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EP10: Jo O’Brien On Kindness In Early Education

Working hard to embed the philosophies of kindness and empathy into early education, Jo really embodies what it means to be purpose-driven in every aspect of leadership. Jo is the Director and Owner of Platinum Pre School, a long daycare centre with an education curriculum that focuses on kindness and creativity – a unique premise with some astounding results. Jo believes the success of her business comes from the 100% alignment to her own values and using business as a purpose for good. She’s full of wisdom and holds one of the strongest commitments to ‘being kind’ I think I’ve come across. Listen in!

Transcript

Intro  0:00

You’re listening to Project Good Boss, the podcast, with your host Anna Sheppard.

Anna Sheppard  0:22

Project Good Boss is a podcast dedicated to understanding the business benefits of kindness in leadership. We cover topics including and not limited to leadership, equality, psychology, social impact, decent work, and economic growth, all delivered with a little splash of good vibes. Today, we will be spending some time with Jo O’Brien. Jo O’Brien has been a member of ours in the leadership group here for the past year or so. And she’s the founder and CEO of Platinum Pre School, a preschool group that serves the Randwick area and the Eastern Suburbs. Now Joe’s got quite a unique story. And as I’ve got to know her over the year, it’s really taken me by surprise, just how giving and kind this human being is. And she has had quite a traumatic experience over the past few years. And above all else has had the resilience to come out the other end of this and consistently be giving to her community. Not only that, but she working hard to embed the philosophies of kindness and empathy into early years education with the aim of scaling this on a major scale. So please, please, please stay tuned. And listen to the story of Joe O’Brien. Welcome to Project Good B oss, we are very lucky to have one of our members, and one of the best bosses I know, here today joining us to give us some words of wisdom, and to tell us a little bit about her journey.

Hello, Jo O’Brien.

Jo O’Brien  2:00

Hello, Anna Sheppard. How are you?

Anna Sheppard  2:02

Very good. So, Jo, tell us about you. What kind of boss are you? What are you the boss of?

Jo O’Brien  2:08

I am – I don’t really like to describe myself as a boss. But I like to work alongside mine, my staff, I am a childcare operator. But I’m very passionate about education, and in particular, early childhood education and getting all that early intervention into children and families and we can.

Anna Sheppard  2:29

Amazing. So you say you run a preschool group?

Jo O’Brien  2:33

It’s called Platinum Pre School, but we’re a long daycare centre. So I had three of them. I just recently sold two of them, because I wanted to take a different journey have a different vision. And now I’m concentrating on developing that and expanding further.

Anna Sheppard  2:47

Amazing. And so what do you love to do? What are you actually passionate about?

Jo O’Brien  2:54

I’m really passionate about education. And my business is like my fifth child. It started when I didn’t like what was available for my own children, so I opened my own. Within three years, I had two centres, within five years, I had three centres. So there’s so much more that I can do, I’ve just got to get the right avenues to now move forward in that area.

Anna Sheppard  3:19

So that’s a massive achievement to be able to scale at that speed with regards to the children’s centres. And it must mean that you are offering some kind of unique position or, you know, a unique approach. And one of the things that we were most drawn to a Bambuddha Group and when we started connecting with you was that, “Be Kind,” slogan that you got. You know, our whole concept is about working hard and working kind, embedding the kindness in early years in children is just such an important part of creating amazing future leaders. So where did that come from? What was the – How did you start around that whole agenda?

Jo O’Brien  4:00

Well, one, I do love Ellen DeGeneres. She says at the end of every show, “Be kind,” and I think it just stuck in my head. And I’m a very visual person. I just thought, “If we can be kind, we can be anything.” I think it’s quite an attractive personality trait for people to have. And I think kindness – so much can stem from kindness, and people can learn so much from people who are kind and from being kind themselves.

Anna Sheppard  4:26

So Jo’s even got a number plate on the car that says, “Be Kind,” she’s that passionate about spreading the message.

Jo O’Brien  4:32

There’s lots of people that are mean in traffic. [laughter] Yes, it has its benefits.

Anna Sheppard  4:37

So your leadership style, has it changed over the years, would you say?

Jo O’Brien  4:42

It has, I was originally a primary teacher and there was just something inside me that always wanted to do more and go above and beyond and I think “luck” is a very tricky word to use when it comes to business because you don’t achieve things by luck. I think you achieve things by really hard work and really navigating things when you come up against challenges. But for me, I had an amazing Principal that I worked for. And I had an amazing mum and dad as well, that probably some of the values I had that I’ve embedded into my business come from that area of value.

Anna Sheppard  5:24

You’d had that experience. So would you say having worked for leaders that have trained you well, was what kind of set you in good stead to become a good leader yourself?

Jo O’Brien  5:37

Yes. And leaders that give you that autonomy and that trust, if I go out and say,”Oh, can I do a musical?” she’d say yes, because she knew that I do an amazing musical. And I did. And just from that, even when I wanted to open Platinum [Pre School], my dad, who was the biggest advocate, he said, “Yeah, go for it. It’ll be amazing. It’ll be incredible.” But I think also, the success of Platinum [Pre School] comes from aligning yourself with your purpose as well. So I can’t go and promote this wonderful product and be kind unless I am myself. So I’m a big believer in marrying those two together.

Anna Sheppard  6:14

So we’ll come on to purpose in a second, because we’re finding another really common trait among leaders that do use the businesses as a purpose for good. But was that was there any life event? Or was there anything that happened, which actually made you make this significant shift, and that you would be happy to share? Did that something ever occur that shifted you to go, “Right, you know what, I’m not going to talk about this anymore. This is something I’m absolutely putting into action.”

Jo O’Brien  6:42

A hundred percent. Two years ago, I think within the span of eight months, I lost my dad suddenly. And I realised the importance of grief and how it can actually change people, for better or for worse. Also, just a few months after that, in my grief, I found that my business partner at the time wanted to separate and then my husband left, so it was all a big, eight months. But in that eight months, I was seeing therapist, because I do have a son with special needs. But in that eight months, it was like – I compare it to when you do the flower, what’s the thing that [inaudible]. So all the people that were horrible and mean and nasty, and didn’t treat me with kindness, they just fell out of it. And what I was left with was just a handful of beautiful people, which then I then attracted even more beautiful people, because now I’ve looked at that experience and thought, “I’m going to use my business now for good. I don’t need the, you know, thousands and thousands of dollars of profit, I can put that into something else, that’s better.” And I actually a hundred percent mean it in every single way that I want to use my business for good.

Anna Sheppard  8:08

And that is just such a touching story, Jo, and thank you so much for sharing that. What what a resilient couple of years you’ve had, and still coming out the other end of that, still on that journey and pushing and pushing and pushing to actually make sustainable change for other people. It’s just so inspiring. So thank you for sharing it. But we are we are looking at that correlation between, you know, there’s a shift that’s happening. There’s a shift and it’s happening across consumers. There’s a shift that’s happening across everybody that’s in a position to actually influence other people. And those that have experienced something themselves are more inclined, from what we’re noticing, to actually want to make sure the people are well looked after. So can you give me any examples of where you have been deliberately creating campaigns and projects through business? I’m sure you’ve got plenty of because you do tons of that is just in also making your business successful as a result.

Jo O’Brien  9:15

And it was hard when all that happened because I was the centre of it. And I was questioned, well, you’re the centre of everything that’s happened. So you must be doing something wrong. And that was one of the hardest things I had to realise. But when I looked at everyone around me, I started to push myself more and I – in some cases, I had to make myself join groups because I found myself very alone. And I joined lots of different groups. I’ve met so many different people. And now I can – I sponsor – because [inaudible] Festival. And now that I am on my own and don’t have a business partner, I can do whatever I want with my money. So if I want to sponsor an event, it’s up to me, I  don’t have to ask anyone else. And that’s actually – is what I like to call “business freedom,” not so much being able to work out of the office, but being able to make those conscious choices for better and not being questioned. I love, I just love it.

Anna Sheppard  10:15

So, just to give you some background on myself, and Jo, we originally met when I was at Ronald McDonald House Charities, down in Randwick at the Children’s Hospital.

Jo O’Brien  10:24

I remember watching you dance. [laughter]

Anna Sheppard  10:27

They come and do all sorts of little filming and bits and bobs with us and, you know, to keep the kids entertained. And to tell a story, one of the amazing things you did down there is with the families that were – that might have come from out in rural areas, and they get completely shook up and shocked, and they find out, you know, that one day that their child is terminally ill and suddenly get, you know airlifted to Sydney Children’s Hospital, and they don’t have enough time to pack their clothes. And maybe downstate, at Ronald Mcdonald House for months and months and even years on end. You’ve been offering childcare? Is that right? Yeah, for free to those families? And is that is that for the siblings?

Jo O’Brien  11:10

It’s for the siblings, it’s also for the children who are staying there, depending on their doctor and things like that. But I just thought I had experienced a personal situation the same and I used to take my sibling out. And I thought, well, I can do it, I can either make extra money by selling an extra [inaudible], or I can let the parents know that if their child’s away sick that day, we donate it to a spot at the Ronald McDonald House.

Anna Sheppard  11:33

Wow, and your team comes in as well? So how does that work with your team and how you engage your team through that person?

Jo O’Brien  11:40

I think it comes into recruiting and employing the right type of people, you have to have people who are aligned with your business, and respect you enough to know that you mentioned the right decisions.

Anna Sheppard  11:52

So you even got your teams to come and cook meals for the staff – for the families of the house and stuff like that. So that was a brilliant way to engage your staff through that [inaudible] such a great alignment. So what you do is, you know, you look after families and you empower children and having that alignment. So, you know, one of the things that we find is really interesting is when the businesses have got really a clear sense of what the purpose is, and the leader of that business has got a clear sense of purpose. So I’m going to ask you, then, the money shot now. What’s your purpose, Jo?

Jo O’Brien  12:28

Well, my purpose is to educate not just only children with their parents. I find that when I’m at my most vulnerable, if I’m at a hospital with one of my kids that’s sick, I rely on those professionals to help me. So when I have all these parents that come in from all different walks of life, that it’s up to me to help educate them. So my purpose is to be here for everybody else, and to use what education I’ve got, and also my own professional development to help these kids and these families. I’ve got the future in the palm of my hand, I’ve got these little kids whose brains are so open and like a sponge and ready to absorb that I can either give them a regular day or an extraordinary day where now they’re the ones who are coming up with ideas on what we can do to help other people.

Anna Sheppard  13:16

Amazing. And we don’t respond to Whitney Houston about it, but we do believe that [overlapping agreeing] ,”Children are our Future.” Teach them well, and let them lead the way.

Jo O’Brien  13:25

When you think about it, when we’re 80 they’re gonna be looking after us. So we have to make sure we bring up the good quality in them.

Anna Sheppard  13:31

And how important is it from your experiences – an early years educator and a teacher, embedding that sense of purpose into children from a young age?

Jo O’Brien  13:42

Oh, it’s so important to me. That’s why we created a Values Education Program. It is based around the Catholic – the gospel values, but when I pulled them apart and had a look at them, they’re quite – they’re values that everybody uses every day. And I think that if we can instil a Values Education into these children, they learn these qualities really early on in life. So it’s also – it comes from lessons that we teach them, but it also comes from actions that we showed them as well.

Anna Sheppard  14:14

And, you know, like the Catholic faith, a lot of other faiths have been founded in a really strong set of values and principals that people live by. There’s maybe for a conversation for another day, the correlation between the search for purpose and faith and, you know, those that don’t have as much faith as maybe they did back in the day, for whatever reason, are searching for other pieces of purpose, but we’ll definitely come on to that very intense topic another day. So with regards to you, as a leader, do you see spirituality and, you know, how you embed the kind of spirituality what tools do you use to remain conscious and balanced as a leader? Is it sort of – are you still on the journey?

Jo O’Brien  15:02

I am, I was brought up Catholic, I don’t, I can’t honestly sit here and say I go to church every week. But what I’ve done, I’ve had a little shift. And what we do at Platinum, we do a lot of mindfulness with the children, they meditate twice a day. And it’s interesting to see 70 children sitting there in silence for three minutes, but it does happen. And myself, I look, after my own mental health, I have a therapist and I go on and see, just to make sure I’m on the right track, even when I don’t need any advice. But I also do a lot of running and exercise and gratitude and mindfulness myself, most of it’s in the ocean, in the sun.

Anna Sheppard  15:43

So and what benefits does that give you having this kind of mindfulness in yourself and in the school? And what are the outcomes of that, like, Can you see the outcomes? What does it look like?

Jo O’Brien  15:57

You become more calm. I find that my – I’ve now changed a lot of the way that I respond to situations, I do a practical response more than an emotional response. I have more responsibility now than I’ve ever had before. And also, I find that the children then become more aware of their surroundings and about other people as well. It’s so beautiful.

Anna Sheppard  16:22

Yeah, and also just bliss, that three minutes of silence where the kids are quiet. And, you know, with regards to pressures and challenges, because as a leader, there’s a lot of pressures that comes with that, and you everyday – you really have to be strong in yourself and focused on that guiding light, which is your purpose. And then how do you get there, which is how you apply those values? You know, how do you deal with pressures and challenges? And to keep your business conscious? How do you make your decisions, you know, to help you move forward in a way which is at the core, in line with your values?

Jo O’Brien  17:01

I think educating yourself first before you speak. A lot of the change I want to make does regard policy, government policy change, which is really hard to do. But I have found recently in the past two years, I’m – I don’t take no for an answer. So I look at the word “no,” and I think, “Okay, so that’s just telling me now that I’ve got to re-navigate the way that I get to where I need to go.” So I have to be really confident in myself that I am making the right decisions. And I just surround myself now with people who believe in me and who think, “You know what, yeah, that’s right. We trust Jo to make the right decision.” Because I am a bit of a visionary when it comes to my business and can be a bit goofy and out there and extravagant. But essentially, I know where I want to go, I just need to make sure that I’m surrounded by people that support me in that.

Anna Sheppard  17:52

Absolutely. And can you give me like – have you got any examples of where you’ve had to be really strong in your conviction as a leader on your own journey? And is there any examples that you can think of?

Jo O’Brien  18:05

I guess, just my personal one with my son trying to get him into a mainstream school. And other than that, with early childhood, you’ve got all your government regulations, and we need to tick every box. But how creative we are to tick that box is always a challenge, because I have a different curriculum that I like to teach at the preschool. So I have to be very creative, that I teach that curriculum, because that’s what parents want. And it’s the way society is moving. But it’s very structured in other ways that might not align with what I want to do.

Anna Sheppard  18:35

Okay. Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Jo O’Brien  18:39

We’re very creative.

Anna Sheppard  18:40

Yeah, creative and focused. And so we’re going to wrap up relatively soon. But we always ask our leaders to give us so of the top two or three qualities that you think you have. And this is a difficult one, especially if you’re very humble people. But if you could give us top two or three qualities that you have as a leader, that you think other leaders who are listening now can learn. What would they be?

Jo O’Brien  19:08

I think giving is one of my strong qualities. And I also think that I’m very determined. Some people like to call it stubborn. I don’t like to call it stubborn. It’s very determined if I want something and I can see that it does have a greater good, I’ll just go for it in a very gentle way.

Anna Sheppard  19:28

Yes. Which is also [inaduible]. And is there anything that you still feel like you’re working on?

Jo O’Brien  19:36

Yes, big time. One of the biggest things that I need to work on is to actually be able to feel comfortable in receiving other people’s kindness. I’m not good at that.

Anna Sheppard  19:46

Wow, interesting! [overlapping speaking] Okay, so and the recipient – being the recipient of kindness, and what does that mean for you?

Jo O’Brien  20:00

It means that if someone did something for me for no reason, which I do for people all the time, I would think, “Oh, why are you doing that for me? I don’t deserve that.” It’s just something that I feel. But I’m working on it, I’m working on, “Oh that’s a nice top. Oh, Thank you.” Well, I just need to learn to say thank you and move on.

Anna Sheppard  20:19

Yeah, well, Jo’s response is, “That’s the nice top. Have it!” [laughter] “Keep it then!”

Jo O’Brien  20:24

Or I’ll go buy them the same top and just leave it on their desk, I actually do things like that.

Anna Sheppard  20:27

Well, a balance, isn’t it between working hard and working kind? You know, if you – too much kindness, you know, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as too much kindness, but kindness in the right ways in the right places in a way which keeps the equilibrium. And is really important. Well, I think that’s pretty much it for today. But thank you for sharing your journey. And thank you for being so honest. I’m sure there’s lots of leaders out there that are really going to learn and I’d really like to check in again with you in a years time and see what the next entrepreneurial chance and adventure is that you’re on.

Jo O’Brien  21:05

Oh, I’ve got quite a few. [inaudible]

Anna Sheppard  21:09

And yeah, have you got any final words for anybody today?

Jo O’Brien  21:13

No, no final words. Just be true to yourself and just keep going at what you’re doing and believe in yourself.

Anna Sheppard  21:20

Thank you so much, Jo.

Jo O’Brien  21:21

That’s okay.

Anna Sheppard  21:22

Take care. Be kind.

Jo O’Brien  21:23

Yeah, be kind.

Anna Sheppard  21:26

Thank you for listening to this episode of Project Good Boss. Bambuddha Group is a social enterprise, providing leadership coaching for corporate leaders, business owners and operators. We believe in a future where every leader is committed to creating a sustainable world of equality and opportunity for everyone. If you are a game changing leader, and you have an amazing story of how your business is making the world a kinder and a better place, we would love to hear from you visit bamboo group.com or slider pins who are dm’s. And finally, you should know for every paid member we have in our network, we provide scholarships to reduce inequalities in leadership and business. Thank you to Sonic Union for editing this episode, Laura Roberts for writing and performing Project Good Boss, and design by Flair Creative. Thank you for being kind today. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next time.

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