Social-Emotional Leadership skills in the 21st century

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  • Saisudha Sugavanam




It’s the year 2030. Here’s what’s happening in some of our friends’ lives:

Avani is 35 years old. She’s a lawyer but just doesn’t like her job. She loves gardening. She’s been in multiple relationships, but nothing has worked out well for her. She’s feeling lonely and wants to break the tiring cycle of loneliness.

Rohit is a 30 years old automobile engineer. He’s always been passionate about automobile engineering. He got his dream job and has been loving it ever since. Suddenly, he’s lost his job to Artificial Intelligence. It’s been a year now and he’s not found a job yet. The frustration is growing and he needs a job.

Sridhar is 25 years old Environmentalist. He was born and brought up in Bangalore. He loves his city and has never been comfortable in any other place. There has been a severe drought in Bangalore for the last 5 years. With no rains, there’s a severe scarcity of water in the city.

Swetha is a 33 years old animator. She was working in New York. She loves her job but her job involves long hours. She has a year-old daughter. Her parents live in India. Her mother has been recently diagnosed with cancer. Her husband has been posted in Japan for the next 2 years. For mutual support, she’s found a job in India and has decided to move with her parents. She’s overwhelmed by the sudden change of events in her life.

How are Rohit, Sridhar, Swetha, and Avani going to solve their problems? What skills would they need to solve this?


The 21st century is fascinating and complex. Fascinating because there’s an abundance of opportunities, work has become global, communication has become faster and easier than ever before, thousands of years of innovation have made life relatively comfortable. Then why is it even complex? It’s complex because, given the ever-increasing rate of change, the magnitude of challenges we as a society will face – across all spheres of ecology, interpersonal relationships, intrapersonal relationships, economy, among others – will only increase. It will boil down to our own beliefs and the choices we make.

At Fountainhead Leaders, here are the four foundational skills that we believe will help children to live their life to the fullest. We call them 21st century social-emotional leadership skills. Let’s explore these skills from the eyes of Rohit, Sridhar, Swetha, and Avani.


The ability to take an honest look at oneself without the judgment of being good or bad.

Let’s look at Avani. She doesn’t like her job. She’s had many broken relationships. In order to get over the situation, she is in, first she needs to acknowledge how she is feeling. Ask herself what she wants out of her life? Why has each of her relationships failed? What is the career path that she would want to take? Asking these questions can be difficult for her, she might experience some difficult emotions. Only embracing those feelings and emotions will help her understand where she is right now and what is life, she wants to create for herself.

Growth Mindset

A mindset that comes from the belief that every challenge can be overcome with hard work, perseverance, and patience.

Let’s look at Rohit. He’s lost a job he was passionate about. He’s been jobless for over a year now. In order for him to get over his current situation, he might have to discover a completely new passion or he may have to learn AI to integrate into automobiles or it could be something totally different. The learning process can be tedious. There might be so many others better than him. He might make mistakes, he might fail. What will help him to be at it and persevere is the Growth Mindset.

Communication and Collaboration

The ability to accurately receive and interpret messages and work with different stakeholders to solve the problem.

Let’s look at Sridhar’s case. The city he loves is in distress. He wants to solve the problem but doesn’t know how. There are many stakeholders involved like the government, NGOs, army, public, etc. They may all have very different perspectives on how to solve the problem. In order to achieve what he wants, he will have to hear their perspectives and see how it’s aligned with the problem he wants to solve. They might not be aligned with his personal values. His communication skills and his ability to collaborate will play a crucial role in him solving the problem.


The ability to re-invent oneself to respond and interact with the changing environment

Let’s look at Swetha. She was alone in New York with a year old daughter. Her mother needs help in India. She also needed help. She’s found a job in India and re-located with her parents. Life in India can be very different from that in the US. The work environment here could be very different. He’ll have new colleagues to deal with. Juggling between work, sick mother and a child can be challenging. The change can be overwhelming for her. What will help her to get over this challenge? What are the skills she needs to develop in herself to adapt to the new environment?


The best part about these skills is that, if we had to revisit any of the challenges in the above stories interchanging the skills needed to overcome the story would sound different but still yield the same desired result. This being simply because each of the skills is based on individual character strengths and proficiency of intelligence. While there can be numerous solutions for every challenge and an awareness of our shortfalls, it is having the 21st century social-emotional skills that would help us acquire more strengths to overcome a challenge. The skills best learned during childhood become fond memories and a personality trait and the best way to equip our young citizens with it is through integrating it with our education system.

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