Damage Control

Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come. 
Psalm 71:18

I recently met a man who does HR consulting for companies, both large and small.  We got into an interesting conversation of our common interest:  millennials in the workplace. He said company after company were having issues with millennials that didn’t exist years ago.

He cited one company that elevated a 29 year old to be the supervisor of 14 people. He said that it was a disaster.  The young man may have had the technical skills and aptitude for the job, but he was totally without any social soft skills or, EQ.  EQ refers to Emotional Intelligence.  

Some people are wired without natural soft skills, but most of the millennials have become that way through no real fault of their own.  In my law days, I had one lawyer in my office who lacked any sense of social savoire faire which usually surfaced when he was working on a difficult matter.   About once every three months, I would have to go into his office and tell him “Tom (not his name), you’ve done it again.”  

His response was always one of surprise.  He had the interpersonal social skills of an anvil dropped off a ten story building. Once in a while he managed to verbally step on a staff person (figuratively, of course).  He was totally unaware which is the reason for my frequent intrusions.

The pandemic has only made it worse. Isolation from others (even via social media) has only deepened a problem that existed before, largely due to  digital natives who don’t have much experience with face to face interactions.  

A recent article from Tim Elmore struck me as one solution that I hadn’t thought about. The topic was SEL (Social and Emotional Learning). SEL is the skill set required to have reasonable social skills in all settings. Some people have it naturally; others have to learn the skills. 

What struck Elmore is that, for some reason, we have defaulted to the schools to teach SEL. One of the teachers at his event posed the question:  “How do we get parents to help us teach SEL when the children are at home?”  Bingo.

Elmore had one of those moments of what I refer to as the blinding glimpse at the obvious,  “Parents and communities ((not schools) for the entirety of human history” have taught these skills until they were collected up and labeled SEL and introduced in the schools. That was the way it was up until as recently as 30 years ago. 

Elmore looks at who should be in charge of the social and emotional development of our children. It is not a hard question nor a trick question, by the way. His conclusion:  Parents or adults other than teachers. He gives five suggestions as to how to achieve that. 

The first is to develop self-awareness. Try using things like self-assessments. The old model was Myers-Briggs Test, but now there are Value AssessmentsStrength Finder or The Big Five Personality Test.. Each is designed one to discover your uniqueness within a family. I have used these many times in mentoring and have found them helpful.

Self-Management with your family is the second where each member determines an area or two where they lack discipline (e.g. brushing teeth every day). Then each member commits for a week to practice three steps with a follow up session to see what worked/didn’t work.

The third is to develop social awareness by watching documentaries available online on topics that cover social issues that are not familiar to your family. Netflix has a list, but there are other sources, too. The idea is to discuss what life looks like for the people involved and how they felt about the issue they are facing.

Next is helping them build relationships. Have your next generation list on a piece of paper the people they consider part of their “support network”. Have them assign a role (only one role per person):  heroes (people that you look up to), mentors (people who coach); role models (people who do what you want to do) ; inner circle (those closest who are like family); mentees (those that learn from you); and partners (those that hold you accountable).

Are there any gaps or anyone on the list that one needs to reconnect to?  We really need all of those role players in our lives.

Lastly, and most importantly, help them make responsible decisions. Take an issue – even a local one – that your community is facing that does not have an obvious solution. Brain -storm to see how what options there are, what people should be consulted, how they would decide and what values drove them to their conclusion.  This helps develop critical thinking which is a skill that has declined in the next generation.

What is interesting is that each of these steps can be used by Mentors in helping their mentees prepare for a world where soft skills are needed more than ever.  Sarenz, in his book, concludes that taking time to develop and consciously engage in social skills results in having our deep core beliefs “drive our behavior automatically.”  Good stuff.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  One of the important and often forgotten roles that the next generation needs is a mentor willing to invest in their life.  Do it today if you haven’t already.

FURTHER READING:  Why SEL Has to Be More Than a Class – Elmore

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership -Learning How to be More Aware – Mind Tools

The EQ Intervention – Adam Saenz

WORSHIP: Moment of Awareness – CrossWise 

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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