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Conversation with James Rhee about why love and kindness at work matters.

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

Most people would say love has nothing to do with money or work or joy. Have you considered what is their money: joy: love equation? What ratios would you devote to each of these. If you are like the majority of people in high performing organisations, you would rate love as the least important. James Rhee now has 1 million views on TED, for his kindness at work talk. This is not the “being nice” version of kindness nor the “Love Eat Pray” version of love. This is about the human need to be seen and heard and the feeling of safety generated that leads the people and their brain health toward creativity, innovation, and purpose. James is an expert at building back businesses, especially when they on their knees, through optimising the unmeasurable, “goodwill” of its people and translating this into the balance sheet. In the process of turning around Ashley Stewart, a near bankrupt, consumer women’s clothing brand for plus size, moderate income, black women. He captured “goodwill” by operationalising our collective human ambition to be better. In this interview, we discuss businesses that operationalise “goodwill”, through kindness and love toward their people.

In contrast, workplace stress, does completely the opposite, as Forbes recently published an article showing the main reason people want to leave their job is an awful boss or a toxic and stressful workplace. Similarly, people remain in jobs because they feel appreciated, thanked, and feel part of driving the purpose of the business. Goodwill pervades every aspect of the business, and it is almost akin to that feeling you have when you are part of something much greater than yourself. Some refer this feeling to “energy or soul or spirit”, words not often used in business. The synergistic benefit derived from the “combined human capital” of a team behind its leader is notoriously difficult to measure, and unfortunately, when it leaves, it is felt fast and furious.

James has learnt that authentic leaders, not only lead by example, but capture and bottle the essence of the communal nature of human capital. He discusses how kind people across a business, raise the whole business to unforeseen levels, drive thriving processes and balance sheets and most importantly build better future leaders. We talk about ways to transform the inevitability of a future being a technology driven and much-touted universal base income, a concept of providing a low payment to everyone, due to the disappearance of work to giving individuals opportunities and knowledge to grow businesses that build back better Societies.

Within each of us, lies a renaissance opportunity springing forth in the post-pandemic 2022’s. James was given a red helicopter when he was 5 by a father of his friend at his school, to say thank you to James giving his son something to eat at lunchtime. The red helicopter materialised “goodwill” and gave James his most important lesson for life, and that is, how to make tangible the intangible nature of human capital component of “goodwill.

James is the founder of Red Helicopter, a media EdTech start-up to accelerate business school education for all, he teaches at MIT Sloan, and Howard University. The first assignment the students are given is to answer the question: what their optimal money is, joy, love equation for life. What is yours?

Join us on an exciting episode #79 of the Thriving Minds podcast.

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