Groundbreaking Research on Self-Esteem
The value of self-mastery skills is already taking hold in the workplace, with organizations ranging from American Express to the United States Marine Corps integrating SEL into their leadership training. At FedEx many senior managers now complete a course named Legacy, developed with a California-based international nonprofit named Six Seconds. One of the exercises is called Sneetch Marbles, inspired by a Dr. Seuss book. The group is divided arbitrarily into Star-Bellied Sneetches and Plain-Bellied Sneetches, working together with an equally arbitrary set of rules as an assembly line rolling marbles through pipes. But the Star Bellies have all the information and power; the Plain Bellies can't speak unless they're called on, and they don't get any treats. Some of them mutiny, some want to please the bosslike Star Bellies, some undermine the process, some start cheating, some check out. Then everyone is asked questions: What helped them be engaged or disengaged? Were they optimistic or pessimistic? Did they notice anybody else's feelings? Did they find any purpose in the exercise? "It creates an opportunity for all kinds of interesting discussions," says Joshua Freedman, chief operating officer of Six Seconds. "This work tells you your patterns: 'When I think the rules are unfair, I cheat.' Or 'When I think it's not going well, I blame others.' Or 'When I think the senior manager is a jerk, I rebel.' Even at very high levels of corporations, we're all still in the schoolyard. We feel vulnerable and we're protecting ourselves. But once people become aware of a pattern, they're asked if it's getting them what they really want." Then they can change it.
This kind of thinking—and rethinking—may have even broader applications, and it's been given a global dimension by Carol Gilligan, PhD. It was her groundbreaking 1982 book, In a Different Voice, that shed light on why girls so often lose their footing in adolescence; it was, in essence, a precursor to SEL. "Women were seen as deficient," says Gilligan, now professor of humanities and applied psychology at New York University. "The kind of intelligence that was valued was abstract and principled, and the sense of self that was seen as developing toward maturity was autonomous and self-sufficient. Women saw things more in context, and their thinking was connected to emotions. A voice you could characterize as very socially or emotionally intelligent was being suppressed."