NeuroLeadership with the SCARF model: “Brain-friendly employee leadership”

What do neuroleadership and the SCARF model bring you?

Misunderstandings, frictions or even the complete disintegration of a team … All of this can be the impact of leadership. Neuroleadership and the SCARF model are about avoiding interpersonal conflicts. You should deal with this if your goal is to achieve a constructive working atmosphere and improve the performance of your employees. The model explains certain reactions scientifically and gives you tools to deal with them. It is basically applicable to all social interactions, including private life!

What is Neuroleadership?

Neuroleadership is a relatively new field of research and a new leadership approach in which the findings of neuroscience are fused with management theories.

The term was founded by Jeffrey Schwartz and David Rock in 2006, a neuroscientist and a management consultant. This should motivate employees to perform better and effectively implement change processes.

The goal of neuroleadership is to “lead brain-appropriately” to achieve better results. Neuroleadership does not consist of individual instruments, but rather of a fundamental understanding of processes from which you can form new ways of management.
What is NeuroLeadership

What is the SCARF model?

The SCARF model was also developed in 2008 by Jeffrey Schwartz and David Rock and specifies the neuroleadership findings. Basically, the SCARF model is based on the brain’s quest to maximize rewards and minimize threats. The recognition that social needs are processed in the same regions of the brain as basic survival needs is also at the root of this model. The abbreviation SCARF comes from English. The model consists of five dimensions: Status, Security/Certainty (Certainty),Autonomy , Connection (Relatedness) and Fairness.

As a leader, it gives you clues on how to support your employees in any social interaction. Above all, it promotes the intrinsic motivation of the
SCARF model

The 5 dimensions of the SCARF model


The status is the relative position between people in a group. He describes how important we feel compared to others, whether we feel respected, and whether we are better or worse than others in one thing. The sense of superiority resulting from a supposedly higher state activates the reward system in the brain.

Conversely, a perceived loss of status leads to the activation of the brain regions, which are also active in physical pain. Performance assessments, praise and criticism affect the status of the business environment. Positive feedback and public recognition thus promote the perception of one’s own status. Whatever status you ascribe to, it depends on the environment. A status perceived as low in the company can be compensated by a high status in another environment (e.g. a voluntary service) and the negative effects can be counteracted.


Certainty means the predictability of the future. The Certainty dimension can also be translated with predictability or certainty. The brain retrieves, if possible, familiar patterns to save energy and not to be constantly vigilant in the search for dangers (today’s saber-toothed tigers). This process also activates the reward system again. If a situation is unpredictable, it always causes a certain amount of stress and thus reduces performance. However, depending on the nature and extent of uncertainty, such a situation can also arouse interest, curiosity and attention, which in turn increases performance and problem-solving competence. In this case, it is important to deal with individual persons and to take individual circumstances into account.


This dimension describes the possibility of shaping one’s own environment and being able to influence decisions. It reflects how much we can determine our lives. Restricting autonomy can be perceived as a threat, and we sometimes even feel vulnerable. In this state, stress factors that cannot be controlled or altered are classified by the brain as particularly threatening. In the working environment, this usually leads to exaggerated, negative and irritated reactions.


Belonging and social relations are a basic human need. Do we feel accepted and safe in a group? As in the Stone Age, our brain still distinguishes between friend and foe. The presence of familiar faces appeals to the reward system. The trust that arises in well-functioning teams increases the willingness to exchange information with each other and to work with each other instead of against each other.


How just we feel treated in comparison to others is described with this dimension. Experiencing fairness stimulates the intrinsical reward system. Transparency is a decisive factor here, especially in companies.

Application and implementation

If our brain feels threatened in one or more of the five dimensions, our performance decreases. Unfortunately, threatening responses are generally triggered faster than reward responses, which used to be good for survival, but today can hinder performance.

You can avoid this with the knowledge of the SCARF model. Here you will also find concrete implementation proposals for the new management style. But these implementation possibilities are not only conducive to managers, but also as a team member you can orientate yourself on the SCARF model.

The most important thing is to be honest with yourself first. Where do you already apply the findings of neuroleadership? Where else is it? How would you feel if your colleagues and employees acted according to the SCARF model? Perhaps your intention was meant nicely, but it still provokes a threat response from your counterpart. You can check this against the five dimensions.

Avoid losing your employee’s status! You can achieve this through praise and constructive criticism, attention and appreciation. This is usually even more sustainable than acquiring status symbols (company cars, own office, etc.).

Give your employees orientation and security! Communicate clearly what is expected of them and provide guidance and clear guidance if necessary. Let your employees influence. Support them to be courageous and to be able to shape their own environment and tasks.

Here, too, clearly communicated rules and framework conditions play an important role, which delineate your employee’s room for manoeuvre and enable him to make decisions himself. Measures such as self-determined learning portals, flexible working hours and self-selected office facilities increase autonomy.

Your employees can experience trust and connection! Social relations and positive cooperation should be the order of the day in order to achieve optimum performance. This can be done by empathy, trust from your side and occasional (voluntary!) team actions. But even a friendly handshake, joint talking topics or video conferences and the use of digital networks in global companies can lead to more cooperative behavior.

Say no to a lack of transparency and share information early. Create clear rules that your employees can control themselves at any time, or better set rules together as a team. This has been shown to promote compliance with the rules and does not provide room for injustice. However, this does not mean that misconduct should be tolerated. This, like praise, should be clearly addressed.

Brain-friendly employee management, a change management tool, building working teams and a new management style: all this is hidden behind the five dimensions of the SCARF model.


Our brains don’t work well when it suffers from time pressure and interpersonal conflict, because the threat system is active here. It switches to Fight or Flight mode or even turns dead. This is not necessarily conducive to a successful working day! Therefore, with the findings of the SCARF model, it is important to reactivate the reward system and thus create a productive working atmosphere and increased performance!

You can use the knowledge as a tool for sustainable employee motivation and for change processes at the personal or company level.

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