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Social Emotional Leadership with Future Cain

Future Cain

Living through the pandemic, and frankly a global crisis, has demonstrated to us on so many occasions what character (or thereof lack of) can do to our families, schools, communities and whole nations. With so much loss, grief and harm already done, how do we construct a more positive reality for ourselves and the future? 

I got together with a Social Activist, Business Consultant and a Leadership Coach Future Cain to explore how Social-Emotional Leadership (SEL) has the potential of creating the positive intervention necessary to build character within our teams and communities, and how leaders can build Social Emotional competence.

Future Cain explains:

In short Social Emotional Leadership is a way of being. It is an embodiment of oneself. SEL is not something you step into when you go to work. It is something you’re doing every single day in your professional and personal life. It takes practice, grace, celebration, courage, vulnerability and stepping into your fear. 

There are five key elements of Social Emotional Leadership: self-awareness, emotional regulation, responsible decision making, building positive relationships and social awareness.

Let’s look at each in detail.

Self awareness

Here is a fun fact… In 2012 the Hay Group Research conducted a study of 17,000 individuals worldwide, where respondents had to rate their level of self-awareness. The study revealed that while 95% of people thought they were self-aware, only 10-15% truly were; with 19% of female executives exhibiting self-awareness compared to only 4% of their male counterparts. 

It makes me sad knowing that there are so many people who will leave this Earth without truly knowing themselves: their values, beliefs, actions, mindset, purpose… 

To embody SEL requires sitting with oneself. It requires solitude and solace, for your mind and body to be still. We live in a society that is go-go-go. We celebrate egos and individualism and reward hustle culture, which makes it challenging to interrupt the cycle. We are busy doing things and being places all day, and then at the end of the day we numb ourselves with Netflix and hours of social media scrolling, and we never give our mind the peace it requires. 

A good leader needs to create space to sit and reflect: How are you showing up? How do you want to show up? How do other people say you show up? 

Checking your bias is also a key part of building self awareness. 

Emotional regulation

To sit and take in something you fundamentally disagree with, mindfully process it and respond to it in a “professional” manner, is a mastered art! Due to the level of microaggressions present in our society and workplaces, many have to do it on a daily basis. 

Being able to calm your mind, understanding your pattern of thinking and knowing what brings you peace are the fundamentals for this. Perhaps, it is meditation, breathing, movement, squeezing a stress ball or looking at a picture of your kid or spouse. Just stop and take a breath!

However, to get to this requires self-awareness and emotional literacy. According to Brené Brown’s research in this space, out of thousands of people surveyed, the average number of emotions people could label was three: happy, mad, sad. Three!!! When there are around 30 different emotions! How can we regulate our emotions, when we cannot even label them? So, upgrade your emotional literacy, so you can self-regulate your emotions. 

Responsible decision making

This is not about decision making from a space of “title” or seniority level, but about the intent of the decision: Who does it serve and who does it not? How are you considering the welfare of humanity? How are you raising the social awareness level for all? 

It is important to create spaces where decisions can be contributed to and even challenged. So think about, how are you eradicating the fear of status and negative repercussions from your culture to invite more collaboration and better your decision making process? 

Building positive relationships 

Know that leadership is not an individual sport, but takes a team. We cannot build a future together, if we don’t have unity. 

As a leader (or simply a human being), if you have a negative interaction with somebody, it usually takes 4 hours for them to then emotionally regulate themselves back to the emotional state they were before. That is half of a working day! Two such interactions a day and your productivity goes out of the window! 

Leading with empathy is crucial. It is important not just for people’s mental wellbeing, but also for the bottom line of your organisation. If and how you are creating psychologically safe spaces for people to show up as their true authentic selves, directly impacts your business performance, innovation and creativity levels and ultimately its financial health. So, invest in your functional teams and communities. Only together we excel.

Social awareness

Sitting in a bubble and blaming ignorance is no longer an excuse! 

By our actions, not words, we show whether we care about all people or not. There are huge disparities where whole groups have been excluded and othered, which then ties to impact on people’s mental wellbeing. 

This kind of social awareness doesn’t just happen. It is an investment and an intentional work of inviting dialogue and allowing all voices to be at the table to share stories so that a psychological safe environment can be created. How do you ensure all voices are being heard and valued?

When bringing Social Emotional Leadership into your workplace:

  1. Wellness of all people has to come first. Our wellness is our wealth. 
  2. Begin with equity. Representation matters; but no one should ever feel like the unicorn or the commodity, because they are the only one in the room or the organisation. Dropping someone in an inequitable environment, in fact, is harmful! You can have diversity, but if the people who create and uphold the systems are not creating spaces that are inclusive or accepting, the organisation will never achieve equity.  
  3. Integrity and accountability are key! SEL encourages questioning behaviours, language, habits and might involve changing traditions and whole value systems. Accountability is at the core of such transformation and fosters authenticity, integrity and learning and growing. 

Anyone can be a Social Emotional Leader. We all have strengths that we can tap into and evolve and use for shaking up the complacency and status quo and encouraging transformation and growth in positive directions. You don’t need all the answers, nor will you ever have them. All you need is to consciously invest in bettering yourself to be the change in your family, friendship group, organisation or even a book club.

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Hay Group Research self-awareness study

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