Who are mavericks closer to home? Was it my Nana Teeney, my paternal grandmother, who graduated from New York University in 1939 as part of the first class of coed graduates? Is it my friend Ann who helped me change my belief system and habits about the importance of being environmentally conscious – that it is in fact our responsibility?
I call these people Social-Emotional Leaders – people who look out for the well-being of themselves, others, and the world.
Social-Emotional Leaders go forth, at times into uncharted territories, to create positive change for themselves. Because we are such social beings, the positive impact of their efforts surpasses the individual. We are all part of cultures and contexts with enormous histories and traditions that affect our lives in many ways.
Some people accept these circumstances as just the way it is, the way it has always been. But Social-Emotional Leaders look at life the way it could be or ought to be and take intentional steps to get there. They have the vision to achieve their goals, and perhaps most importantly, they have hope.
Hope as an Agent of Change
There are many components to pursuing and achieving goals. Hope is arguably the first of these components. Hope creates the space for new possibilities to exist. According to Shane Lopez and colleagues “hope is a strength that fuels our pursuit of the good life.”
Hope fuels two types of thinking: agency thinking (belief in yourself, and that you can achieve your goals) and pathway thinking (developing the steps you are going to have to take to make it happen).
It is important to note that goals have internal and external aspects. “Internally, they are ideas (desired ends); externally, they refer to the object or condition sought (e.g., a job, a performance level – a civil right, a degree earned). According to Edwin Locke, “the idea guides action to attain the object”.
Agency, or action, then bridges the gap between the internal and the external – what is desired and what is actually achieved. Without agency, people quite easily fall back into their regular ways of being. Locke’s goal setting theory relates back to Aristotle’s notion of “final causality” insofar as one’s purpose, which is arguably derived from hopeful possibilities, must ultimately lead to action – the pathways to reach the desired goals. Barack Obama, Harvey Milk, and even Nana Teeney exude the epitome of hope. Consider their successes without their visions, pathways and agency – or without their support systems helping them get there.
Building Hope: Both Cognitive and Social
To build hope, we can encourage people to identify what it is they really want, align it with what they value, leverage it with their strengths, and achieve it by setting goals (baby steps) in the direction of that vision. With whatever strategy one uses to build hope, the process is both cognitive and social. There is power in learning these tools (the cognitive piece) and then applying them (the social piece) within real life.
One way groups can aim to instill more hope into their cultures is to engage in activities that help members find voice, or positive concepts of self. William Compton’s research shows the power of telling stories in providing hope. It has been shown that people learn the “language of hope by identifying the goals, thoughts, pathway thinking, and agency sources referred to in their narrative.” Sometimes these stories are called “serious introductions” – of ourselves at our very best.
Lopez and colleagues suggest that “accentuating” hope is most easily accomplished within the context of healthy and supportive relationships. It is never too late to have healthy relationships in our lives. Jon Haidt calls us ultrasocial hive creatures. “Termiteable,” Marty Seligman agrees. Like termites and bees, we human need each other. Remember what Chris Peterson says, “Other people matter.”
Become a Social-Emotional Leader in 2009
While all people possess the ability to have hope, variability – like different grades of fuel – exists from person to person. The good news is that Lopez and colleagues show hope is malleable, which is to suggest we can bring people to more premium grades of hope. Since hope is the “spark for and pathway to change” it is important we are conscious of building it within the contexts of our relationships.
We can help each other build hope by creating space in our families, schools, and communities that allow for infinite possibilities to exist for the many. As in athletic training, enduring hope is built by taking baby-steps towards achieving what is possible; one can’t expect to run a marathon without building up the capacity to do so over time, mile by mile. Remember hopeful thought reflects belief that one can find pathways to achieve desired goals and become motivated, hopefully intrinsically, to use those pathways.
So, let’s help each other find, set, and stay accountable to goals which can help us become our best selves in 2009. Keep the likes of Harvey Milk and Nana Teeney in mind; authentic, hopeful thought is contagious. Being a Social-Emotional Leader starts with a vision and a conversation. So, be bold and invite someone into that dialogue today about becoming better people in the new year.
Alloro, L. J. (2008). Shift happens: Using Social-Emotional Leadership to create positive, sustainable cultural change. University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons.
Compton, W. C. (2005). Positive psychology interventions. In Introduction to Positive Psychology (pp. 182-195). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Locke, E. A. (1996). Motivation through conscious goal setting, Applied & Preventive Psychology, (5) 117-124.
Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T., Janowki, K., Turner, J. L., & Pressgrove, C. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In Linley,P. A. & Joseph, S. (2004). Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 388-404). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Peterson, C. (2007). A Primer in Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press, Pages 158 – 160.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.