The last 2 years has shone a spotlight on how leaders are dealing with the impact of Covid-19 for themselves, their staff, and their business’s.  During this period of rapid change and transition, there was an increasing need to improve the way we support each other by showing empathy and understanding to one another. So how do we drive positive behaviours?

I’ve been working with leaders who have been concerned about their leadership shadow, doubting their confidence as a leader, concerned about their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their teams.

In thinking this through, the SCARF model created by David Rock – a brain-based model of behaviour, provides guidance to leaders and managers on how to better engage, collaborate and influence their teams.

Our brain organises information into Threat/Danger and Reward/Safety.  When we experience a social threat, our brain perceives this with the same intensity as actual physical threats.  Our threat response is strong, it is faster and longer lasting than the reward response.  When we are under threat, our ability to solve problems or make decisions or interact with others is diminished.   When we are in a ‘reward environment’ these abilities are enhanced, where we can be more creative and strategic in our thinking and behaviours.

The SCARF model encompasses five domains or dimensions of human social experience.

  • Status – our own importance relative to others i.e., knowledge, position.
  • Certainty – our perception of how well we can predict the future
  • Autonomy – having a sense of control and being able to make choices
  • Relatedness – sense of belonging and safety
  • Fairness – feeling of connection and fair exchange with others

We all perceive these five domains differently – one leader’s idea of a status reward will be different to another.  As a leader, it is worth reflecting on these questions:

  • How am I contributing to these domains i.e., how am I creating a sense of reward and how am I creating a threat response?
  • Which domains really play into the role or in the work that I’m doing?
  • What triggers a threat or a reward response in myself?
  • How might I need to adapt my leadership style, communication style to reduce threat and increase reward?

These domains are all interlinked so it’s worth exploring how threats and rewards might be managed.


How are you being in your role as a leader or manager?

Challenge your limiting beliefs and assumptions where you find it doesn’t serve the best interests of your team.  How can you re-establish status and build self-value? How do you acknowledge contribution and recognise effort?  Allowing people to self-review their performance is an important step to stimulate positive behavioural change.


How can you help increase a sense of certainty where little certainty exists, such as communicating organisational changes and soliciting feedback/ input for the path forward?

Our brain craves prediction and certainty.  Encourage your team to create predictability and routines where they can in parts of their everyday life.  Establishing clearer expectations on projects/ tasks with desired outcomes and with the clarity that helps to create a sense of assurance.


How are you creating autonomy? What can you let go of?

Explore what is within your control and help support your team to focus on what they can control and influence to open up options and new choices. How are you including them in the decision-making process?  Encourage initiative and creativity to help shape their own insights.  This is about giving shared responsibility just as much as delegating responsibilities and tasks?


How are you connecting and creating a sense of belonging?

Identify ways to improve these bonds where they get the best from each other – at an individual level and as a team.  This can include buddying, mentoring, coaching, or peer-to-peer learning sessions where they feel open and safe to sharing experiences and challenges.


How are you creating mutual trust, respect and openness in your communications and interactions?

This is about increasing transparency and the communication about organisational challenges.  Setting clear expectations and objectives in meetings and projects about ways of working, clarifying roles and responsibilities to help ensure fair exchange occurs.  Encourage your team to explore ways to create equity for others such as rewards, recognition and those more accepted behaviours.

I’ve been using SCARF in my coaching conversations as a way of being to help build resilience and mental fitness – this has been helping my clients feel respected, trusted and safe to talk about their wellbeing.   The more mindful we can be about minimising threat and creating reward responses, the more adaptive and effective we can be at influencing and collaborating.


Manju Vekaria is a leadership and performance coach, helping leaders and managers to achieve high levels of performance through a focus on wellbeing and resilience.

Read more blogs from Manju – Managing our wellbeing when working remotely and during challenging times