Be In The Business Of Knowing Your Team

By Marsha Koelmel

Co-President of Catapult

Social and emotional competence is key.

For years, leaders have been encouraged by leadership development and workplace effectiveness experts to lead in such a way as to create a culture where employees are valued for much more than their resumes and accomplishments. A place where their values, hobbies and passions outside of work are viewed as much a part of who they are as the results they deliver on the job.

The business reason for doing so has been the correlation between this type of culture, employee engagement and business performance. In short, it’s very positive. The recent increase in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is strengthening the momentum behind this way of leading and some organizations and leaders are getting on board in meaningful ways.

While this has, historically, been a choice, the pandemic created a situation that required leaders to lean into the softer side of their toolkit. Social and emotional competencies such as empathy, relationship-building and resilience were called on every day.

Because of the pandemic, we were talking more with our colleagues about matters such as health, well-being, family and personal challenges. The things that previously may have fallen into the category of “too personal” found their way into everyday conversations, team meetings, project planning and client interactions.

We were sharing much more about our lives – our whole self – than we had in the past as we opened up our homes to our colleagues and clients through the use of video conferencing. We met each other’s pets, partners and children. We backed up our colleagues who were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, ensuring that things kept moving while they dealt with fatigue, illness and children out of school.

We weathered the uncertainty together, connected at a heart level and accomplished amazing things that we didn’t know we were capable of. Even if it was thrust upon us, the shift to a more human work culture has changed the definition of teamwork and effective leadership forever.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 cocoon and reengage with our teams in the office, remotely or some combination of the two, most leaders accept that what employees want and need from them has changed. The frequent use of the term “new normal” alone signals that change is inevitable.

In addition to the joy of being able to resume many of the activities that we have had to give up, there will, undoubtedly, be a trauma-induced COVID-19 hangover of sorts. It will need to be acknowledged and worked through. Plus, the hybrid or fully remote model of working will require that leaders are as effective from a distance as they are in person. To add some spice to the stew, the war for talent is at a fever pitch. So, how best to prepare our leaders for what’s ahead?

Many employers are recognizing that social and emotional competencies are emerging as the most essential skills for leadership success in 2021 and beyond. The ability to develop and maintain positive relationships with teammates and clients at a distance and in person has been and will continue to be critical to leadership success. A recent McKinsey survey shows that leadership and managing others, adaptability and interpersonal skills and empathy rank among the highest priorities for development or reskilling of leaders post-COVID-19.

The literature(1) on social and emotional learning (SEL) identifies five core competencies. They are:

  1. Self-Awareness – the ability to consider and understand your own emotions, thoughts, values and experiences and how these can influence your actions.
  2. Self-Management – an individual’s ability to regulate and control their emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
  3. Responsible Decision Making – the ability to make positive and constructive choices based on individual and social factors like personal and professional goals, ethical standards, safety concerns and social norms. It requires you to consider the consequences of different potential actions, understand your strengths and limitations and to know when to ask for more help when needed in making certain important decisions.
  4. Social Awareness – the ability to empathize with others, your ability to take the perspective of those in different situations to you, your awareness of other diverse individuals and groups and your ability to make sure you are treating others fairly.
  5. Relationship Skills – the ability to make positive connections with others, as well as your ability to take their emotions into account in different situations and social interactions, in order to establish and maintain healthy, mutually rewarding relationships.

In many organizations, this represents a significant shift in what is expected of leaders and, therefore, how they have been developed and rewarded. If this is true for you, the faster you can pivot to a culture that places a premium on achieving results through a socially and emotionally competent leadership style, the more likely you will be to succeed in the post-pandemic environment.

If you are interested in learning more about how to assess your team’s social and emotional competency and develop leaders built for the future, contact us at We offer best-in-class assessments and leadership development solutions designed to help our clients achieve their most ambitious goals.


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