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8 Ways Leaders Can Use Social-Emotional Learning Skills To Build Better Management Teams


Post pandemic work teams have changed drastically. As such, this is a crucial time for leaders to ensure employee retention. However, retention through job satisfaction is a much broader spectrum nowadays as employees return from extreme time off or their previous relaxed at-home work environment. It goes further than simply paying managers a competitive salary and many CEOs and other leaders are turning to incorporate Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) practices into their business models. 

Social-emotional learning is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success. People with strong social-emotional skills are better able to cope with everyday challenges and benefit academically, professionally, and socially. Employees and management teams are more likely to remain in a work position where they feel heard and valued. Below are a few tips on how to incorporate SEL when working with your employees and management teams to ensure a secure and emotionally healthy work environment. 

1. Share the decision-making

Leaders and by delegation, their management teams, have the authority to make decisions within the company. While all employees cannot make major decisions, they should be made to feel as though they are a part of the process. The management team can use Choice Theory strategies to help employees feel more included in the day-to-day decisions of the company, even if realistically they are not. Choice Theory is based on the premise that we are using the power within us to make decisions that will bring about some change in our lives. Even though decisions are often made at the top and employees have minimal input in them, they can be made to feel as though they do. To demonstrate SEL, leaderss can continue to make decisions by collaboratively presenting them. For example, let’s say that a decision was made to change a tried-and-true aspect of the company’s operation. Employees had become so familiar with it that it was as easy as breathing. Then the leader and management team decided to change it for perceived financial benefits. Instead of presenting the change in a “you must do this” manner, they can present it in a “we made this decision to change, and we’d like to hear your feedback.” Even though they will still go about the change, by making employees feel heard, leaders and their team have demonstrated SEL by allowing employees to use Choice Theory to provide input even if their input will not stop the change.

2. A little empathy goes a long way

Demonstrate empathy by focusing on the overall wellbeing of your subordinates rather than just focusing on productivity. People, in general, perform better in all aspects of life for those that they like or feel a genuine connection with. This includes providing ample time off for personal needs, family time, and allowing them to leave their workload at the office door for a fresh start the next day. Having someone work for you is very personal. It is where they spend most of their days and energy. If you sense something is wrong, or a team member is having an off or rough day, sit down and allow them the opportunity to share even if it is about something at home. In the same way, you would create an actionable plan about a problem client, you may want to do so with the manager or employee. For instance, an employee has a new baby, and he or she is struggling with the separation day to day. You might want to consider changing the schedule for the next six months so that team member is allowed to work from home for three days out of the week. When you put people first, productivity skyrockets. 

3. Demonstrate social-emotional learning by example

Leaders can include SEL components in their management team meetings. In this way, the management team will feel more comfortable and competent to demonstrate SEL strategies throughout the organization. A short example of an exercise that you can do with your management team is to present them with a list of emotions, such as anger, anxiety, hopelessness, boredom, shame, joy, hope, and pride, and ask them to rank them in terms of how they impact their job performance both positively and negatively. You should also participate by sharing your ranking. By giving and receiving this feedback from the management team, you are demonstrating that you, too, are human and that emotions are recognized as fundamental to your company’s overall growth and development.

4. Define one solid growth item to focus on for six months

Ask your managers to define one thing that they are going to work on and improve on within their management style over the next six months and encourage them to implement it full force in all that they do. For example, it may be to communicate more and on a stronger level, so every email they send to you or their teams would now be much more detailed, no voicemail from clients or staff go ignored or unanswered for two hours, etc. It might be to dive in and help with more day-to-day grunt work. They should actively focus on their single chosen growth item for the next six months to improve their overall management style. This must be personalized to each manager and not just a blanket task for the team. Check in with them and notice when they are knocking their focused goal out of the park. Be sure to mention that you notice the positive growth. You will be surprised at how this will trickle down to your entire team and change the way your team engages as well as focuses. 

5. Start meetings with a social-emotional learning strategy

For example, rather than starting by reviewing meeting notes and presenting the meeting’s agenda, start with an SEL interactive strategy that employees can participate in both virtually and in person. One such strategy that is simple but effective for “taking the pulse” of their staff is using emojis to assess their employees’ morale. It is recommended that this be presented using external nontraceable platforms outside of the company’s network like Padlet or SurveyMonkey. Platforms like this will allow employees to feel comfortable about expressing their feelings, because they do not leave traceable data to give away an individual’s identification. So, you can present a scenario such as: “Choose an emoji to describe how you feel about XYZ that we have recently implemented.” Employees respond in real time, and you will have real-time SEL feedback to help drive the meeting. This builds employee morale, because it makes the employees feel as though their feelings about a particular company policy matter.

6. Incorporate social-emotional learning scores

Use social-emotional learning as a part of management-performance reviews to place personnel in areas where they can be most productive. This can help you assess how they relate to others and will also teach your management team to avoid seeing team members as simply cogs in a work wheel. Ask your management team to score the company one to 10 on items such as:

“I believe this company listens to employees”

“I believe this company values me and my time”

“I believe this company is patient with me”

“I feel secure when working with management”

These answers can be submitted blindly so that employees are honest. Word of warning, some might be brutal, however, as a leader, you may have blind spots that your managers working day to day in the trenches can see, feel, and are becoming frustrated with. The more you know, the better you and your team can do.

7. Use social-emotional learning data to drive decision making 

Leaders use data to drive almost every decision. This data is usually financial. However, the impact that their employees have on this financial data is often overlooked at the human level. You can use SEL data to enhance the way that they are doing business as well as the way they are relating to their employees. By using SEL analytics, they can compile data for themselves as well as their employees in areas such as Personality Assessment, Learning Style Survey, Motivational Survey, Emotional Intelligence, Choice Assessment, and Achievement Emotions Profiles. This SEL data could be displayed as a collection of charts and graphs in an anonymous way to show how SEL data is enhancing financial data. This can help to make employees feel as though they matter as humans rather than cogs in the proverbial corporate wheel.

8. Ask your team what they need from you

Regularly check in with your team. The day-to-day life of a leader is go, go, go. In that rush, you may not be providing your team with the type of support that they would like to have. Bi-annually have an open meeting where your team can tell you what they need or how they believe you can improve. Sure, you might get some shouts for Margarita Wednesdays, but some of the other replies that pertain to your real day-to-day may surprise you.

About The Author
Dr. Simmons Bowe

Marilyn Simmons Bowe, Ph.D., is based out of Atlanta. She not only teaches but works cross-industry as a coach for social-emotional learning and in 2010/2011 developed the Camp Achievement Theory assessment that calculates and quantifies social-emotional problem areas via an assessment and algorithm. Her credentials include ASc, BSc, MSc, Ph.D., and CPC.