Research Paper By Alison Rakotonirina
(Career Coach, MADAGASCAR)
Leading in Uncertain Times: SoMo Leadership and its Power to Effect Change.
The FUTURE of leadership.
How can we as individuals make the biggest impact on our world? For many years I believed that the best that the average person could do is to “live by example.” Be a good person, be ethical, be kind, forgive mistakes, and so on. And while I often found myself in leadership roles, I didn’t necessarily connect “leading” to making the impact I hoped to see.
And then, over my last decade and more importantly the events of the last few years (and most recently the last few weeks), I’ve come to see leadership and coaching as vital vehicles for supporting the urgency with which our world needs to respond to various issues from racial inequality to environmental degradation.
In this, I find introducing the concept of SoMo Leadership for individuals and coaches to be increasingly urgent. I can no longer standby “living by example” and instead see a profound need to actively lead and support other leaders.
As a former manager and executive, I am an experienced leader. As an anthropologist, avid reader of leadership books applied positive psychology practitioner, and career coach, I am a student of leadership. As a mother, a wife, an ex-pat, and a member of an interracial and cross-cultural family, I am committed to being an ally and leading to build awareness of intersectionality and challenges faced globally. As a career and leadership coach, and hopefully soon to graduate from the ICA coaching program, I am also a studied coach.
Today is the day to build a stronger and more just world through learning about, teaching, and leveraging SoMo Leadership through coaching. We are living in uncertainty, however, this is part of who we are as human beings. We overcome challenges and build resilience, coaching, and the precepts of SoMo Leadership, allow us to this consciously and powerfully.
Definition of SoMo Leadership
Louis Alloro, a practicing coach and student of systems change, coined the term SoMo Leadership for his MAPP thesis through the University of Pennsylvania (Alloro, 2008). The idea for SoMo Leadership came out of Louis Alloro’s reflections upon his experience as a high school teacher (and former student) while studying for a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) through the University of Penn in Pennsylvania.
According to Louis:
Social-Emotional Leadership occurs when at least one member of a primary network raises consciousness, urgency, and agency within his network, which is defined as an established group of people with traditions and histories— a family, small business, school, or even book club.
My Interest in SoMo Leadership
Early in my career I intuitively rejected many aspects of leadership, and so I sought out the advice of a family friend. Julia is (was) a professional Leadership Consultant. In addition to providing my wise career advice, she suggested I read a book titled Discovering the Soul of Service by Leonard Berry (1999).
In the Soul of Service Berry highlights companies such as Southwest Airlines and Chickfiliet. Organizations that focus on building trust, empowering their employees, and focusing on customer service through experience.
These organizations tend to be led by what we popularly call “Servant Leaders” an idea originally coined by Robert Greenleaf, who worked with AT&T for many years. Julia’s advice and Berry’s wisdom led me to step into a role as Front of House Manager for a small chain of hotels in Denver, Colorado.
Excited by the concept of servant leadership, I launched my quest as a young woman to be a “servant leader.” Hired to work under a new General Manager who saw himself as a Servant Leader, my journey started strong.
Within a few months, I’d turned over and retrained our staff, earned the respect of my GM, and felt quite good about how things were going. As an organization, we were doing well. However, the longer I stayed and deeper our GM invited me into the “corporate workings” of our hotel chain, from human resources (capital) management to financials, the more dismayed I became.
I realized that “my empowered” status as a service leader only went so far as what mattered to the bottom line — in the bank balance and profit margin were more important than what was right. Rather than paying a full salary during a slow month, “hotel” finances dictated that we cut employee hours, saving a few thousand dollars when a few months later we’d more than regain those dollars during our business season.
This experience led me back to nonprofit management, wherein the long run, I found that the traditional business structure and power hierarchy, even within nonprofit organizations, made it very difficult to leave authoritarian leadership behaviors and expectations behind. When the Servant Leader must put financial capital ahead of human capital, the gains made for “what is right” or lost.
20th Century Challenges
With the influence of the internet and modern technology, nearly anyone can learn any skill. The real value is in the person leveraging the skill. What is their capacity to learn, serve, innovate and how do they make other people feel? How do they bond or build bridges between different groups of people?
Indeed, a long time Kenysian critique of pure capitalism is that it fails to take care of humans. In this, many companies and organizations, and even governments, focus on short-term benefits versus long term outcomes. This narrow-minded focus puts “gross earnings” or product as a priority above social and environmental impacts, including the impact on one’s employees.
As a manager and executive-level leader myself, I found the high levels of stress experienced by myself and my employees, the lack of care (by governance and owners) for the intersection of work and personal life, and what is in most organizations, simply lip service towards the environment.
On the economic front, this is one reason we see the growth of Social Impact Organizations and bCorporations who focus on the “triple bottom line.” These types of business models are moving us in the right direction; however, I believe that the story will not be complete until we also introduce a new framework for leadership.
The effects of this are seen in environmental degradation, maintenance of systematic racism, low employee engagement, and growing reports of stress in employees. I believe that SoMo Leadership is a good companion to what is now called Conscious Capitalism, a term coined by John Mackey the founder of Whole Foods Markets.
While many traditional leaders simply act on the belief that humans are somehow different from other animals or separate from the Earth, Conscious Capitalism and SoMo Leadership recognize that we must focus on the entire system.
Successful leadership relies not on only one leading into the future; it heavily relates to how one responds at the moment. When we look at history and even current events, there is a difference in how leaders respond or react; how they build unity; how they leverage their insight and experience to maintain calm and bring people together.
Today, I would argue that the path to positive leadership models that empower individuals, promote systems change and positive impact is through SOcial-eMOtionaL Leadership, more practically titled “SoMo Leadership.”
Not only does this leadership style drop the negatives found in traditional and authoritarian leadership, while picking up the positives of servant leadership, it further defines itself by being “conscious” leadership in which an overarching goal is positive systems change.
SoMo Leaderships Origins in Positive Psychology
In 2018 my several years of experience as a career coach led me to deepen my understanding of human success. This quest led me to join an applied positive psychology program through the Flourishing Center in New York. I did this to become a better career coach, which has happened, but most importantly this program changed my worldview. Introduced to many ideas from appreciative inquiry to acronyms such as SCARF to the concept of SOcial-eMOtional Leadership (SoMo Leadership), my CAPP experience re-awakened my interest in leadership.
Louis Alloro, one of the founders of the Flourishing Center and one of the first people to receive a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Penn wrote his thesis on Social-Emotional Leadership, which then became a unit in our program. The week that we studied SoMo Leadership was a turning point in my career.
It was at this moment that I recognized that many of my career coaching clients were not only seeking self-awareness and success but that they were in fact on a quest to define themselves as “SoMo Leaders.” Or they were seeking out a work environment in which they could be led and supported by a “SoMo Leader.”
Indeed as the events of the last few months and weeks have demonstrated, our world is aching for leadership that SEEs its people and that understands how to leverage quiet and unseen voices, not only those who speak loudest and or command authority.
Reflecting on my own experience in leadership, I started to make connections and to see that the aspects of Servant Leadership that appealed to me could best be described in better detail by SoMo Leadership and that these aspects of leadership that I resisted, were those of the traditional authoritarian or paternalistic leader that sees himself as requiring authority and “knowing best.’
Most importantly, seeing leadership within the framework of SoMo Leadership, I was able to see that at times there is a time and a place for authoritarian decision making, without needing to embrace authoritarian leadership 100% of the time. This crucial distinction allowed me to reconnect with my passion for leveraging leadership to make an impact.
A deeper look at SoMo Leadership
In addition to creating consciousness, urgency, and agency, as mentioned in my earlier definition of SoMo Leadership, there are a few crucial components that Louis has developed over the last decade. These include a commitment to ethics and fairness — what is right; the ability to influence systems change, and also the idea of thinking differently or asking different questions. In considering SoMo Leadership, it is easy to see how we can reframe our views of leadership to empower ourselves and to empower others.
Louis further describes SoMo Leadership as the following:
“An emergent and dynamic, socially constructed positive intervention designed to build consciousness, urgency, and agency within a primary network. Social-Emotional Leaders use the strengths-based and future-oriented language emerging from positive psychology to invite generative conversations intended to build character strength from within and from the ground up. Social-Emotional Leadership could potentially lead to institutional flourishing.”
Since I launched my career as a resume writer in 2014 and as I’ve continued to develop as a career coach, complimenting my practice with studies in positive psychology and pure coaching, I’ve started to also note and develop my ideas and thoughts about what inspires and drives Leadership, and what I’ve seen aligns perfectly with what Louis describes above.
Over and over again I find myself working with clients who do not enjoy traditional authoritarian western leadership styles or that are working in toxic fear, based environments in which the leadership is afraid to listen and learn. One of the things that I found the most interesting is that simply by changing the language on my website to use female pronouns and talk about supporting individuals from marginalized communities and under-represented in modern corporate culture, I accessed a new type of client.
In working to make my practice more inclusive and welcoming to individuals from different backgrounds than my own, in particular women and men of different ethnic, racial, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds, I also increased my base of white male clients, who for example, have married a woman (or a man) from a different race or ethnicity.
My language and approach attract my intentionally targeted clients, one of the common denominators in my clients is that they are universally SOMo Leaders — even if they are not yet familiar with the terminology!
Since discovering SoMo Leadership, I’ve been on a mission to introduce the concept to my career coaching and leadership coaching clients and from Italy to Ireland to Ghana to Kenya to Reno, Nevada and Grand Forks, Minnesota, my clients have embraced the title and the concept.
In my work I’ve found that discussing SOMO leadership with my clients, alongside leveraging traditional explorations into Strengths and Values, supports my clients as they embrace their worldview and leadership style and feel empowered to more powerfully craft their current situation to better leverage their roles as leaders.
In this work, I leverage Brene Brown’s Core Values worksheet from Dare to Lead, alongside the VIA Character Strengths and Clifton StrengthsFinder.
What’s most exciting for both my clients and for myself, is that in the past they’ve often been told they are not the right “personality type to be a leader.” From the DISC assessment to MyersBriggs, or simply a grumbly co-worker, professor, or parent, they’ve been set off course.
Somewhere along the way my clients lost confidence, became frustrated, stressed, and or anxious, about their ability to lead, because they don’t fit a “type.” Indeed this is a common reason many many people hire Executive or Leadership Coaches!
When it comes to the people I work with, a common complaint is that although they dislike the experience of leadership or they carry an underlying belief that they are “bad leaders” they still end up leading. Over time they start to notice that people still follow them and listen to them, but they don’t know why.
In my studies of coaching and positive psychology, I’d say that what I’ve seen is that some personalities naturally lend to SoMo leadership, even when they don’t “fit the disc.”
When I introduce the idea of SoMo Leadership, these clients excitedly say “that’s ME!”
Urgency: Now is the time for So Mo Leadership
Considering my clients, the world and current events, and myself — my heart and my mind, my left and my right brain — I see that there is a hunger and a need for SoMo Leadership. Louis may have coined the term, but we see evidence of SoMo Leadership emerging in many books and articles.
For this paper, I’ve considered and leveraged the following four books and the MAPP thesis of Louis Allora. You may find my ideas and experiences also under the influence of a broad array of Leadership and positive psychology texts that I’ve read during my lifetime, including the Soul of Service by Leonard Barry, which I did not have access to for this paper, but which I’ve read multiple times in the past.
- Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown;
- The Thin Book of Trust, by leadership expert Charles Feltman;
- Conversations Worth Having, by Cheri B. Torres, David Cooperrider, and Jacqueline M. Stavros; and,
- A Bold New Normal for Africa, by Lucy Quist.
There are many others; including scholarly works on human capital and social capital, however, these are the authors and sources that I’ve considered for this research paper, to build on Louis’ ideas and definitions.
Exploring SoMo Leadership
In Dare to Lead, Brene Brown writes:
“I want to live in a world with braver, bolder leaders, and I want to be able to pass that kind of world on to my children. I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who dares to develop that potential.”
Brown’s definition of leadership overlaps with Alloro’s ideas for SoMo Leadership. We could say that one who takes responsibility for finding potential in others, is being a conscious leader, that she or he is listening and learning, and that she or he is thinking differently asking different questions.
We might also infer that the desire to improve both people and processes demonstrates at the least an implicit understanding of the need for human and social capital. And that in leveraging courage, one is also committing to doing what is right and taking the time to plan and respond to what is important. One is choosing to be a conscious leader.
First, SoMo leaders are leaders by choice. They can leverage appreciation and appreciative inquiry. They understand trust and they are not afraid to rumble. Their work is to leverage human capital to build social capital and financial capital.
According to Brene Brown: “A rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.” The act of rumbling is a practiced response that prevents angry, fearful, or otherwise negative reactions, allowing leaders to consciously address important issues.
Anyone Can Lead.
SoMo leadership recognizes that any personality style or strengths profile can learn to lead effectively. There are not any particularly unique or perfect paths to leadership. What is true is that exceptional leadership is conscious leadership. The best leaders are not born leaders, but rather individuals who consciously chose to be better leaders.
What drives an individual to lead may not even be the desire to “lead” but rather a commitment to certain values or outcomes, which guide an individual to cultivate the strengths, competencies, and tools to be an effective leader. Sometimes leaders arise simply because they believe in a job well done, and they see how to leverage the people around them and the processes to this with success.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve worked with clients who’ve been advised “they are not leaders” because they don’t have the right “DISC” personality trait. One beautiful aspect of SoMo Leadership is that it “flips the disc.” You are not a SoMo Leader because you tend to dominate, instead, you are a SoMo Leader, because you can step back and appreciate what is going right, while also listening for and considering what might be done differently.
Or, in my case as an ENTJ, the wisdom and mindset of SoMo Leadership allow me to go beyond my learning and workstyle to better understand those with whom I work, increasing diversity and human capital, building bridges, and a better world.
For those who wish to make an impact or whose work is connected to their purpose, the study and practice of SoMo Leadership open up many exciting possibilities.
Our collective future depends not on those who think they are “right” or who seek “power” or “domination” but rather those who can make exceptional leaders if they step into their fears, learn to lead, and understand how to leverage our collective knowledge and wisdom aka social capital.
Leadership is a choice.
Historically many leaders fell into a few personality types. Many leaders are activators that get things done, they are expert specialists that get promoted to the top, or they are individuals that crave control. Some people simply cannot stand by and “watch” but this doesn’t necessarily make them good or effective leaders. Others are purely charismatic, smart, and good at building social capital, which causes others to follow them (i.e. influencers).
Indeed, a strong desire to lead, the ability to get shit done, or being an authoritative expert can make for a terrible leader and or an incompetent manager. Or it can make great ones.
Many people who get promoted into leadership roles do not even enjoy the work because their natural strengths do not lean towards traditional leadership or because they do not understand their employees’ personalities, learning styles, or needs. These are the situations that ironically get employees of ineffective bosses to read Franklin Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” of which one of the tenets is to seek to understand, not be understood. This is SoMo Leadership on the part of the employee, but not the leader!
These leaders are prime candidates for the study of SoMo Leadership. Unfortunately, the failings of many leaders arise, because they do not understand that they can (and should) learn to be better leaders. This causes stress for everyone involved, particularly when the leader is too proud or too fearful to ask for support.
As is likely becoming obvious, SoMo Leadership is particularly concerned with Mindset and then the following Behavior. Certain mindsets and behaviors lead to certain actions (or inactions) and these actions can do various things to a Leader’s capacity to lead.
In her book a Bold New Normal, Lucy Quist says that an effective leader must start with her Vision, then become aware of her Mindset, so that she can manage her Behaviour and then take appropriate action.
“Our behavior should ultimately lead us to tirelessly take action – consistently. The transformation we need is not a one-time event. Nor is it a destination. It is a change we make to be different and always strive to excel through our actions.”
For example, a particular behavior + action will build or break trust. Without trust, a leader cannot lead. Without trust, a leader cannot influence change. Without trust, leaders must resort to fear and or task management that is focused on the classic carrot and stick model. This might work for a time, but it’s not the sign of great leadership nor is it likely to bring any business, organization, or even country to great success.
What people want from a leader are hope and guidance. They want to know they are going to be okay. A crucial aspect of the leader in her approach to decision making. A SoMo Leader will have a mindset grounded in curiosity and appreciation that leads to her leveraging different decision making styles at different times.
To better understand this let’s consider two types of leadership that we’ve already discussed and that tend to be familiar to most readers: Authoritarian leadership and Servant Leadership.
SoMo Leadership and Decision Making
Modern-day business leaders tend to use a mix of consensus, consultative, and authoritarian decision making. Board of Directors and Governing bodies tend to use “majority vote” decision making, although they may leverage consultative and consensus processes before voting. All of these decision-making styles are similar in that they involve input and team working, asking questions, and understanding other people’s needs.
Authoritarian decision making, on the other hand, is made by one person and while they may make the decision in consideration of other people’s needs they decide without consultation or taking the tie to build consensus.
In this, one might assume that a SoMo Leader might always leverage consensus or consultative decision making; however, there may be moments when a SoMo leader must act quickly. If she knows her constituents’ needs and is attuned to what is in their best interests, a SoMo Leader may at times choose or need to leverage authoritarian decision making.
The difference between an authoritarian leader and a SoMo leader in this situation is that the SoMo leader is already in conversation with her people, she understands their goals and their needs and therefore is confident making such a decision if/when it is needed.
A crucial point is that while the decision-maker has chosen to follow an authoritative process decision, she is not being reactive, but rather responding based on existing knowledge. As a conscious leader and decision-maker, she is also willing to accept the responsibility and risk involved in making decisions.
SoMo Leadership vs. Authoritarian Leadership
I see as the crucial difference between traditional authoritative leadership styles (even Servant leaders can be authoritarian) or leaders who’ve simply risen to the top by promotion, is that SoMo leaders see themselves as working in partnership with those they lead. They are not motivated by power or prestige, a need to be right or to “be on top,” but rather because they’ve chosen to be the point person for systems change.
SoMo leaders may not be natural leaders in the way that mainstream North American or Western business often thinks. And some people may read this description and say “leadership simply doesn’t work that way,” but I disagree.
In many ways, the idea of SoMo leadership flips the ‘disc’ so to say that a SoMo leader doesn’t rely on dominance or submission. And, while historically many successful leaders have leveraged an authoritarian style or were simply “born leaders,” many good leaders have learned to lead over time and or made hard choices that entailed being vulnerable and or partnering with those whom they lead to listening, learn and create innovative solutions.
SoMo Leadership vs. Servant Leadership
Certainly, there is a significant overlap between the two — a common denominator is that you might have a SoMo Leader or a Servant Leader in your midst without knowing it until they are gone. It is the “hole” or the “avalanche” that you experience when they leave that is your first clue.
A crucial difference between the two styles of leadership is that common practice of Servant Leadership indicates that “Servant Leaders” can lead only because they’ve been chosen or nominated — so to say. Servant Leaders are often promoted into a leadership role without intentionally considering what it means to be a leader. Or perhaps “leadership” had been a goal, but this goal may still be rooted in a desire for respect, prestige, or power.
The result is that while the individual may commit to being a servant leader, they, like I did, as a younger leader, may find their experience of leadership characterized by fear, denial, or simply a desire to make things run smoothly, without putting much thought into how to be a leader.
A further complication of Servant Leadership is that if taken word-for-word the idea that you must put your employee’s needs first results in Servant Leader burnout and high turn-over.
Just as we advise air travelers to “put on their air mask first” a SoMo Leader is conscious of her own needs — not to the extent that she becomes power-hungry or forgetful of the needs of her constituents, but rather that she can manage her needs in polarity or symbiosis with that of those she leads.
It is one thing to “serve” your constituents, it is another to learn from them, mentor them, guide them, advocate for them and provide the scaffolding for them to be SoMo leaders themselves.
Whereas a tenant of SoMo Leadership is that a SoMo Leader is intentional in her actions. She is a conscious leader, has chosen to embrace, navigate, and forger her path. She is also committed to what is right, which may not always be (in the short-term) right for profits.
The ultimate distinction between the two leadership styles comes down to connotation.
The defining factor of Servant Leadership according to Greenleaf “is making one’s main priority to serve rather than to lead.” The defining feature of SoMo Leadership, as mentioned above, is “consciousness, urgency, and agency.” A SoMo Leader may serve, but at times she may also consciously lead the way, showing courage, determination, decisiveness, as well as, the ability to discern when to stand her ground or say no.
SoMo Leadership in Action
What does SoMo Leadership look like? Where else is it showing up? Servant leadership certainly broke the ground for SoMo Leadership, as did, studies in positive psychology and the field of coaching.
One can find many examples of aspects of SoMo Leadership in books such as Conversations Worth Having, a book on Appreciative Inquiry, and pretty much all the work of Brene Brown. From Daring Greatly to the idea of “rumbling” in Dare to Lead, the work of Brene Brown is both that of a SoMo Leader (she is one) and she teaches it.
In my work and research, I’ve taken Louis Alloro’s definitions plus what I’ve learned in my coaching and positive psychology studies to define what I see as the tools and tactics leveraged by SoMo Leaders. These can be considered both skills to learn to be a better leader, but also the tools of the trade to be used by a SoMo Leader.
Tactics, tools, and techniques:
- Appreciative Inquiry - looking at what is working to help improve what is not working.
- CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: seeking to understand and undercover the ABCs (Activating Event, Belief, Consequence).
- NVC (non-violent communication) or Compassionate Communication - learning to communicate effectively and help people to ask for what they need and to proactively express themselves with care and sincerity, versus fear, frustration, or reactivity.
- Mindset, Meditation, awareness of SCARF
- SMART+ Goals
- Modeling and teaching the ICA Power Tools
- Powerful questioning
- Active Listening
- Direct Communication
Ultimately SoMo Leadership is a conscious effort to not only lead but also to mentor, teach, and even coach, while also continuing to learn and explore ourselves. SoMo Leadership requires a growth mindset and the ability to “rumble” or have “tough conversations” as Brene Brown discusses in her book Dare to Lead. Another way that Brene puts this is that “clear is kind.”
What does “clear is kind” mean? It means that “sugar coating” or “beating around the bush” making inferences or simply hoping that someone will “catch the drift” is not clear nor is it kind. Unclear expectations, lack of awareness, and pushing the envelope eventually lead to problems. Sometimes we need to say no. Sometimes we need to be honest.
Sometimes we need to risk a minor embarrassment, own up to a mistake or accept that we don’t have a skill or required tool. A leader that can do this and model this for her team is not weak, but in fact, leading by example.
In this SoMo Leadership might be described as:
- Leadership by the trust (vs respect)
- Leadership by influence (vs. force)
- Leadership by curiosity (vs. assumption)
- Leadership by appreciation and learning (vs fear)
- Leadership by importance (vs urgent)
- Leadership by responding (vs react)
- Leadership by courage (vs fear)
The outcome of these behaviors is that Social-Emotional Leaders motivate their networks and teams to build awareness and be proactive. SoMo leaders negate the belief that they must have all the answers and that their followers will succeed by doing as told.
SoMo leaders listen first to clarify overarching goals and objectives and get an idea of where people are today. They invite others into a dialogue, empowering them to think and to empower each other. They then ask different questions, to meet their staff where they are now and help them to get where they need to be. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these aspects.
Trust + Influence
Trust plus the ability to influence effectively create a foundation for a successful leadership role. We earn trust and build our influence by meeting people where they are, using direct communication, and actively listening. Authenticity, integrity, and responsibility are also crucial character traits.
The leader who thinks she knows everything will never earn the trust of the key players on her team. As my husband, a retired special forces soldier, always says: someone is always better, smarter, faster, than you, so your only real competition is you. You need to know what you do well and you also need to know your weaknesses.
For a soldier, this mindset can mean life or death. For the average leader, it’s not quite so dire, but it’s still a very important way of thinking. In a similar vein, if someone knows more about something than you do and you are too proud to listen and learn, they may follow you, but they will not necessarily trust or respect you.
In the short book “The Thin Book of Trust,” leadership expert Charles Feltman proposes four main components to trust. These are Sincerity, Reliability, Competence, and Care.
What SoMo Leadership recognizes is that a significant trait of a compelling leader is that they can demonstrate to the people they lead that they are seen, that they are heard, that they are respected, and that they matter (are valued).
My way or the highway is not effective. Asking questions and then shaming or embarrassing your staff is counterproductive. Making “examples” of people does not demonstrate care. Martyrdom, self-sacrifice, and burning the candle at both ends may get stuff done or manipulate people into cooperation but they are not sustainable long-term.
While Feltman does not talk about SoMo Leadership per se, leaders who embrace his practice of being Sincere, building out Reliability, cultivating Competence, and demonstrating Care, achieve the trust and influence to be SoMo leaders, thus supporting, partnering with, and guiding their teams to success.
Curiosity + Appreciation
SoMo leadership recognizes that you can increase your human capital, by leveraging your social capital as an individual and that of your team members. Trust is the foundation that grows one’s influence, but it doesn’t stop there. One must also appreciate, be curious, think differently, listen, learn.
How a SoMo Leader Thinks
Think about how they think: they look for biases and assumptions in their thoughts; they uncover icebergs and recognize that there may be more to the story than meets the eye.
Ask different questions: If you keep coming up with the same answer, no matter what you try, maybe you need to ask a different question. Be open to learning new information. Listen. Actively listen and learn.
Use Positivity (Appreciation): SoMo leaders prime their people to be positive, opening up opportunities for creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. This commitment to positivity is based on the “broaden and build theory,” which shows that positive affect leads to expanding our awareness and openness to new ideas and opportunities.
Importance + Reponse
In this, they quickly and efficiently determine which situations are urgent and which are important, while also being able to distinguish “false urgency” from truly urgent situations. The ability to respond versus react supports this nuance in acting and decision making.
The science of luck, for example, shows that the “luckiest” people in the world tend to in fact be the most prepared. If you don’t know what you want, how will you find it? Similarly, the most successful leaders are prepared leaders — those who can respond quickly because they recognized ahead of time what is important.
In April, I heard a podcast interview interviewing the NYC Police Chief from 9/11 regarding the Corona Response. He explained that the 9/11 response in NYC was a response because while they’d never imagined 9/11, they had prepared for numerous other types of attacks on NYC. This allowed leadership to “respond” vs. “react” which he then compared to other situations such as Katrina Hurricane (react) and COVID (react).
When discussing how to prepare and the difference between responding and reacting, the chief explained that, for example, leaders need to understand that first responder have a family too, so you need a plan to take care of families so that your first responders have the psychological peace to address the emergency at hand. This interview very much addressed the need to understand, be prepared, so that leadership can respond very quickly and not react.
Courage vs. Fear
These leaders are also defined by their vulnerability or their ability to recognize everyone’s humanity. Brene Brown very much teaches that courage is not the absence of fear.SoMo leaders are vulnerable, but appropriately so.
When you are passionate about what you do when your work is meaningful to you and or when you’ve invested your sweat and blood in achieving something, the idea possibility of being challenged, ignored, or questioned is scary, the possibility of failure or not being seen is also scary, but the act of stepping into our fears and coming out the other side is liberating.
I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do … ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather acknowledging our fear so that we can do what we need to do to take care of ourselves and others. In this, there is also an important discussion of human capital. Governments are of course charged with taking care of people, but businesses often focus on financial gains and leveraging human capital to increase financial capital. I would argue that a SoMo Leader invests in both.
Human Capital and Leadership
One of the most exciting aspects of SoMo Leadership is that it is not a race to the top or a contest for who has the most power — SoMo Leaders do not seek monopolize or be praised for their power. Instead, they seek to spread and share it, supporting the growth and development of other SoMo Leaders, and by default their people, governments, and organizations.
In this, SoMo Leadership is relevant to coaching because “ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential,” and this is exactly what a SoMo Leader does in their daily and their professional life.
SoMo Leaders partner with and support their employees, their neighbors, their family members, or whomever they choose to lead, in maximizing their individual and also group potential. SoMo Leaders value individual authenticity and the idea that we are better together.
Indeed, SOcial – eMOtional Leadership is a leadership style that leverages the social capacities of human beings recognizing that humans are social and emotional animals. Many businesses and leaders focus on “human capital” versus physical or financial capital. This is evidenced by the existence of even “Human Resources” departments as being responsible for hiring and managing people within an organization.
Human capital refers to the knowledge and resources of humans in a particular organization or community. This may be learned skills, education, or experiences. Whereas physical capital is actual things (machines, materials, or natural resources). Human capital and Social Capital are subjective and can be created or destroyed through human relationships.
SoMo Leaders recognize that supporting the development of human capital will allow their organization or community to better leverage social capital. When we look at creating social capital we refer to individuals and groups of individuals within society and their ability to build relationships, bond with other humans, and create links between social groups.
Without access to sufficient social capital a leader cannot effectively lead nor can an organization, business, or social progress. Social-Emotional Leadership allows a leader to consciously, intentionally access, and leverage the self-awareness and reflective process required to build social capital and invest ethically in human capital, putting people first.
Applications for Coaching (and more)
When it comes to coaching, SoMo leaders are of particular interest, because while some may lead businesses, organizations, neighborhoods, or schools, others are simply individual participants in society.
As the ICF defines coaching, I believe that coaches are in fact examples of individual SoMo Leaders, although many coaches may work within or alongside organizations.
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
The academic and practical study of coaching is one of the most effective paths to conscious SoMo Leadership, coaching is both an act of SoMo Leadership and can be used by SoMo Leaders. Indeed, SoMo Leadership can be leveraged by any individual who is committed to living by example but is particularly relevant to coaching.
I believe that many trained coaches are by default SoMo Leaders, except that the definition of SoMo Leaders is that of “conscious” leadership, which is why I’ve written this paper, to introduce the idea and promote concise acceptance. I think that a crucial aspect of effective change management is a conscious choice, so for me, a SoMo Leader as a coach, requires that one should consciously choose to lead.
In a similar vein, a coach who does not wish to define herself as a SoMo Leader will not be forced to — not all coaches may wish to follow this path. We all have a different comfort level and interest in leadership. One person’s act of leadership may show up as the neighbor who checks on other neighbors, who speak up or steps up when she sees a violation of ethics or what is right in her home, her neighborhood, or the world.
Or it might be as a coach to support other community leaders, from clergy to city planning to teachers. In these situations, one may choose to practice SoMo Leadership or not, while also teaching, mentoring, and or advising others in SoMo Leadership (blended coaching).
I do believe that the most likely place to find a SoMo leader, is in the role of coach or community leader/teacher. If one is looking for the most effective coach — it’s likely that you can tick off the various markers of SoMo Leadership — except perhaps — that of conscious leadership, which is why this paper and the associated coaching model is of such importance. SoMo Leadership applies to leadership at all levels within start-up cultures, social impact organizations, but also traditional businesses and non-governmental organizations.
SoMo Leadership is more effective if done with intention!
I’d love to see it as an aspect of ICF coaching so that this role of coach as the leader becomes conscious. I recently was part of a conversation in which it was mentioned that Social Justice had been considered as a curriculum addition to ICA, perhaps teaching coaching as SoMo Leadership would take care of that dilemma!
We can also hope to find the growth and expression of SoMo Leadership in our governments and political systems, with leaders as learners and as coaches. Indeed, looking back over our history, one might say that the biggest moments of social change and progress took place under the guidance of leaders who very much exhibited many aspects of SoMo Leadership — from Martin Luther King to Gandhi and Helen Keller.
If we consider SoMo Leaders to be part of a system, supporting others in being their best selves, then coaches are SoMo Leaders. And self-management as a coach is an act of SoMo leadership. Whether pure coaching or practicing a form of blended coaching, I see the principles of SoMo Leadership and the ICF code of ethics to be similar to the Hippocratic Oath for medical practitioners.
As a coach, when we choose to be conscious leaders we naturally transition into SoMo Leadership. This of course brings us to, what might SoMo Leadership looks like in practice?
What does SoMo Leadership look like in practice?
Pulling these ideas together — thinking about how you think, asking different questions, being positive and leveraging courage — starts with being intentional about what we do and how we respond. This is why I refer to this as “conscious” leadership. Now, of course, the more we do these things, the more they become second nature and so a highly developed SoMo Leader may seem to lead effortlessly; however, that does not mean she is not conscious of her acts!
- Think about how you think: Nelson ManWould call meetings at his home where his ‘advisors’ sat around the table and he simply listened. He knew that if he ever thought that he “had all the answers” he’d lose. So he continually listened, thought about how he thought, and watched his people.
- He was bold enough to ask different questions and to try different things.
- He acknowledged what people had accomplished.
- He was courageous and stood his ground when it mattered most.
- Think about how you think: Mother Theresa specialized in contemplation, which allowed her to think about how she thought and to be open to new ideas, in her case “epiphanies.”
- She asked different questions: she traveled and learned; she was the epitome of humility and humbleness; she had huge wisdom, but she didn’t dictate,
- Positivity -- She recognized that it took less effort to be for something than against it, and so in her work, she promoted compassion and positivity. She was for peace (not against war).
- Courage and determination: she argued for and one the right to found a new order within the Catholic church, and throughout her life in the face of great despair and poverty she remained courageous promoting peace, compassion, dignity, and solidarity.
In a global economy with increasingly challenging issues and problems, we need leaders that speak to all people and that can leverage diverse backgrounds and ideas to find innovative solutions to our problems. Leaders who understand that people matter and that know how to leverage human capital to build a better world are in dire need.
I see that SoMo Leadership through the lens of coaching and proactive leadership at the community, business, and political level will support the development of leaders who can:
- Admit where we’ve made wrongs vulnerable without being weak.
- See the urgency in today's problems, and be willing to rumble.
- To understand this, we need to listen and learn, ask different and difficult questions.
- Identify what is important for individuals and groups and make a plan.
- That can support individuals and groups in understanding what is urgent vs. important so that we can let go of reacting as a society and respond.
- See opportunities for doing things differently, invite innovation, new solutions to broaden, and build our culture, our institutions, and our businesses.
- An opportunity to cherish our differences, see people, create new bonds, build bridges between opposing parties, and broaden our horizons.
In this, as a woman and a career coach who focuses on career building for women, I am particularly enthusiastic about the idea of SoMo Leadership because I see that it opens a new way for our future as a society, as a global community.
Many people know that women outnumber men in the general population, but not in positions of leadership. Similarly, white Europeans and white Americans do not make up even half the world’s population and yet the most powerful businesses and wealthy individuals tend to be white men who historically practice authoritative leadership styles.
Supporting the growth of SoMo leaders and teaching the foundations of the SoMo leadership style will encourage more women and individuals from various backgrounds to embrace and nurture their leadership potential. This is so important because it is these individuals who can introduce new ideas and new solutions that can resolve conflict and create a more just and flourishing world.
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(Alloro, Shift Happens: Using Social-Emotional Leadership to Construct Positive, Sustainable Cultural Change)
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