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April 16, 2020

Leveraging SCARF to Lead and Support Your Teams Through Change


“We see the world as we are, not as the world is.”~David Rock

Last week on this blog, you read about David Rock and the Neuroscience’s SCARF Model. This week I’m here to share about how to use the model with Teams.

Five years ago, I was in class at graduate school and upon hearing our group had been assigned to teach back the SCARF model, one of my classmates started dancing around with her scarf, spouting off “Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.” That will always be my favorite association with the SCARF model and between that memory and the leadership relevance the SCARF model keeps providing me, it will always be one of my go-to tools.

As a reminder here is a quick overview of the SCARF Model:

  • Status – This is a sense of importance relative to others.
  • Certainty – This is needing the ability to predict outcomes.
  • Autonomy – This is the desire for a sense of control.
  • Relatedness – This is the desire for a connection with others.
  • Fairness – This is an individual’s perception of a just exchange.

During this time of change brought on by COVID-19, when many of us are working remotely for the first time, with an uncertain end date, it is even more important to pay attention to how we are leading and supporting our teams and teammates. Just as SCARF is an effective tool in supporting ourselves, it is a valuable tool to use with our colleagues and the teams we lead. Here are several ways to leverage this tool:


As a leader it is paramount that you know which SCARF domain(s) is/are most important to you – self-awareness around our SCARF domains is a helpful tool in understanding how we are leading in this pandemic and what we need to stay productive moving toward rewards versus away from threats. In a similar vein, being aware of what is most important to your teammates and team members during this pandemic can help you support them.

SCARF with your TEAM

There are multiple ways to figure this out: 1) I like to start with the simple option. Introduce the team to the SCARF Model through a teaching conversation about the domains, with the help of an article such as last week’s blog or the article below. 2) Then I ask them what is coming up as most important for each of them right now. 3) Alternatively, I share the NeuroLeadership Institute’s SCARF Self-assessment (see link below) with them and ask them to share their results with the team. Sometimes, it is helpful to assess what is important to an individual.

Helpful Tools to SCARF with your TEAM

Once you have identified each individual’s SCARF strengths & triggers, you can then determine which ones are common across the team and how the team might leverage a strength or calm a trigger. This helps provide structure and more Certainty for the Team (and yourself as Leader/Teammate)

For example, Certainty and Autonomy are important to multiple members of my team, so last month we decided we would write four-month work goals that we can control and be certain we can achieve. Many members of my team (me included) highly value Relatedness so we have been making time for bi-weekly casual check-ins and bi-monthly virtual happy hours.

And then as a Leader, you may still need to work with individual SCARF domains. I encourage you to reflect on how as a leader you could help a teammate who values Fairness right now – or Status? How could you support them? (HINT: if you have no idea, ask them what support they need.)

David Rock shared a structure that you as a leader can provide your teams is to keep them focused on their work.

To help you do that, set up daily check-ins for your team(s), 30-minutes each day by video (Relatedness). Provide the team with Certainty – schedule these calls out into the future. Share what you know even if you have nothing new to report, be transparent with everyone (Fairness). Treat them all as important members of the team (Status), let them choose their working hours as much as possible (Autonomy). Most importantly, be curious about the individuals that make up the team.

Encourage the team to get on a video call, for an hour or two a day, with the video and sound on (muting as family members come into the room) and do their work together as they would be in the office. Talking and sharing as needed and quietly working as “normal”.

Emily Isensee, MSOD

Reference and Resources:

Emily's Bio:

Emily Isensee works on the Sales Enablement team at Tableau leading the learning and leadership development strategy for our sales team. Previously, she worked for Brave Leaders Inc, Brené Brown's online learning community, helping organizations integrate Brené’s eCourses into their talent development strategy to create braver leaders and more courageous cultures. She also worked on the Learning & Development Team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she managed a foundation-wide, award-winning leadership development program.

Emily’s areas of expertise include leadership development, change management, facilitation and training, sales enablement, team development, curriculum design, employee onboarding, and program management and evaluation. She has a Master of Science in Organization Development from the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University and is currently pursuing her Coaching Certification through Co-Active Training Institute (CTI).

We are grateful to have you in our lives! Be well!

Lori and James,

James Jackman & Lori Heffelfinger

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