Research & Insights – Neuroscience and Leadership


This quarter we’re looking at the link between neuroscience, leadership, brand culture and Courageous Leaders. We’ve been looking at the SCARF model developed by David Rock which is a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others – particularly relevant in today’s inter-connected, changing world.

The SCARF model ties together five domains of human social experience and how they drive human behaviour:

  • Status – where you feel you sit in the pecking order
  • Certainty – one’s perception of their ability to predict the future
  • Autonomy – the feeling of having choices and being able to make choices
  • Relatedness – feeling safe with others – trust versus distrust
  • Fairness – feeling fair connections and exchanges with others

You can read more about the SCARF model in David Rock’s paper published in the NeuroLeadership Journal or for a quick overview, watch his explanatory YouTube video.

Neuroscience and Courageous Leaders

Courageous Leaders challenge themselves to bring greater self-awareness to what drives their choice of behaviour in any given situation. What we learn from Dr David Rock is that our brain has adapted pathways to deal with our human social experiences. What this can do is help us to “make sense” of how we choose to turn up. Does this mean we can choose to “re-wire” or interrupt if we want to?

Neuroscience and Brand Strategy

Can we create more meaningful and memorable brand experiences for customers by tapping into what is going on in their minds? Perhaps neuroscience may provide some clues as to why some brands enjoy longevity and loyalty while others fizzle and die.

Linking the SCARF Model and the LSI Tool

The SCARF model looks at the responses that different social situations create in the brain and the behaviour that subsequently follows.

As a measure of behavioural styles, we see a link between this model and the LSI tool used in many Courageous Leaders programs to assist participants with both Self and Relationship Mastery.

Thought for the Quarter

As a reader of the Courageous Leaders newsletter, I would expect that it would now be obvious that I am perhaps a little renegade in my approach to courageous leadership!

This quarter is no exception. I acknowledge upfront that everything is perception and very much depends on which context you are sitting in when discussing any subject.

With that said, I often feel uninspired by models which attempt to explain our human condition. The reason why I do is because most that I have come across attempt to define people through what they do, ie the strategies, beliefs and values which a person lives and behaves by.

Though this can be extremely interesting and intellectually satisfying, and also often provides a way for conventional corporate business to measure success and return on investment, it still only ever comes from a paradigm of ‘managing, fixing, changing or improving’ . In other words, how can we use this information to improve or ‘deal with’ the dysfunctional behaviours which turn up in our people/company?

As a Courageous Leader, I would not be satisfied with convention in that regard. I would be looking to the foundation of any particular issue and look truthfully at how I could transform it rather than fix it up. I’d want a transformation approach rather than a continual band-aid approach which came from moving a few pieces of ‘problem’ around in the hope that things would be better.
Courageous Leadership for me is where you realise that transformation, rather than fixing is preferable and that happens from a contextual place rather than from a content shake up. So in simple terms, make a shift in the context of each individual and sit back, be present and watch how the content changes automatically.

I feel it is vitally important for me to be clear in saying that there is nothing essentially wrong with the conventional approaches that focus on the content – only that you acknowledge the limitation and ask yourself as a leader, what it is you are really looking to create?

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