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The SCARF Model Unfolds

Dr. David Rock, Director of the Neuroscience Institute and Author of Quiet Leadership developed what’s termed as the SCARF model. The model identifies five domains of human social experience to which the brain responds. The response will be in a continuum of more or less defensive response depending on the degree of risk we perceive within and between the five following areas: 

  • Status – Do we compare favorably with those around us? 
  • Certainty – Do we perceive that information is clear and transparent?
  • Autonomy – Do we have control over the surroundings/situations that impact us? 
  • Relatedness – Are we connected to others and able to build groups that rely on mutual trust? 
  • Fairness – When we feel something is not fair, our natural instinct is to defend against it.

How can we manage our personal SCARF elements during the continuation of uncertain times? If we’re able to do so, we are better equipped to lead ourselves and others with certainty and resilience.

Bringing Certainty to Uncertainty 

We’re in the homestretch of 2020 and C19 protection measures are in place through 2021. With this, the continued ripple effects are experienced in local and global economies with reorganizations, layoffs, joblessness, school-lessness, homelessness, and restlessness abounds. Being physically and emotionally connected, focused and positive can seem part of a mythological past obscured in the fear-based rhetoric and realities of a new normal. 

We need a large measure of patience, hope, positivity, and persistence to sustain growth, productivity, and get to the other side of this brave new world – together.

Resilience IS hard, and we’ve been through worse.

In such a year when our feelings are frayed, our minds fried, and we hunger for personal and collective hope – what can we do?

Girl wearing glasses with her eyes closed holding string lights
(Photo provided by guilherme-stecanella via Unsplash)

There is support for our hearts, minds, and bodies to help us persevere through another year of this new world. Regular practices such as prayer, exercise, mindfulness, nature, and shared holiday rituals can temporarily instill calm amid the unrest and unknown. Bringing an open mind can help see opportunities and bring inspiration, connection and support so we can move forward, together. Still, there’s more to be done and we know it.

The call to ‘be still and know’ has never been so great. Managing the instinctive fight or flight responses when our S-C-A-R-F elements get rattled is essential. When we manage our defensive reactions, from the front lines of work to the demands of home and community life, we’re in a better position to lead ourselves and others in shaping the future. Why is this so hard?

Fear is real, and easily manipulated in all humans. That makes a good place to start managing it is a healthy does of fact checking. Is the reality and the internal story we attach to it really true? Are we jumping before testing the reality of what we’re afraid of or being told to fear? Honing our handle on reality builds a healthy dose of objectivity to our response.

In the flood of virtual programs and media mania offering the answers to almost everything, my preference is to curl up and rest – but I can’t. There’s much good work to do. As a coach, I know that the best time for a client’s growth is when they’re uncomfortable. Just like now. Times are uncomfortable and uncertain. There’s no need for us to be dismal or paralyzed bystanders. 

We have the opportunity to allow discomfort to catalyze a better version of ourselves, our organizations, and our communities. By acknowledging our own internal SCARF elements and learning to manage them more wisely and compassionately, we can shift our perspective from primal self-care to leading and taking care of others. In this shift, we become bridge builders that shape the future versus reacting out of fear of what it will be. 

To assist this pivot, the SCARF model below has been reworded with an empathetic approach to facing uncertainty – and shaking off fear:

  • Status – Does the other person feel they compare favorably with those around them?  If they’re not seen and heard, what can I do to see, and listen?
  • Certainty – Do others perceive that the information they need is clear and transparent? How will I find out?
  • Autonomy – Do others feel they have control over the surroundings/situations that impact them? If they don’t, what is my role in helping create that balance?
  • Relatedness – Do others feel they’re connected and able to build through mutual trust? If they don’t, what am I willing to do to help create that trust?
  • Fairness – If others feel something isn’t fair, do I acknowledge and listen when they defend against it – or do I judge or even dismiss them? 

What’s Your Next Step? 

Using this model with an empathetic approach helps remind us that while we can never truly look through another’s eyes and wear their shoes – we can try. And only from this trying can we build peaceful, purposed action and grow as individuals, organizations and collectively bring about change that’s good from the discomfort and uncertainties around us.

The following questions have helped reinforce forward, purposeful and caring action in my life. I share them below as reminders that we CAN choose our response to fear, even in uncertain times.

What one opportunity is before you that can be used for positivity, certainty, caring and inspiration? 

Seize it! 

What one practice will you do daily to help restore an open heart and mind to hear and see what’s possible – that’s good for all? 

Do it! 

What relationships and situations need to be approached differently – and how will you show up to assist that possibility?   

Bring it! 

For further reading on being resilient in uncertain times, the work of Krista Tippett and the On Being Project offers many resources. On their website, I found the poem Brave Space which has profound meaning for our times. I hope it helps encourage you to live fully and help lead a better future for all people.

Here’s to the inner work of resilience – and compassionate and courageous leaders.

Interested in a dose of resilience for your leadership? Go here and let’s schedule a call. 

#leadership #coaching #resilience

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