened, and it can also be an example for others to do the same.” Regarding mental health specifically, Shola shared that “it’s okay to not be okay,” and that the first step to bring the best to work is to get help.
In conclusion, Shola shared that he had the opportunity to testify as a civility expert on Capitol Hill in front of the Select Committee at Congress last September. They brought in three individuals to share: a leadership expert, a teamwork expert, and a civility expert. They sought real tangible advice about how to bring more civility to Congress and how to get people to communicate better. People at highest levels are dealing with this, including our national government and elected officials. Naturally, we are dealing with this in our districts, our workplaces, and our kids are dealing with these same things. It’s time to think about what we are doing to create a better world. Take this as a teaser for content Shola Richards will be sharing in his keynote at the CSDA Annual Conference & Exhibitor Showcase on how we can go together. He can’t wait to dive into this with us in August!