Episode 36: Caring For Yourself And Others As A Leader with Shola Richards
On this episode of my podcast, The Corelink Solution with James Rosseau, Sr., I am joined by Shola Richards, a positivity writer, and workplace civility expert who’s turned his struggles and mental trauma in life into a rallying cry for change in the workplace.
We discuss the importance of self-care, both through this time of unrest, while having a view of the other side, which many of us want to positively impact. We provide practical tools for self-care, leading others, engaging in the shift of workplace culture, and allyship.
About Shola Richards
Shola Richards is a dynamic keynote speaker, the best-selling author of Making Work Work, the author of the newly-released book—Go Together, he’s an in-demand workplace civility expert, and he is a positivity writer with a passionate worldwide following. His articles and wildly-popular Monday morning “Positivity Solution” email series has 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 who recognize him as an authority on workplace happiness and engagement.
As a speaker, Shola has shared his transformative message with leading healthcare organizations, top universities, Silicon Valley, the motion picture industry, on the TEDx stage, and in his greatest honor to date, as a keynote speaker for the Department of Homeland Security three days before the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, under the Obama Administration.
Last, but certainly not least, Shola is a father, husband, identical twin, and a self-professed “kindness extremist” who will not rest until bullying and incivility is extinct from the American workplace.
Connect with Shola
Connect with James
James: Hey! Welcome to another episode of The Corelink Solution where we empower you with awareness and actionable insights. My name is James Rosseau and I’m your host. For those joining us during the Livestream, thank you for being a part of it. Please feel free to ask your questions within the comments section of Facebook or within the question section on YouTube – or the chat section on YouTube, rather. Tonight’s topic is Caring For Yourselves And Others As A Leader, featuring a special guest, smiling gentlemen right there, Shola Richards. Shola, so good to see you.
Shola: James, my man, it’s a pleasure. Thank you so much for the invitation, my man. I’m so glad to be here.
James: Absolutely, absolutely. This is our second Livestream, so really good to have you on. Really good to have you on. And just to – go ahead.
Shola: I didn’t get to be first though, man. I thought I was going to be number one. What happened?
James: There you go, I shouldn’t have told you. [laughter] But why this topic is important, I’d like to set that up, is many of us, when we think about preventative maintenance, have learned – some of us the hard way. We think about our vehicles as an example that preventative maintenance can help you extend the lifetime of your vehicle, helps you from not breaking down on the road, keeps the short term utility going, reduces expenses, but again, extends the lifetime. The same is true when it comes to ourselves, but a lot of times, those things get overlooked. And so this episode is understanding how you can help with human preventative maintenance for lack of better terms, right? The benefits, the how-to’s, and how you can lead it as a leader as well. So let me introduce Shola.
Shola is a dynamic speaker, the best-selling author of Making Work Work, the author of the newly released book Going Together. He’s an in-demand workplace civility expert, and he is a positivity writer with a passionate worldwide following. His articles and widely popular Monday Morning Positivity Solution email series has been readers in over one hundred and sixty countries, and his work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Forbes, Black Enterprise, Complete Well-Being India, Business Insider Australia, and numerous publications all over the world recognize him as an authority on workplace happiness and engagement. As a speaker, Shola has shared his transformative message with leading healthcare organizations, top universities, Silicon Valley, the motion picture industry and on the TEDx stage, and then his greatest honor to date, as a keynote speaker for the Department of Homeland Security three days before the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 under the Obama administration. Last, but certainly not least, Shola is a father, husband, identical twin, and a self-professed kindness extremist, (I’ve never heard of that before, Shola.) who will not rest until bullying and incivility is extinct from the American workplace. So please join me in welcoming again, Shola Richards. Shola, thank you, sir.
Shola: You know, James, it’s funny. I never know what my face should look like when people are reading my bio. I get really kind of uncomfortable and weird. I don’t know if I’m supposed to look at the camera, smile, be proud – I don’t have that quite figured out yet. I’ve got to work on that part.
James: Did you wish I’d taken you off the screen and then brought you back when I finished reading?
Shola: [laughs] No, it’s all good, I have to learn to kind of – you know, it’s funny because I share with a lot of people that for years I’ve suffered from the imposter syndrome. Right? This idea of like, “Oh my gosh, it’s another day where no one found out that I don’t know anything.” So it’s like, I struggle with that. I’ve struggled with that for years. So, it’s something that I need to step into a little bit more. So, even the exercise of listening to the comments and just taking it in is something that I gotta get used to.
James: It is. It is, man. It is. Well, one of the things that I love to ask folks as we get going – and it’s going to be hard for you because you share a lot. You’re very open. [inaudible 08:39] But I’m going to try one anyway, and let’s see if you can do it. What is one thing that you can share with the audience that most folks don’t know about Shola Richards?
Shola: Oh gosh… That most folks don’t know? Cause I do, I’m a big sharer. Well… I think one of the things a lot of people don’t know is that I am a highly sensitive person. An HSP, so I have the empathy gene on steroids, and I’m not quite sure if it’s a superpower or disability. [laughs] But I mean, I feel things very deeply, and unfortunately, that’s caused me a lot of pain and suffering, especially during times like these. (I’m sure we’ll get into that.) That’s something that I don’t really talk about. I think when you become a public figure, and most recently, there’s a post that went viral and a lot of people got to see it and read it about me taking a walk with my daughter and my dog Haze. The comments were lovely. But then, of course, there’s some crazy stuff that also comes at you too that just kind of hurts. So, it’s as important to step through it to make sure that the message is heard.
James: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I thought you might mention The Amazing Race thing because the way that you’d lead – learned that not too long ago. I was even trying to dig up some footage. I was trying hard!
Shola: Oh my God! [laughs]
James: Video footage.
Shola: There’s no highlights.
James: Yeah, no highlights. Yeah. But Shola was on The Amazing Race season… What season was that?
Shola: I think it was Season Two.
James: Season Two, yeah. I did find, like, a stock picture or two, but it just wasn’t the same so I left that out.
Shola: I was a lot younger, a lot more svelte. I had kind of my girlish figure. Now, not so much anymore.
James: Bro, listen. You’re fine. Okay? I’m sure your wife says you’re fine. Don’t worry about it. So let’s do this. So one of the things that – and again, when we planned this and scheduled this, this was a couple of weeks ago. A lot has transpired since then. So let me just say this: we would be remiss not to talk about this in the context of everything that’s going on around us right now. Right? We have the pandemic, which is one crisis to deal with, but now on top of that, we have everything going in terms of the social unrest that came out of recent events. Right? And we need to address this topic with all that in its context. And so, we’ll try to do that as we go through this. Shola, let’s start here. I always think it’s helpful to start with your “why” and what brought you into this focus on positivity and workplace civility. Maybe you can share your story a little bit.
Shola: Yeah, man. Happy to. So, I… Gosh, going to go back probably fifteen years. 2005? I was working for a work environment that could only be described as soul-destroying. And that is not meant for hyperbolic effect. I’m talking about one of the darkest workplaces I’ve ever seen, where there was racism, bullying, harassment, sabotage, physical altercations, things that were cartoonishly inappropriate. And I remember, after two years – to give you an example. I want to be so clear when I talk about this. There’s a group of people who didn’t like me. And they didn’t like me because I smiled too much. And I swear to you that’s the reason why. [laughs] And they’re like, “I’m going to break him.” So, what they would do, I’d make my lunch – it was like a sandwich. Nothing special. I can’t really cook. And I’d put it in the break room fridge. The people who were harassing me would pull my sandwich out of the break room fridge, step on it, so I could see the footprint in the bread, and then put it back into the fridge, and they would do this consistently over a period of months.
I fell into a deep, deep, deep depression. That’s not meant to say that euphemistically. I’m talking about deep critical depression. And to make a long story very short, when I was depressed one morning in 2005, I decided I was going to take my own life. And it wasn’t a decision. It wasn’t something that I thought about. It’s something that I actually attempted. And long story short, I was trying to drive on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles. I tried to drive my car off the overpass to make it look like an accident. For reasons I’m not quite clear on, the car came back onto the overpass, and I sat there just crying, crying, and crying about what I almost did. But the cool thing about that moment, which was by far the darkest moment of my life, is that I determined my “why.” My “why” was like, “I can’t be the only person who’s dealing with this. I just can’t be.” And then I did some work and some research. I was trying to figure out like, “Workplace toxicity, is it just me?”
Sixty million Americans are currently dealing with this now. Sixty million. More than the population of fourteen US states. So, because of that, I was like, “I gotta do something about this. I gotta find a way to make this stop.” That’s my “why”, to help people who are struggling. And I’ve been fighting that fight ever since.
James: Amen. And what year was that again?
James: 2005. Man.
Shola: 2005. And interestingly enough, I didn’t do a whole lot of work until maybe 2013, when I really got started putting my stuff out there. I had a website address in 2008. I hadn’t published on itself until 2013. Five years. Because I was so scared of what people would say.
James: Yeah. Man, that’s amazing. I’ve heard you tell that story, this is probably the third time I’ve had the pleasure of being with you on kind of a presentation sort of environment I heard you tell it. And each time, just as you tell it, I can still almost get a visual, man. It’s gut-wrenching, right? But what you came out of that with and what you’ve been able to do to touch people’s lives since then, it’s just amazing. So, thanks again, man, for being a part of this. So, let’s go into the topic itself, self-care. You call it positivity, I call it self-care. And one of the things I’ll say to the audience is Shola has a brilliant model he calls his four keys. I have a model I call SCORE for leaders and managing through unpredictable moments. SCORE’s an acronym, the first two letters are self-care and community care. So, we’re going to go back and forth a little bit between his four keys and my S and C, and try to make something for you that you walk away with, again, with some awareness and some actionable items that you can walk away with this from and put to action tonight, tomorrow, to make a difference for yourself and your teams. So maybe, Shola, why don’t we start with you, in terms of self-care, and I always like to start with, why is self-care even important?
Shola: I mean, it’s the most important thing. I mean, the most important love is the love that you give to yourself. You can’t love someone else effectively if you don’t love yourself. Imagine, the most overused analogy with this is the airplane, right? When they tell you when the pressure drops, make sure you put on your mask first before you put on the mask of others. That’s completely the case here. I think during hard times, specifically in crisis, when you’re talking about people who are surrounded by news that is really dark right now. You’re talking about a global pandemic that’s been hitting us hard, isolating people. Unemployment. I think now, if we don’t really make a practice of self-care – and I’m not talking about the easy self-care stuff. Like, go to the spa, which most people can’t do. I’m in Los Angeles, we’re totally locked down, so there’s not that. But I mean, I’m talking about the hard stuff, like setting healthy boundaries. Turning off the news. Distancing yourself from social media. Removing toxic influences from your life. People – I’ve told this to many people – now’s the time to really start thinking about the people in your life who fill you up and the people who drain you. Man, real talk. I mean, if you keep people in your life who drain you consistently, it’s just going to wither away at your mental health. I will say this clearly. I am looking at the screen, people, hear me when I say this. Some people need to be loved from a distance. And until we get to the point where we realize that we need to take care of us so we can be better humans, so we can go ahead and fight the battles that need to be fought, whether it’s the civil unrest or racism or all these things that are going on, we’re not going to be able to do it if we’re broken and unwell ourselves. So, it has to start there.
James: Absolutely. And you know, I’ll add the self-care why from a leadership perspective. I talked about this a couple of weeks ago. When you’re leading teams, particularly in times of unpredictable moments, high level of crises, etcetera – An example I gave was 9/11, when I happened to be leading a few hundred people. You jump into hyper-performance mode. Because it’s just a part of what you do. Oftentimes, as leaders, I like to say we operate in a mode of unconscious competence. We know what to do. We deal with it. When complexities come, we turn up the juice, so to speak and want to do more, right? We want to care for folks and we feel like we need to be there and care for folks almost twenty-four by seven. However, to show this point, the example that I use is putting the mask on first. We feel guilty almost putting the mask on first. But the whole thing in point around putting the mask on first is you’re putting your oxygen on first, so you actually can sustain yourself to be in service to others. So, that’s the one point I’d like to stress to leaders.
And the second thing to stress is exampleship, which is a word that’s been made up over the years. I’m still not sure it’s an official word accepted by the dictionary yet. But hopefully, if I keep saying it and others keep saying it, they’ll accept it. But exampleship, right? As you’re leading teams and you want to say to them, “Hey, take care of yourselves and so on and so forth,” we all know, what you say is one thing, but what you do in pattern is another thing. So, you need to lead by example and they need to see you leading by example. In fact, as you’re done having your staff meetings and so on and so forth, you can talk about what you’re doing, what you’re learning, how you’re taking care of yourself, etcetera, and it will help you a ton.
Last but not least, and we can move on to some of the hows into self-care and Shola’s first key, is – Mayo Clinic and others have done tons of work in this space, okay? Continued lack of self-care leads to chronic stress. Chronic stress leads to tons of things, like anxiety, disability to work, so on and so forth, mentally, and not show up and be there. So, in other words, you’ll be incapacitated at some point as chronic stress takes hold, and you won’t be able to perform and lead your people and do what you intend to do in the first place.
So those are some of the reasons whys self-care is important as a leader. Okay so, back to you, Shola. Let’s hit that first key.
Shola: Well, you know, it’s funny, I’m actually going to go in reverse order of how I present it because I think there are some things that need to, I’m going to go at the end with my fourth key first strangely? And the reason why because I think it really hits some of the challenges that we’re facing now. One of the keys around self-care is this thing around creating safety, specifically psychological safety. Psychological safety – not to get too deep into this, but Google did an amazing study, by the way, called Project Aristotle, where they found out, and they did some work to figure out exactly how, what makes a highly functioning team? And they found out the number one factor, this thing called psychological safety. I’m summarizing or kind of paraphrasing this, but it’s the ability to raise your hand and say, “I don’t know.” Or “I’m scared.” Or “I’m burned out.” “I need help,” without fear of being shamed for doing so. And if we, as leaders, can step into this – I think a good example now is what’s going with the racial civil unrest in our country. So, recently a lot of people came to me, and like, “Hey Shola” – in the past couple of days – “I don’t know what to do. I need help. I want to be an ally, I want to be supportive of this. I feel sad that you can’t walk with your girls.” By the way, probably should say this – this is my why. Nice kiddo.
James: There you go.
Shola: Yeah, they’re my babies right there. But they would tell me, “I want to be an ally. I want to help. I want to be able to do something.” That could be an opportunity for me to be like, “Well, look it up your damn self!” I mean, I actually had a really, really strong argument with another one of my friends, another black man about this. He’s like, “Dude, your job is not to go out there and handpick resources for people to be allies. They should look it up on their own, man.” I was like, “Listen, if I have an opportunity to help, I’m going to help. I’m going to create this psychological safety.” And I feel like, as a leader, that’s what I’m here to do, is to do whatever I can to lead with kindness and civility. James, you know this about me. You know me personally. You know that the number one thing is I am a kindness extremist. You know my nickname is Brother Teresa. You know this about me. [laughs] So, yeah. I mean, I want to help. So, we have the create that safety, and I think as leaders, in order to care for others – and here’s why this matters. And I’m going to get really specific. Because of COVID-19 and the isolation that I think people have faced right now, domestic violence is on the rise right now, against women and children. And it’s bad. And it’s pervasive. If people are not – people don’t normally ask for help, because they’re scared to, they’re embarrassed to or whatever. So people could be suffering in your neighborhoods, in your communities, whatever, and if you can create that safety, that safe space for people to be like, “Hey Shola, I gotta tell you something.” That could be the difference right now between life and death, madness and sanity, health, and illness. So, we have to take that step. So I want to start with psychological safety because I think a lot of leaders struggle with that. They shame people for not knowing. They don’t give proper help and support and I think there’s so much we need to do on that side. So, just throwing that out there.
James: No, that’s good. Can I ask a follow-up question on that one?
Shola: Please, anything.
James: So, in this moment – let’s play this out for a second, and again, this was not our planned topic to deal with this. But it’s good – let me say it this way. We, again, decided right before coming on, literally ten minutes before, we’d be remiss not to talk about what’s happening right now. We both know, given our relationship and everything else, right? We’re comfortable talking about it. Literally, on the fly. So, Monday morning, you as a leader, now step into your day. And you have conference calls and such, one on ones, so on and so forth, how do you begin to create that psychological safety for your team? What are some things that you would throw out as how-to’s so to speak, to do that?
Shola: So, this is an important question. And the first step is to realize that your black colleagues are not okay. [laughs] They’re not okay. There’s not a… So, I’m a lover, I’m not a fighter. I’m not going to be going around like, setting things on fire. My way of suffering is I’m not eating, I’m not sleeping. I have been less present. I’ve been scared about my own health, the health of my kids, the health of my brothers. So, that has to be the first step, to just make sure that people are doing okay, but as a leader, just having the emotional intelligence and freaking empathy to look at them through the screen (if you’re doing this virtually), to just simply be like, “Hey. Can we talk? Can I help? What is going on? Tell me how you’re feeling.” Create this environment where people can actually share openly. Now, it’s tricky, if you’re the type of leader that hasn’t done that before, and now you’re doing it, it’s going to seem a little bit disjointed. So, you’re maybe going to have to ease into. But I think it’s best to rip the band-aid off, knowing that we’re in this space of discomfort. Everyone’s thinking about it. The elephant’s sitting over there in the corner staring at us, we might as well go ahead and address it, knowing that in doing so, it’s going to allow someone to feel better. But here’s the thing that leaders need to do specifically, is they need to be the one that gets on the dance floor first. Meaning, they have to be the one that says like, “Hey, I might as well start with how I’m feeling.” And if you’re a white man or white woman – for example, like, “I had a lot of eye-opening experiences in the past couple of days, about my own privilege and what I didn’t know was going on in this country, and I’m a little bit embarrassed, I’m going to share with some of you. And I hope you can forgive me for some of the things I didn’t know. I’m coming to this team, letting you know that I have a lot of work to do on this work, and I’m hoping that you can guide me and support me through this, as I will support you as your leader.” That’s like, “Yo! Okay, we can do this now!” But if we don’t do that, and pretend to be a leader where it’s like, “No, I’ve got all the answers, and I can’t look soft because vulnerability is weakness.” My girl, Brene Brown, says otherwise.
James: That’s right.
Shola: I’m sorry, I love Brene Brown. I love Brene Brown. If any of y’all know how to get in touch with her, please do.
James: Yeah. We have to get her here on the podcast at some point.
Shola: Oh, man! It’s borderline stalker level. I need to get it under control. But Brene does talk about that. And I think it’s an important thing to realize that vulnerability is not weakness, especially now, because everyone’s struggling. So I think it’s an important thing to talk about.
James: Yeah. That’s so good. And there are two or three things you said in there that I just want to touch back on real quick. One, you said, “This is how I process it.” And that’s so key. This is how I process it. Each person’s gonna process it in their own way. Right? As we all have unique fingerprints, our processing is different, right? Each person’s, the way they emote or not. They still have something going on inside. They way they process – my way of processing is I want to figure out the action path. So, I start figuring out how to – I start gathering information, I’m trying to pull stuff together. I’m grieving in bursts, but I’m also thinking about, “What’s next?” That’s my way. I understand other people are going to have different ways. That’s the first thing, right? Acknowledge as a leader that people are going to process in different ways and you still have to be inquisitive and use your EQ to touch your team.
The second thing you said was this point around, as leaders we want to walk in with the answers baked. We want to walk in with the bullets from front to end. This is what happened, this is our assessment of it, this is what we’re gonna do, here’s what you’re gonna do, this is what the results are going to look like, and we are in this together, right? Like, we don’t like saying, “This is what’s going on. This is how I’m feeling about it. This is what we’re doing to date that I know, and there’s a lot of things I don’t know. And we’re going to have to work together, be agile, be fluid, and here’s what I promise to do during this moment, as the leader of this group, etcetera.” Making those commitments around communication and things like that in this time are so important and being open and honest about your feelings. So, spot on. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Shola: My pleasure.
James: Alright, so let’s go to the next key. Are you going totally in reverse order? Which way are you going?
Shola: Yeah, I know. I’m skipping around. And by the way, for anyone who’s listening, I’m going to make an offer. So, it’s been free, because I’m all about free stuff. Oh, yeah. This was so not planned, but I actually have a workbook. It’s an e-workbook, I just printed it out, that I can send to you that will help you through the self-care process. Really, really useful. So, totally free. All you have to do is email me at email@example.com and just put “workbook” in the subject line, so I’ll know what it’s about. Because I’ve got a ton of emails the past couple of days, so just make sure “workbook” is in there, so I can easily scan through all the emails and I can just turn around and send it to you. So you can have some documents. It’s something that you can actually use on the fly. So I want this to be actionable.
So, back to your second point. I’m kind of jumping around because this is not in order. So now, I’m going back to the first key. That was the fourth key, the one with the critical safety. But the first one is focusing on what you have the power to control. So, I do not have the recipe for happiness. I’m a happy guy usually, so. But I do have the recipe for misery. The recipe for misery is focusing on the things that you do not have the power to control. I wish more people would realize this in terms of self-care, especially now. So, we’re looking at this world that is crumbling in some way, people are disconnected more than I’ve ever seen. There’s a lot of fear about getting the virus, transmitting the virus to someone who has it, doesn’t have it, or whatever, making yourself feel unsafe. It’s really hard. So, when you focus on so many things that you don’t have the power to control, you get to a point where you feel weak and you feel unable to do what’s necessary to improve your life.
So, there are only three things, believe it or not, that we ever have control over at any given time. Only three. And if you just remember these three things, then it’s going to make things so much easier. The first thing is your actions, the things that you choose to do. The second thing is your effort, how hard you choose to try. And the third thing is your attitude, your habitual way of thinking. And I think about this often when I think about, “What do I have the power to control?” And so, when I’m looking at George Floyd getting brutally executed on the streets of Minneapolis, I do not have the power to control bringing him back. I cannot control if this will happen again. But what I’ve given is an opportunity to share my voice and that is totally within my control. And I can speak up, I can share how frustrated I am, I can bring some solutions to the table. I can help educate people who may not be educated on this topic to learn a little bit more in a gentle way, so they don’t feel uncomfortable about it (maybe not as comfortable as I do). But the idea is these are things that are within my control. So, if it’s in my control, I’m doing it. And maybe the most important of those three things that I want to focus on is attitude, because your habitual way of thinking is what’s going to come and get your through this stuff.
So, I have a practical tool that I want to share with anyone who’s listening that’s saved my life when I was in crisis, when I was suicidal, was this thing that I came up with called the six and six rule. People seem to love this and I think it’s really useful when you’re focusing on what you have the power to control. I want you to think about this. If what you’re worrying about right now will not be a big deal six months from now, then do not spend any more than six minutes of your time thinking about it.
James: I love this rule.
Shola: Now, this is why this matters so much. Because I’m doing the crisis homeschooling thing, whatever you what to call it.I was with my youngest daughter, and we’re doing long division. [laughs] I don’t know. It just wasn’t working out very well. And she’s getting upset, I’m getting upset, and I’m like, “I got a podcast to do with James, I gotta go,” I’m like, “Argh!” I was like, “Well, wait a second. Is this really going to matter six months from now? What I’m currently focused on?” On December 1st, 2020, am I going to be like, “Yo! If she just carried the one on that problem, we would have got the right answer!” No. I’m not going to be focused on that. So, I’m not going to spend my time on the little stuff. The bigger things, like systemic racism, the stress of isolation due to COVID-19, the challenges of unemployment and things that are happening around us in this world. Those are things that require my fullest effort and attention. I can’t be spending – everything can’t be very important. If everything is very important, then nothing is. So I go back to the six and six rule. I’m not going to spend my time on the small stuff. I need to spend my energy on the things that truly matter.
James: That’s good. In that vein, to the extent that people say, “Yes, I can go with you on that,” and to your overall, your uber focus of positivity, so on and so forth, I am pushing off my list things that don’t match the six and six. But now, I am squarely focused on – what you just mentioned – systemic racism, the continued deaths, so on and so forth, and all the things that are happening around me. Thirty plus cities with protests, many of which have erupted into riots, so on and so forth. And I’ve got – what do you tell someone who is “a mentee” who comes to you for advice, who comes to you for coaching, etcetera, right now of how to stay positive in this moment? What their focusing on in this moment? What has been your counsel to people such as that?
Shola: Yeah. So my counsel is to be mindful of your intake. I think this is the one thing that most people don’t think about. They spend a lot of time – I kind of touched on this a little bit, the whole things that fill you up versus the things that drain you. And I find that we spend a lot of time doing things that are very draining right now, whether it’s 24-hour news coverage. You have breaking alerts coming to your cellphone. That’s not helpful. So, I’d think about your intake really, really wisely. So for me, I had to step back from the news because it was too much for me. So my thing is that I now have a goal of scanning headlines. And once a day, I make a point, once a day, to scan headlines and I do. I see something that is important, then I’ll dive in a little deeper. But to have it on the background, consistently taking your energy will literally bring you to a point of madness. At least it has for me when I was doing that recently. So, I had to step away from that. When my mentees come to me or folks that ask, first thing is mind your intake. But more than just removing the bad influences, it’s also taking that space and filling them up with things that actually are useful. So, I’m big on podcasts. I listen to podcasts often and that helps me – like The Corelink Solution, obviously – to help me to get my mind right.
James: Good man.
Shola: I make sure that – hey, gotta rep the brand, man. I gotta take care of you, brother. So, there’s that. I gotta make sure that I’m also moving my body and I’m exercising. Getting enough sleep, which has been kind of challenging for me the past couple of days. Spending time with my girls and my wife and my dog. I mean, I really wanna make sure that we’re really connecting. These are things that I have to tell people to not take for granted, and just all get around to that later. The healthiest people are the ones that are really diligent and dare I say maniacal about their intake and making sure that they don’t let that stuff, that secondhand smoke, for lack of a better way of putting it, get in.
James: Yup, yup. No, that’s good, that’s good. And you know, again, leadership addendum. So, how does that apply to then managing the full day of business at work, right? Just sixty seconds on this, and I shared this the other week when Shola and I were at this conference. Think about everything your team has to go through. As Shola just did his six and six, your team need to do the six and six. Right? And there’s two ways to do that. One is to do the personal six and six that Shola talked about, but also help them with their workload. Seriously, okay? In these moments of crises and so on and so forth, workload and things that don’t need to be there are that much more critical. They say in good times, the stuff that is kind of bloated doesn’t hurt as much. In tough times, bloat kills you. There are three simple lists you can make. Some call it a taxonomy. You can call it whatever you want to do, but you can start your Monday and go through Friday and just simply ask people to note down what they do every time they change a task during the course of the day. And you simply want to gather those lists and create, from that, three lists: stop, start, and continue.
James: Right? It’s that simple.
Shola: I do that!
James: Yeah, I mean, seriously. What happens in companies all the time and we all know it is, the things you know – it’s like, watching that movie – what was it? Office Space or – Office Space movie, the guy with the red stapler, right? It’s like the TPS reports. Nobody reads the TPS reports anymore. You can’t challenge anyone to stop the TPS reports. In moments like this, it’s amazing how you can get approved to stop things that don’t make sense and don’t add value to your customers or the value chain. So, number one, stop things that don’t make sense.
Two, start things that will make your life easier, that you’ve been waiting to do, that have been in a “parking lot” somewhere. You bring it up every six months. The technical teams says, “Yeah, we’ll get to it, but we don’t have the right programmers, some people don’t have time, so on and so forth,” but you know, it would make a world of difference again for you and your customers.
And the third list is the continue list. And by the way, the continue list is not mathematical between start and stop. It is a list of things that you’re sure about that add value for your customers or the internal team. Okay? So, it’s not just simply plus start, minus stop, it is – no. These things for sure add value. And that helps your team do the right things and get rid of things that don’t make sense anymore. So, use that as well, guys, in terms, with the six plus six for your people.
Shola: It’s funny, because I’m going to shift from my current civil rights hat to organizational development hat, which has been the one I’ve been wearing the most. I also do start, stop, and continue. And I think about when we go back to the workplace, where we switch from virtual back to going into the office, the things that we need to think about are the ways that we used to work before does not make any sense anymore. And we need to think about what’s coming in the workplace. We’re going to think about, do you shake hands when you see people? The small stuff. What if you’re someone who has seasonal allergies and just like, sneezing all the time? People are going “What the heck is going on?” That person has anxiety going back into the office with this whole COVID-19 stuff. Not to mention, the racial unrest that we’ve talked about. But even so, meeting, workplaces six feet apart – do you walk into an elevator when someone’s in there? Do you wait for the elevator? These are things that a lot of people aren’t really thinking about right now, but you have to make a decision. Are some things – do we need to do this? Not to mention, many people are going to go back to work losing a loved one due to COVID-19 and thinking about this. So important. So, I just want to think of what – what you said, James, so brilliantly – we need to now think about the stuff that’s not working, and really make sure that we’re not spending a second on the stuff that has very little to zero value.
James: Yeah. No, that’s awesome. We have a question, if you want to take it, Shola?
Shola: I am all about questions.
James: Okay, awesome. This comes from Beth Albright. “Been contemplating the advice of going to our black colleagues and asking them for advice on how to handle the current unrest. How should we respond if the person feels further put upon to have to handle my feelings of ignorance in addition to what they’re going through?
Shola: Yeah, so Beth, thanks for the question. There’s a really good analogy about this. (Or metaphor. I always get those two confused.) It’s like, my ask – and I’m not going to speak for the entire black community, because that doesn’t make any sense – but what I will do is I will just give you something to think about. We are struggling – and now, I’m going to, in this moment, talk about the entire black community. I can say this with confidence that we are struggling right now. My hope is like, it’s like when you’re helping someone with their homework. When you’re helping someone with their homework, what you’re hoping that they’re going to do is they’re going to at least hear some of the work that I’ve done, and I feel like this is okay, but “is there anything that you can possibly help me with?” is a lot more meaningful ask than the “tell me how to be an ally.” I mean, honest to God, there’s so much information on the internet right now about this. This is like, it’s the easiest Google search in the world. So what it does make people feel like is like, “Wow, you honestly – you know I’m struggling. I’m on the ground. I just got my behind beaten. I’m on the ground just reeling.” And it’s like, “Hey, hey, hey! Get up and tell me how I can help you!” It’s more like, instead, do the work to learn how to help and then, apply that help. It’s a different thing. I’ve been patient because I feel like all these attempts are in good faith so for me, I tend to think of the intention. And the intention’s good. But I want to make sure that, to answer Beth’s question, if you really think about someone who’s struggling with this, I would start with making sure that you are doing your work, you have all your bases covered, at least the best that you can. You’ve done your research, and then take that research to a place where you can have some really good conversations. There are some good books too that are worth reading. I think How To Be An Anti-Racist. I love this book, by Ibram Kendi, is a really good book. And of course, White Fragility by DiAngelo – Robin DiAngelo, I think is her name. It’s an amazing, amazing place to start, in terms of getting this information so you can be an ally. But do the work first is kind of my best thing that I can say. And then, at that point, reach out.
James: I like that. I like that a lot. And I would just add to that. And I think something you said earlier I think applies here, right? Depending on the culture you’ve been cultivating and where you’ve been, it depends on how much time that research is going to take. So for example, if you don’t have any DNI – man, base within your company. It’s not in your DNA at all. It’s going to take that much longer if you’re starting from nowhere. So the one thing I would say, and challenge Shola, you, a little bit on is it’s important to have the conversation sooner rather than later if your research is going to take you two to three weeks. Right? In other words – I was going to say, it’s one thing to sharpen your pencil on this, but if you don’t have a pencil…? [laughter] Right? Would you agree with me?
Shola: Yeah, I agree with that. I’m all about having discussions. I gotta counterbalance it with just making sure you’re doing the work too. Don’t sit back and hope that your black colleagues or whoever will give you all the answers. But I’m all for having the discussions and I also want to say this too, because this is super important. What stops people from doing stuff, the hard work, is the fear of being perfect. Look dumb. I mean, shoot, I’m posting on social media. I have no idea whenever I hit “send” if someone’s going to actually like what I’m saying, if it even makes any sense. I have no idea if people are going to think like, “Why’d you say that, Shola??” I’m willing to be clumsy, I’m willing to step into and course correct as we go forward. If you’re coming with a pure heart, and this is the most important thing, with a pure heart of kindness, love, support, congeniality, connectedness, Ubuntu – then, we’re going to be able to be cool. It’s going to be fine. And even if – I’ll give you an example.
There was a time in college when I was working in a food pantry for homeless people on Thanksgiving, feeding food. And there was a person who was agitated or something like that. He took his food and he flung it at me. And I remember thinking at the moment, I was probably like 18 or 19 years old. I remember thinking that that one interaction is not going to be enough to stop me from serving the other people who were very grateful for my presence here. So, you may choose to be an ally and run into a black person who’s seriously wounded, right? So, I want to just remind you, seriously emotionally wounded, may even lash out at you, where you’ll be like, “See? I’m not going to do this ally stuff! No one, they don’t seem to care.” That’s not – stop. They’re suffering, right? So, that’s the whole point. Even if you get it wrong – here’s the thing. And Danielle, I feel you, here’s the scary part – I promise you you’re going to get it wrong. [laughs] I promise you. We are all going to get it wrong. No one’s going to get it right. That’s the whole thing. But when you do get it right, it could literally save someone’s life. Literally. So, that’s the reason why I do this stuff. I mean, hell, I didn’t grow up being a motivational speaker. I decided, “Hey, I’m going to try to take some stuff, string some words together because I like writing and see if people are going to actually enjoy it.” I got rejected from every single publisher that I sent my stuff to, until eventually I finally got a deal and then, I just stumbled my way into figuring out how to do stuff. But failure is your teacher. You’re going to learn some stuff that, “I’m not going to do this again.” That would have been worse. So, the next time I have a conservation, I’m going to do something else. And then before you know it, you become like an ally rockstar, but it starts with the effort of just trying.
James: Absolutely. And to your point, what we were talking about, are not in conflict at all. They’re out of there, right? That point of seeking out that information and coming prepared and sharing and saying, “Hey, this is what we’ve gotten so far. I’m sure there’s more out there, but would love to invite you in to collaborate on how we fix this.” And then if they say, “No, I’m not there,” maybe you can suggest other persons who might be. We want to build a council or a team to really focus on this, and come up with solutions together, as opposed to just management. So many folks are going to invite that approach.
Shola: I agree.
James: I mean, welcome that approach, by the way.
Shola: I agree.
James: Alright, so –
Shola: Man – oh no, go ahead.
James: No, no, please. Go ahead. Finish your thought.
Shola: I was actually going to go – because I think that leads into the next key, really quickly, is this idea of – oh see? We’re simpatico, man. I got you. Because I’m jumping around. I’m not doing this in order. It’s the importance of self-compassion. I think this is one of the most important things, the words that we say about ourselves to ourselves, is the most important thing right now. So, if you’re saying things like, “Oh, I’m an idiot. I cannot believe that I just – ugh. I totally made a fool of myself.” Okay. Cry hard, just don’t cry for long. Like, figure out how can we get back and have that resilience to know that everytime that I’m choosing to stay seated on the ground after making a mistake, beating myself up, is time that could be spent serving and helping someone else who’s in crisis and struggling. So, I’m big on self-kindness. I think this is the most important thing. When you have crazy thoughts of like, “I’m useless and I’m not good enough.” The question that I ask myself, when I go to this place – especially when you fail. You’re going to make some really stupid mistakes. I’m talking to me as much as I’m talking to everyone else listening. You’re going to make some really, really dumb mistakes. And when you do make a mistake, if see yourself going down that spiral of beating yourself up, pause for a minute and just ask yourself this simple question: “Is this useful?” I do this all the time. When my post went viral, I was getting into the comments section, and I was like, “Grr!” And I was like, “What am I doing?”
James: That’s a no no, don’t go to the comments section.
Shola: I was like, “Man!” But I mean, because it had gotten out of control at that point, and I was like, there’s seventy thousand comments. I was like, “I can’t, that’s not useful.” So, instead I want to focus on the people who do get it and how can I use my platform in a way that actually serves me? But beating myself up and not helping myself is just – I have an image I usually share, of a guy reaching through a mirror and hugging himself, and it says, “Life is too short to spend another day at war with yourself.” And I think that if we really do want to change the world, it starts with the world we need to change internally. And if we’re not going to be kind to ourselves, through this journey, we’re not going to be able to be good parents. We’re not going to be able to be good stewards. We’re not going to be able to be good allies. We’re not going to be able to be good citizens. We’re not going to be able to be good humans. It requires us to start with ourselves. So, I’m very big on taking moments where, what I have to say, because I’ve told you before – little backstory. Not too much.
I grew up being bullied. I had a stuttering problem as a kid. And my teeth were jacked up. Thank God for braces! [laughs] Braces and then Invisalign as an adult. But because I was an easy target for bullies, I always had this underlying feeling of “I wasn’t good enough.” “I’m not good enough.” Now, what I have to say to myself, as my self-kindness phrase – I think everyone should have one. My self-kindness phrase is that “I belong in any room that I walk into.” I don’t give – I mean, if Brene Brown called me and said, “I want you on the Unlocking Us podcast,” I’d probably lose my mind. And then I’d go to this place like, “You’re not good enough to be there, you’re not good enough,” then I have to stop. You belong in any room that you walk into. So, this what I have to keep reminding myself of, is self-kindness, and I think that’s something that is important for all of us during this time. Especially for people who are homeschooling their kids, who may have gone to a point where they’re feeling overwhelmed by this – you’re not alone. What’s being asked of us is impossible, to parent, teach, and work simultaneously. It’s not difficult because it’s a lot, it’s difficult because it’s impossible. The sooner you realize that, the better we’ll do.
James: That’s awesome. Hey, you remind me of two things. One, the brain science connected to this and emotional intelligence. And two – I can’t think of the author – but the book, The Power of Habit, right? How you break a habit loop. One of my favourite books. There you go. Love that book. And to do what you’re talking about, that whole process of talking down to yourself and that downward spiral becomes a habitual thing. And I’m curious to know what – I know what I did to help myself, because that was a bad habit of mine. What have you found, in terms of tools and techniques to help break that down spiral? When you go in that down spiral, just like you said, to catch yourself and go, “Wait a minute. “I am worthy to be in any room.” What’s helped you stop that down spiral and change that habit?
Shola: Man, I’ll tell you. I have it so deeply grooved into the recesses of my brain that walk into any door, any room, and I say I belong. It’s my thing. I was like, I was going into my closet to get a, to pull my vest and shirt on for this, and I said it. I said it quietly, I said “I belong.” My kids were like, “What are you talking about? You’re going into the closet.” I just make it so habitual. But I also go back to what I said earlier. My interruption question is “Is this useful?” So, when I’m going that spiral and I’m spinning, I stop and ask myself, “Wait, wait. Is this useful?” If the answer is no, I gotta stop. I have to.
James: That’s good. Good, good. So, what helped me, when I read The Power of Habit, one of the things he talks about are the habit loops, right? I forget the open example, but he talks about, for example, chickens hear a certain sound and they know it’s time to do x. We all have these things that I think is a trigger, then we do the loop and we expect the outcome. And so goes life. And so, for me, because I’m a visual person, and I can be very calendar-driven, I either hang things around me that help me with things, or I put something on my calendar. So there’s literally places on my calendar to clear my head and dump stuff. Right? And things in my office, around me, to help remind me of certain things that let me release baggage and so on and so forth. And those were the initial ways of doing it until I established the muscle memory to self-talk and deal with myself without needing those visual cues. Right?
Shola: Yup. So important, man. So important. It’s like, I think we have habits that serve and habits that don’t. And the more we’re able to examine the ones that don’t, the better our lives will be.
James: Absolutely. Okay, so now, for the fourth key that’s typically not the fourth key. [laughs]
Shola: [laughs] Yeah, I’m kidding. I know. It’s like, the fourth key? It’s so funny, because in my mind, I have this like thing that I feel like this is the order it needs to be presented. I think this is what I need to have today rather, to hear how it can change others. So, third key is something I call entering the storm. And this is important. And fortunately – I gotta share this story because it involves my dad. And my dad… [groans]. My dad’s from Sierra Leone, West Africa. He’s like Mufasa from The Lion King. He’s like the wisest man ever. And he passed away last year, in February of 2019. I mean… he’s the best man, the best human I’ve ever known. He taught me a lesson. He said, around when I was struggling with crisis, and again, I had my suicidal ideations and my attempt and all sorts of things going on. My dad being such a wise man, he’s like Mufasa, from The Lion King. He pulled me aside one day, shortly afterwards, and he’s like, he said – and I can do his voice pretty well by now – he said, [mimicking voice] “Shola.” That’s how my Dad talks.
He said, [mimicking voice] “Shola, I need you to be the buffalo, not the cow.” I’m like, “Dude… What are you talking about?” I don’t even understand what my guy is talking about. But then, it’s funny, because one of my girls, Catstalk is on here and she knows my dad, so thank you for that, Cat. I appreciate you so much. And when he said be the buffalo not the cow, I’m like, “Dad, I don’t understand what that means.” And what he said next was so deep and so true and so life-changing if you can listen to it. He said, “Shola, when a storm comes overhead boy, what the cow does instinctively is she turns away from the storm. And she runs away from the storm, boy, but what it does foolishly is she ends up staying in the storm longer as she tries to escape from it. The buffalo! What the buffalo does, boy, is when the storm comes, what he does is he instinctively turns into the storm knowing that his comfort is waiting for him. And he goes into the storm, and what happens during this experience is one, what happens is that his time in the storm is shortened, but more importantly, because he put himself to that adversity knowingly and consciously, he has become stronger and better by the experience. Be the buffalo, not the cow!” I was like, “Yo, Dad, that was deep! Yo!” And I’ll tell you, because my guy comes so strong with the wisdom, man. And – oh man, Cousin Toshin’s on there. Hey. So yeah, man, I just – that was really helpful for me.
But what this meant for me, was the willingness to go into the storm, meaning inside, to really examine behaviors and deep beliefs that didn’t serve me. Some of them that people think of are “I’m not good enough.” Or, “I’m invisible.” Or, “No one can be trusted.” Or, “I’m unlovable.” Or, “People are out to get me.” Or, “There’s no reason why I should be here.” And if you have these thoughts of being unlovable, not being good enough, not being competent, not – whatever it may be, my thought is you need to go into the storm. This is an important one, go inside and do what’s uncomfortable, that really uncomfortable work, because you’re going to do self-care as a leader, as a human being. If you have beliefs that weaken you for the fights that are coming, and there are so many, you’re not going to be at your optimum level to be able to serve yourself and others, so you need to look at these beliefs. Personally speaking, I told you mine was “I’m not good enough.” Right? So what I did is I went, “Where did this come from?” Well, it came from being bullied when as a kid, and that people thought that I was dumb. I struggled in school. I was considered learning disabled, I’d never be able to do anything, and beliefs stuck with me, that until I was an adult, I finally had to revisit and said, “These things aren’t true. But I allowed them to control me and drive the direction of my life for far longer than I needed to, and that’s not okay.” That’s what going in the storm is. Sitting with these feelings, and trying to understand, where do they come from? Are they true? Why do I believe them? And most importantly, what is that thought that I can take from this long-held belief and reverse it and create a thought that’s more meaningful, more useful, and most importantly, going to serve you in the long run.
James: Yeah. And I’m hearing in that too is kind of dispelling fear, right? False Evidence Appearing Real, as a part of that story.
Shola: Yeah, man! Hell with the acronyms.
James: I’m just hearing that from what you’re saying. It feels implied.
Shola: No, man, I mean, I know. False evidence appearing real is true. It’s like, look. The reality is we’re all scared. We’re all broken. I mean, I wish people would just be okay with that. Like, we’re all broken. Nicole! My girl’s on here. Nicole. Yes. Hey listen, I’ll work with you on that. And I’ll see if I can get a speaking engagement at your workplace about that.
James: I highly agree. That’s the next book.
Shola: Be the buffalo, not the cow. No one’s gonna buy that – no one’s buying that book. [laughs]
James: If you can get the …, just record the story first, right? There’s got to be an audible commercial of it. As long as you get the audible commercial of what you said, you’re good. You’re good.
Shola: Oh my gosh! Oh man, whatever it takes. Listen, whatever I can do to serve, man. That’s really my hope. And then if I can make a difference somewhere, somehow, I’m down. It’s just, I’m a place now, where there’s such a need to be a positive voice, and I know that if I’m suffering with my own brokenness, and I’m not able to address that, then I can’t serve as a leader. I am a reluctant leader in a sense, but I’m a leader. And I know I belong in a leadership place to be able to help people through this struggle that we’re going through. I’m not perfect. I don’t have all the answers, but the good thing is, as a leader, you don’t need to have all the answers. You don’t need to know everything. But you can’t be a person who doesn’t know anything. [laughs] But you don’t have to know everything.
James: Absolutely. And the only thing I’ll add to what you said, and then we’ll wrap up is, as you go through that storm, and you’re leading your team, be open and honest with them that you’re going through the storm, and that you’re going to do it in an agile manner. Some people – there are all kinds of acronyms you could use, but one is plan, do, review. Right? I’m sorry – plan, do – yeah, plan, do, review, and then you change. So, you plan what you’re going to do, you do it, and then you review what happened. And then you change as you need to based on the results. And sometimes you do that quarterly, based on certain goals and so on and so forth. Sometimes you do it monthly, sometimes you do it weekly. But in big storms, where the unpredictability is high in crisis moments, you almost need to do that daily. And let folks know, that’s going to be our rhythm. Like, we’re going to have a daily standup. We’re going to be talking about this, and bring up your presence, and bring up the energy of it, even on video calls, making a standing meeting so people feel fired up, and knowing that you’re through that storm together. And look, you’re going to just be agile, make things happen. So, Shola, let’s wrap up. We’ve been about an hour. I want to make sure we wrap and respect your time.
Shola: Dang, really? I feel like we just got started, man.
James: Because we have so much fun together, man. We have so much fun.
Shola: I know. You’re my guy, dude. You’re my guy.
James: We always have fun. Alright, so let’s recap the four keys really quickly, in any order you want to.
Shola: Yeah, I’ll do them in the order that I actually have on my book. By the way, that offer still stands. If you’re listening and you want a copy of the workbook to be able to put this into action, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put in the subject line “workbook”, so I know it’s that, and I’ll forward it to you and you can use it. It can be really useful for you and I’d be happy to serve you in that way. And I think you’ll really enjoy it. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
So, key number one – and this is the order that you’ll see it in the book – key number one is focus on the things you have the power to control. This is one of the most important things that leaders and humans can do, especially in times of crisis. Key number two is to practice self-compassion. How we talk about ourselves during these really challenging times is going to be so important, and how we treat each other, ourselves, will allow us to be able to be more effective to others. Key number three is this thing called entering the storm, where you have to go into the most uncomfortable, mucky, icky stuff and turns some rocks over and find squiggly things under them to really understand what it is that you need to fix, things that may be serving you in ways that you do not want them to be serving you. So, deep held beliefs like, “I’m not good enough.” Or, “I don’t belong.” Or, “I’m unlovable” or “I’m broken.” And key number four is to create psychological safety with others, so people can feel safe coming to you for help, and that you can create an environment where people can share more freely. And that’s needed now, probably more than ever.
James: So good. These are such good nuggets. Hopefully people got some takeaway – I don’t know how you would not have a few takeaways from this, seriously, that you can use right after you get off this call. I don’t know how you would not have some takeaways. But Shola, thank you again, man, for taking the time out of your schedule to do this. I’m so excited that we were able to do this, man. I’m looking forward to people enjoying the rebroadcast. It’s literally available as soon as we get done.
Shola: Oh, yey for technology.
James: Absolutely, right at the same link and everything. It’s right there on Facebook Live, right there on YouTube. Literally, as soon as we get done, you can hit play and watch it again as much as you want. Share it with friends and loved ones so they can benefit from the wisdom that was shared, and again, that’s actionable. So, from myself and Mr. Shola Richards, thank you for joining us for another episode of The Corelink Solution. Have a great night.