October 19th, 2017 by Ida Banek

How to Harness Social Awareness in the Digital Age?

I don’t like selfies. I have never taken one, nor have I ever felt the need to do so, which in the eyes of many young people marks me as a strange, old, stick-in-the-mud lady who possibly has serious self-image problems. And I can proudly live with that label. But what bothers me in this reflection is the fact that we live in an age of self-obsession where (with or without our cameras turned on ourselves) we tend to neglect the topic of social awareness.

Day in and day out we look deep into ourselves, we seek for answers and we try to become better parents, colleagues, partners, and leaders. But in our personal and professional lives, our individual brilliance can't be the only arbitrator of future success. As important as self-awareness is for personal development, when it comes to developing effective leadership skills it is actually social awareness that will determine whether we sink or swim.

Every organization has a culture and a certain degree of office politics. They are as much a part of office life as desks and electricity. This does not mean we all have to be big fans of office politics (I for one am not), but when we try to place ourselves above them, we limit our choice of actions and the ability to deal with them appropriately when the need arises. Therefore I firmly believe that if we want our young talent to thrive towards future leadership roles, we need to help them learn how to navigate the business context and build sustainable networks of key relationships very early in their careers.

Social awareness, with a focus on its organizational component, should, therefore, rank highly in any corporate lexicon. Social science has a lot to say and teach us about the fact that organizational awareness is not a trait but a skill bred from experience that can and should be developed as it has a strong impact on our job performance, career success and leadership effectiveness. In other words, gaps in organizational awareness can derail the careers of otherwise intelligent, honest, hard-working people. So how can we help the raw talent in our teams compensate for their lack of experience and avoid making painful and costly mistakes?

Ensuring that future leader’s development programs do not neglect this topic is an obvious solution. But we can also harness an area of expertise in which younger generations excel. Using collaborative tools like Slack and Yammer, which look and feel similar to Facebook, allows entrants to the workplace to explore their new situation using social skills they have been honing for most of their lives. For example, while most new recruits feel intimidated at the thought of attending their first business meeting, and more than a few have committed a faux-pas or alienated a colleague through ignorance of protocol, no such feelings or lack of knowledge exist when it comes to group chats. Giving emerging talent the opportunity to use a highly-developed set of social skills, albeit in a new context can only be beneficial to all parties.

It is a recognized fact that the world of work is changing but the level of our emotional intelligence remains a key differentiator between star performers and the rest of the pack in every organization. The social experience and the skills we use to navigate our social environments may vary from those we used twenty years ago but their importance for final career success has not changed a bit. So let’s find ways to allow our new generations of employees to transfer these new skills to the workplace with the aim of speeding up their development into productive team members and possible future leaders. In the end, this is something we owe both to ourselves and our organizations, even if it means we all have to start taking selfies.

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