With Labor Day behind us, Fall is the time when we really spring ahead. September is full of opportunities for new beginnings, as millions of us return to school and work. What a perfect time for us to consider making some positive changes in the culture of our communities—at home, at school, and at work.
Don’t be dismayed by the “c” word–change. As dynamic beings, the truth is that we change every second of every day. But think about it: in which direction do we move? Are we growing? Are we learning? Are we moving in “upward spirals” to increased well-being, spiraling downward to worsened states, or just jittering in place with complacency? As we begin another school year, we have the opportunity to pay a different kind of attention to our worlds and our realities. Whether we are parents, teachers or students (in my case all three!), we also have a responsibility and opportunity to help others flourish.
Louis Alloro, recent MAPP graduate and character education consultant to schools, has developed an innovative approach to helping you and your community thrive. Social-Emotional Leadership (S-EL), his framework with which groups can contribute to their own positive change. It’s about developing new traditions, customs, agreements and language with those in our primary networks, from families to classrooms to the larger communities where we live and work.
I was lucky enough to interview Louis Alloro. Woven into the transcript below are practical steps you can take to live as a Social-Emotional Leader, bringing attention and consciousness to the things that we all may habitually fail to notice—thereby increasing flexibility and accuracy within the ways we live. (See my Wake Up and Take Notice article about this.)
Sherri: Louis, what is S-EL?
Louis: S-EL is a framework with which groups of people, even as few as two, can intentionally create their own betterment—and that of their relationship. The theory is simple: As Social-Emotional Leaders emerge to look out for the well-being of others, we will help each other become our better selves. In turn, becoming our better selves will make the groups we comprise stronger. As social beings, what Jonathan Haidt calls “hive creatures”, we need this support of others to contribute to our positive growth and evolution.
Sherri: How is this more than just being nice? What does that mean – “to look out for the well-being of others”?
Louis: It means being a true friend – inspiring, authentic, honest, comforting, challenging, hopeful, realistically optimistic, and wholly appreciative. It’s simply being an accountability partner. Consider a woman who needs to lose weight because it is affecting her physical and emotional health. A Social-Emotional Leader could be someone with whom she sets SMART goals and the resulting social accountability is what gives her the nudge to actually do it.
Sherri: Like the coach—or the reliable friend—we all could be!
Louis: Right. Individual Social-Emotional Leaders live in what Robert Quinn calls “the fundamental state of leadership.” This is simply a state of ever-increasing levels of integrity. Our Social-Emotional Leaders help us bring balance and focus to that task. They bring our actions in line with our values.
Sherri: In that sense, we all need Social-Emotional Leaders. And we all can be Social-Emotional Leaders, right?
Louis: Yes! And many people already are. Think about the mentors and coaches already in your life and consider the role they play in helping you build on your strengths and stay motivated. Sometimes they are your truth tellers, other times your cheerleaders and always possibility generators.
Sherri: What do Social-Emotional Leaders do? How can our readers become Social-Emotional Leaders themselves?
Louis: Social-Emotional Leaders take people already on their teams (at home, at school, or at work, for example) and ensure that they are all playing the same game. S-EL is the “game” that could help us evolve more positively—that is, to help each other become more virtuous as true “Aristotelian friends” would.
Sherri: Okay, Social-Emotional Leaders nudge those they care about to operate from a positive paradigm. What are the steps involved?
Louis: First and foremost, they invite people into that possibility, very intentionally, and simply, through dialogue. Further, in every interaction, they use, model, and talk about their own strengths, so that others can potentially learn how to activate similar, complimentary strengths. Character strengths lead to integrity. We know they can be built.
Sherri: So Social-Emotional Leaders steer positive change by using an appreciative approach—building what is already good, making it better. How would a Social-Emotional Leader do this?
Louis: They kindle curiosity with the people around them about what’s already good, thereby creating psychological and social capital to enable positive change. I think one of the first steps is to build authentic positive emotion. Who doesn’t like to have fun? Barb Fredrickson’s work can be applied here. The broadening and building effects of positive emotion can create the space to begin generative conversations about well-being, values, and strengths. As David Cooperrider says, “Human systems move in the direction of the questions they ask.”
Sherri: So, give us an example. I understand you have been conducting action-research with your family.
Louis: Yes, and I’m learning a lot which is helping me build the S-EL model. To thirty extended family members (and a family business), I offered the invitation, then helped create positive space, and now I am slowly introducing the tools that could enable our own flourishing. Baby steps are important, as is leveraging other Social-Emotional Leaders. We have a slew of them in my network and I bet you do too.
Sherri: What did you do with thirty people?
Louis: The first thing I did with my family involved setting up a Nintendo Wii tournament on Easter this past year. Instead of the normal eating and drinking that typically consume our family events, we stepped out of that box and created a new custom, which generated lots of positive emotion for three generations! We have since organized other fun and engaging events, like a field day this summer, which has created the space for us to have a more formal discussion using the VIA (which everyone took) and other tools of positive psychology.
Sherri: How do you see S-EL working at school?
Louis: Schools are an extension of homes and can teach the tools to emerging Social-Emotional Leaders. Imagine groups of families doing this type of work I am doing with my family and the collective efficacy that could result. Schools are a natural gateway for S-EL – the place where the tools of positive psychology could be disseminated in educational programs that transcend the walls of the school and into the homes it supports. It is the place from which a call-to-action could engage an entire community.
Sherri: Can you give us an example of a Social-Emotional Leader at school?
Louis: Imagine a girl trying to improve her grades but making excuses for why she can’t seem to get down to work. A Social-Emotional Leader would kindle curiosity by asking questions that she may not have considered, like, “What would it look like for you to succeed here and how can I help you make this happen?” As such, her Social-Emotional Leader could be a peer, her parent or a teacher—hopefully combinations of each. The tragedy is in letting someone like this fall through the cracks, growing up feeling like a loser or failure, because that is a real risk.
Or a student in a school community working to become more “green” might ask another student, “Do you need that plastic top on your cup? Or that straw? You will only be sitting 20 feet from the drink machine. Perhaps we can save the plastic.” It’s a question, not a requirement. This sort of leadership lets a person choose positive social change because he can see his role in it.
Sherri: Tell us about your preliminary research with students.
Louis: We conducted interviews at an independent school in the US, and illustrated that some students naturally know how to be good Social-Emotional Leaders, but that they are often taking a risk in standing up for someone else (or the environment)—a risk that doesn’t necessarily involve a formalized and intentional or even widely accepted “way of being” in their community. So why speak up?
Sherri: It’s all about giving people the choice – the call, the invitation to “be the change they wish to see in the world.”
Louis: Exactly. Social-Emotional Leaders have the questions – not necessarily the answers. They help us envision what could be, and lead us in baby steps to get there. In other words, they help us see the abundance, the possibility, and the hope for a better, coactively designed future. They invite us into that possibility.
–Invite someone you care about into an appreciative dialogue
–Ask powerful and appreciative questions
–See the abundance and possibility in a future you intentionally create
–Model strengths through positive social change
–Grow in integrity and flourish !
Editor’s Note: Louis Alloro will be writing monthly articles on PPND on the 29th of each month, starting on September 29. We look forward to welcoming Louis as a regular author.