Raising Future Leaders Through Social and Emotional Learning

By Jessica Pedder

“Are people born with innate leadership skills?” As with most things, the answer is complicated: nature and nurture both play a role in developing leaders. In an article on parenting and leadership from the BBC, psychologists found that overprotective parents play a big role in stunting a child’s growth as a leader. Although they have good intentions with their coddling, trying to make sure their child doesn’t face uncomfortable challenges, this is unhelpful. Children end up less confident and less capable of facing difficulties on their own, exhibiting poorer leadership skills due to a lack of independence.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how to use social and emotional learning (SEL) to raise children with leadership skills in a healthy way.

SEL and Leadership

The best leaders are people with a hefty dose of empathy and emotional intelligence. However, in a write-up on promoting leadership by LHH, contributor Alex Vincent, PhD points out that empathy and compassion are skills that evade many leaders today. By prioritizing technical knowledge, modern leaders are rarely assessed on whether they can actually relate to employees on an emotional level. During times of crisis, it’s critical for leaders to know how to listen and express understanding over worries and stressors.

As we defined in our post called “How ‘Social And Emotional Learning’ Became The Newest Battleground”, social and emotional learning is a longstanding educational concept directed at children. SEL aims to teach kids how to manage stress, recognize emotions, work cooperatively, and treat others with respect. Using SEL techniques in raising your child can help them establish and maintain positive relationships with others, as well as make responsible, caring decisions.

Using SEL Techniques to Raise Compassionate Leaders

So how can we apply SEL techniques to raise our children? What can parents do? Here are three suggestions to consider:

Practice kindness with your kids

In a video on kindness by the World Economic Forum, experts say that spontaneous interactions where people lend a helping hand to others can produce positive emotions. Compared to regular volunteer work, which can get repetitive, unplanned acts of kindness can greatly improve our physical and mental health.

Good leaders are good humans. To cultivate SEL competence, teach your kids to look for ways to help others every day. Even small things like holding open doors, complimenting friends, or inviting someone new to play can build critical relationship skills. Moreover, it’s important to let children choose how they will initiate kind acts. This not only helps them be more proactive in promoting empathy, but will also help them make decisions with confidence.

Encourage children to go first

Leadership is often associated with tyranny, getting what you want and ordering people around. However, true leadership hinges on action. We need to teach them about service-oriented leadership, where true leaders do things first and set examples for others to follow. They take the initial risk and jump into uncertain territory, even if it could potentially lead to failure.

When possible, encourage your children to go first and lead the way. If their peers are afraid to try their hand at a new task, your child might be brave enough to volunteer. This way, they learn about the difference between acceptable or foolish risks, and exercise their judgment wisely.

Help children discover themselves through journaling

Self-awareness is an important component of SEL, and journaling is one tool to develop this skill. Journaling can be a form of self-expression, where children name their emotions. They can also write about positive or negative incidents and individuals then reflect on these experiences to better understand themselves.

In fact, reflection is a key part in developing leadership skills. According to insights on effective leadership from the University of Florida, starting your day with reflection can help you feel more leader-like. If your child has leadership tendencies, ask them to write about what kind of leader they want to be. You can also provide prompts on the topic by showing them different examples of leadership, then guiding them to shape their own opinions.

Jessica Pedder is a freelance business writer. Her goal is to cover the latest trends in business to help future entrepreneurs. In her free time, she plays chess and sails.