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Brain Hacks for Leadership: How to Lead Effectively?

SPARK your employee's motivation through Neuroscience

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Setting strategies and keeping the organization on track to meet its goals are critical for a leader. As a matter of fact, it’s probably what the leader will be evaluated against at the end of the year. But a true leader needs to take a broader view of their responsibilities, one that encompasses the ability to create the conditions where it allows people to perform at their best.

As a leader, your role is to set a strategy, but you need your people (team) to execute that strategy. They are the ones that have direct contact with your clients and the majority of your stakeholders. Your ability as an organization to drive the strategy lies in the ability of your team. You can’t accomplish your goals without them.

It is crucial as a leader to take an interest in understanding what fundamentally drives the team’s behaviour and how to ensure the team can perform well and remain motivated. This is where the SCARF model comes into play. David Rock’s SCARF model is a great framework that rests on minimizing danger and maximizing the reward principle. The model holds the key to managing teams and improving co-operation.

The model stems out of Neuroscience and supports what is actually happening in our brain. David Rock talks about it within the framework of social experience, how humans interact with the world and people. To put it very simply, when we are in a reward (security) state, we tend to operate more from our Frontal Lobe versus when a human is feeling threatened, the brain shifts to the Limbic System where the Amygdala (fight, flight, freeze) takes over. In times of high alert and stress, people more naturally drift to threat and uncertainty. When we are in this mode, we tend to be more emotional and have a wide array of feelings, often rooted in a type of fear.

The concept can be found through Gallup’s Q12 survey as well, and it’s was identified as the vital element towards employee engagement that resulted in high team performance.

Leaders can use the SCARF model to help them communicate to help people feel more secure and keep them in the “reward” frame of mind and away from threat perception. The model state five key “domains” of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

STATUS: At work, a person’s situation is determined in relation to others around them, their position, and values in the group (the “pecking order” and seniority). When one feels they gain or at least sustain their Status, they experience a toward state that creates positive emotion, and otherwise, when they feel their Status is jeopardized, they tend to experience various levels of threat and response towards a negative emotion. A leader should pay attention to maintaining each person’s Status in constructive ways by diminishing criticism, failure, and exclusion for the whole team.

To reduce the status threats, I would recommend that management place emphasis on not only offering learning and improvement opportunities but also paying attention to individual improvement by acknowledging and recognizing recent hard work of success of their people, as well as validating and highlighting recent wins or positive feedback received from their stakeholders. Public acknowledgment goes a long way to increase an individual’s sense of Status and suggests that the leaders take value in their work.

CERTAINTY: Human brain likes to know what is going on by recognizing patterns that are continually trying to predict the near future. When one feels sure of things, they move to the reward sensation, but any significant change generates uncertainty and is perceived as a threat.

In a fast-changing business environment, it’s very easy for people to begin to feel uncertain about the future, so this is an area where leaders can make a big difference with minimal effort. Have clear goals, strategies, and plans. Be transparent, clear, and consistent in your communication help to keep people feeling safe.

AUTONOMY: This is the perception of provides a sense of control or choices over one’s environment. Micromanaged generates a threat response. When you present people with an option, you increase the perception of autonomy, and it feels rewarding.

Build individual decision-making into organization processes. Empower your people to use their judgment. Where possible, give individuals discretion at the point of decision making, create policies within which staff members could make point-of-need decisions without consultation with or intervention by leaders.

Avoid controlling language (“Get this done by tomorrow”), minimize unrealistic deadlines, and the needs to monitor your employees constantly. Be transparent by providing rationale behind demands or actions.

RELATEDNESS: A sense of relatedness is the sense of belonging and feeling part of the group. On a non-conscious level, our brain will assess and classify whether somebody is considered a friend or a foe.

People naturally like to form ‘tribes’ where they experience a sense of belonging. The feeling of relatedness is quickly lost when people feel excluded from being “part of.” As a leader, to avoid triggering the threat response in your people, it’s crucial not only for them to feel safe with each other but also with you as their boss.

A great way to increase a sense of reward is by creating a closer social connection. To ensure new team members are welcome, and trust is established within a collaborative team, consider a mentoring and coaching program. As a boss, make time to listen to your direct reports’ perspectives and make known to them that you hear and value themCommunicate that you care about their well-being and not just their productivity.

FAIRNESS: Everyone loves to feel they have been dealt with fair manner. When one is mistreated, we experience the emotions of disappointment, anger, and disillusionment a frustration. When we feel we are treated fairly, we tend to be happy and excited to do things.

Take time to explain contentious decisions and processes that seem unfair (this will restore a sense of Fairness and increase Status and feeling of Relatedness). Ensure transparency and increase the level of communication and involvement around business issues, and allow your team to identify their own ground rules.

SPARK your ways as a leader by using this model, which substantially impacts your employees to feel motivated, engaged, and inspired.

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