“Luckily, I was busy working for most of the summer, because it wasn’t until yesterday that I faced what many of us dread the most about the season: buying a bathing suit. Having been a fat kid, I am especially sensitive to my weight, and still, today feel like I ride the line between fit and not. But I suspect many people can relate to a similar internal struggle to find balance, which Aristotle (1994/350) interestingly defines as virtue: the mean between the extremes.
Louis J. Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP is a consultant to schools in the area of character education. He has an intriguing perspective on making leadership come alive in organizations. I wanted him to share some of his thoughts on PPND this month. JY
When I entered the men’s store on Eighth Avenue to buy the bathing suit, I saw the same-old situation in a newer light—in terms of Social-Emotional Leadership. As the sales guy came over to help, he asked my waist size and I immediately felt the doom and with no real reason (I know I am in good shape now). Why did I go to a dreadful place? It didn’t help that I had a “friend” there who, in trying to be funny, belted, “He’s a size forty-six, sir” with a cackle and smirk. This is not what I needed.
I needed a Social-Emotional Leader, a good friend to help me challenge the beliefs in my head, not enable them. I needed someone there who would affirm that I am beautiful, creative, resourceful, and whole (Whitworth et al., 2007). We all need Social-Emotional Leaders because they tell us what we need to hear when we need to hear it. As such, sometimes they are our cheerleaders, other times our truth-tellers and always our possibility-generators.
Social-Emotional Leaders help us build our strengths, with the hope that doing so may self-correct some of our weaknesses, or create the space to deal with the deficit more functionally. They help us see more clearly, they help us find balance and virtue, and ultimately, they help us feel good.
Social-Emotional Leadership as a Call-to-Action
For my graduate work in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program (Alloro, in press), I am developing a model of Social-Emotional Leadership as a meta-framework or call-to-action, by bridging three fields:
- education—teaching and learning (e.g., Freire, 1998)
- positive psychology—learning about feeling good (e.g., Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
- social construction—the idea that reality is whatever we create (e.g., Gergen, 1999)
What would a system of coaching (education) look like where we all took action to help contribute to the well-being of the other (positive psychology)—helping each other construct more positive social-cultural realities (social construction)? Imagine what our families, schools, communities, and workplaces might look like with systems of Social-Emotional Leadership in place.
Social-Emotional Leadership provides a system of accountability that diminishes hypocrisies and increases levels of authenticity and integrity. It is a way of being in which we begin helping each other set goals that lead to positive growth and well-being. Becoming our better selves makes the groups we comprise stronger. Therefore, Social-Emotional Leadership can ultimately lead to real and sustainable institutional and even societal flourishing, an under-developed area of our discipline (Gable & Haidt, 2005; Peterson et al., 2008).
The strengths-based and future-oriented language from positive psychology (e.g., Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Reivich & Gillham, 2008) can help us sustain generative conversations about what we need, want, and value – conversations Social-Emotional Leaders invite people into. The dialogues are “designed to bring out the best in people so that they can imagine a preferred future together that is more hopeful, boundless, and inherently good” (Cooperrider et al., 2008).
Social-Emotional Leadership is a way of life in which coaching becomes a metaphor for living. The truth is that we all have internal radio stations that run in our heads—ones that might be saying, “The sales guy thinks you’re fat, too.” It’s time to challenge our disserving belief systems—they affect our actions in the world.
Social-Emotional Leadership rests on the idea that positive cultural change is possible, but must emerge from within primary networks, like families, schools, businesses, even book clubs—any group of people with traditions or customs. Social-Emotional Leadership is the call-to-action for people in these preexisting relationships to shake the foundations of complacency and to use creative licenses to transform and grow in positive directions—“a moving beyond alienated coexistence to a more promising way of going on together” (Gergen, 1999, p. 148). This requires we look at habit, tradition, and even language and consider the possibilities of creating anew.
Social-Emotional Leaders believe that change is not only possible; it is inevitable, and shaped by our own designs. Social-Emotional Leaders do not have all the answers—just the questions, the vision, and some of the tools that might lead the network in a positive direction. It is not a hierarchy (Robertson, 2008); we all need Social-Emotional Leaders and we all can serve in this capacity for others. Many people are already operating in this state (probably many of you interested in Positive Psychology News Daily!), some people are beginning to see the need to, and many others still need to be leveraged.
Social-Emotional Leadership can be a framework for any institution or organization interested in its own flourishing. Social-Emotional Leadership could also serve as a sustainable and ecological character education program. Schools could serve as the gateway for the dissemination of the tools and knowledge coming from positive psychology and into the homes it supports.
If we are truly at an inflection point in our evolution (Seligman, 2008), now is the time to build the collective hope, efficacy, and determination necessary for positive social-cultural change to be fulfilled (Brown & Ryan, 2004; Luthans & Jensen, 2002; Maddux, 2002). As a call-to-action, Social-Emotional Leadership could create the space for the exploration of the many pathways possible in leading communities to optimal levels of flourishing—thereby positively shaping the course of our collective evolution (Haidt, Sederka, & Kesebir, 2007; Wright, 2000). The time is now. Or, if not now, when?
*Note: Visit PPND on September 5 when Louis Alloro (LouisAlloro@aol.com) will present action research he is doing with his extended family and family business as he continues to develop Social-Emotional Leadership into a model that may be replicable for other networks.
Alloro, L.J. (2008). Shift Happens: Using Social-Emotional Leadership to Create Positive, Sustainable Cultural Change. University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons.
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