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The SCARF theory of NeuroLeadership

Neuroscience has shown that the brain makes 5 threat vs. reward evaluations every second. These evaluations are based on five key parameters, sometimes called SCARF:


S – Status

C – Certainty

A – Autonomy

R – Relatedness

F – Fairness


Consider a manager walking into a room full of her subordinates. Within the first second, they have already made subconscious evaluations on:

Status – subordinates are reminded that they report to someone higher than them in the organization

Certainty – A degree of uncertainty has arisen based upon their expectation of what their boss might say to them

Autonomy – Subordinates are no longer sure if the work they are doing is appropriate or if they are going to be asked to do something different

Relatedness – They are uncertain if they are all still part of the team or if one or other of them is to be singled out for praise or criticism

Fairness – They are worried that they may no longer be treated in the same way as their peers.

All of this has happened before the manager has uttered a single word! Understanding these subliminal issues and addressing them explicitly is the key to positive neuroleadership.



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