April 18, 2023

Shola Richards: Put the Spirit of Ubuntu to Work at Work


Michael W. Kahn

Michael W. Kahn


Shola Richards

LAS VEGAS—Kindness and civility aren’t just words to Shola Richards. They’re words to live by, which he does every day. In fact, Richards has made it his life’s work to promote kindness and civility—particularly in the workplace—and that theme was front and center during his April 18 keynote at Smarter Faster Payments 2023. 

Richards is the author of two books: “Making Work Work: The Positivity Solution for Any Work Environment” and “Go Together: How the Concept of Ubuntu Will Change How You Live, Work, and Lead.” He’s a proponent of ubuntu, the African philosophy which embraces the belief that we are all universally connected to one another. Richards calls ubuntu “the height of human kindness, human compassion and human connectiveness.”

To put the spirit of ubuntu into action, Richards suggests focusing on three questions, the first of which is, “Is it kind?” 

“The power of kindness is everything,” said Richards, adding that kind and nice are not the same thing. “Nice is something that you do; kind is something that you are,” said Richards. “Some of the worst human beings on earth can squeeze out a ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ once in a while. Kindness is demonstrating through actions that you really care.”

The second question is, “Is it true?” By that, Richards said, it’s “not just about telling the truth, it’s about creating an environment where people can feel trust.” To accomplish that, he said you have to “connect to your hire self”—highlighting the word “hire” to emphasize that time when you were looking to get hired.

“If you want to create an environment of trust, just do this: If you would never dream of saying it in a job interview, then do not do it at work,” said Richards.

The final question Richards suggests asking yourself is, “Is it necessary?”

“The truth is if it’s kind, and it’s true, then it’s probably necessary. The problem is a lot of people struggle to do what’s necessary, the hard stuff,” said Richards. “If it will help build connection…then it is necessary—but it doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

Finally, Richards said it’s important to correctly define what leadership is—and isn’t.

“Leadership isn’t about going, ‘Follow me!’ Leadership is about having the courage to say, ‘I will go first. I will go first with kindness. I will go first with creating an environment of trust. I will go first by doing what’s necessary.’”

Shola Richards’ keynote will be available during Remote Connect, May 8-10. Learn more at the Remote Connect website.