Using Social Emotional Learning For Employee Development

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

We have historically focused on developing “hard skills”-- we call many of our trainings “skill-based,” or give merit to fact-building.  But only in recent years have we given the “soft skills” the stage they deserve.  The “soft skills” deal with our inter and intra-personal interactions, where the “hard skills” deal in tasks.  The “hard skills” help us navigate a google doc; the “soft skills” help us not yell at our co-worker.   Each has its rightful and important place in our development as leaders.  But while it’s easy to understand how to learn how to navigate google docs, it can be trickier to understand how to learn to navigate the heart.

I would like to offer you this simple question to ask yourself each day, or each week, to shift your mindset in this direction: How am I b.u.i.l.d-ing my team today?

B: Believe

Do you truly trust in the abilities of your team, the possibilities available for your project, the opportunities designed to nurture growth? Belief matters.

How many stories of mentors, leaders, and those that left an impact on our lives begin with “S/he believed in me…”?

Some simple ways to demonstrate that you believe in your staff include:

  • Conduct Regular Coaching: investing scheduled time dedicated specifically for the growth of your staff member. Coaching is not the same as your bi-annual training and development program-- it’s unique, it’s tailored, and it’s ongoing.
  • Offer Positive Feedback: When you see your staff member doing something that you appreciate, that contributes to the success of the program, that makes a positive difference in the day-- tell them!  Tell them immediately, and tell them often.  
  • Practice Delegation:  A great way to show your staff that you believe in them is to delegate tasks, projects, and leadership responsibilities to them. Give them the opportunity, and then get out of their way. Your staff should feel like they are helping shape their career path with you.

U: Understand

Stephen Covey urged us to “seek first to understand rather than to be understood,” and boy do I get that one wrong all the time. Because I want you to UNDERSTAND WHERE I’M COMING FROM and also WHY I HAVE IT SO HARD. Working hard on being understood is just a stubborn-headed way to clutch tightly to your “rightness.”

As a leader, your job is to seek understanding first. Seek to understand.  What do they need/feel/believe/want, and why do they need/feel/believe/want those things?

Some simple ways to demonstrate that you are seeking to understand your staff include:

  • Don’t Skip The One on Ones: Having frequent and scheduled one-on-one time with your staff allows you the opportunity to ask them questions, hear what’s on their mind, brainstorm through problems, and more. If too much time passes between these types of connections, it can be easy to make assumptions-- which are often wrong-- about what your staff is working on and how things are going.
  • Increase The Number Of Questions You Ask: It’s been said that the best managers ask tenfold the number of questions as the just-okay managers. Asking questions tells your staff that you are curious, and asking lots of questions tells them that you really care.  

I: Inspire

Doing a job because we’re told we have to do the job is fine. But doing a job because we believe in the mission and purpose of the job? Because we see how our efforts are part of a greater whole? Well, that’s a freaking miracle. I think most of us like to believe we’re making some small measure of difference in this world, even our own tiny corner of it. We like to think that something we do matters, even to one person.

As a leader, are you just checking off tasks, or are you inspiring your team toward the greater vision?

Some simple ways to inspire your staff include:

  • Give Context To Tasks: Don’t just tell your staff what to do; instead, bring them along on the greater journey of “Why.” How does each task contribute to the greater whole? The more we understand why we are doing something, the more invested we are in doing it. 
  • Show Long-Term Goals And How They Align With The Big Picture: Similar to above, don’t forget the forest while navigating through the trees.  We often set, and keep, our sights on the immediate tasks ahead of us. But, in doing so, we can easily forget how those trees make up a bigger, more beautiful forest.  Inspire your staff by reminding them of the forest you are all in together from time to time.

L: Love

Oh, love them. And don’t take my word for it! All the Very Important People are saying it too—love is the way to staff engagement, productivity, retention, growth, success. If you don’t love them in the active agape sense, which means love in action or deed; a generalized love for humankind (which is to say, I, as a human, care about you, as another human, and want good things for you)--  they won’t love you—and by extension, the work. And they won’t go above and beyond. They won’t lift an extra finger for you or their teammates. And they won’t stay. Agape love is the currency of love in the workplace, and it's an essential element of productive teams.  Where there is agape love, there is trust.   

Humans want to feel loved (seen, heard, and valued) in every meaningful relationship, and of course, that includes work relationships because many of us spend more time in any given day with our work relationships than any other.  

Some simple ways to love your staff are:

  • Give Them Credit: Sometimes, as leaders, we revel in the glory of the success of our team and enjoy all the praise from the outside, keeping “ownership” of the success all to ourselves. Instead, we should be actively seeking out ways to share how our specific staff members came up with the great ideas, give thanks to staffers who innovate on an old idea, publicly praise staffers who are responsible for new developments.  It doesn’t take away our light as a leader to offer this praise; in fact, it amplifies it.
  • Care About Them:  Care about all of them-- care about what they are juggling at home, where they are struggling, what they are scared of, what they are dreaming about.  Care about what they care about. Actually care. It will revolutionize your work relationships and your work environment.

D: Demonstrate

Get out from behind your desk. Step around your cubicle. Open your office door. Roll up your sleeves. Work late if they have to. Get in early if they are, too. Be the first to volunteer.

Be the kind of leader that they can always find because you are right there beside them.

 The softer side of leadership might feel… well, all soft and squishy. It’s kind of intangible and therefore hard to contain in a spreadsheet or put on a flowchart.

But it’s how we remember people, both in the short term and in the long term.

It’s how we talk about leaders who impacted us.

As a leader, how will you b.u.i.l.d your team today?    

Tatiana@tlpnyc.com_Infographics - BUILD Leadership_1080x1080px_11-Jun-2021_V1


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.