Threatened by the cold?

scarf_totall_1As the weather changes and the cold winds blow, you might reach for a scarf to give you protection, warding off the threat from the cold itself.  But the cold weather is not the only threat that you experience; in fact the cold weather is possibly one of the easiest threats to deal with, just pick up your scarf and out you go.

Like it or not, aware or unaware, we all face threats many times each day as we interact with others at work, at home, buying a car, or looking for a bargain.  It’s all because our brains are wired for survival and we subconsciously perceive what we see and hear as potential threats.  Walking to work, you won’t bump into a hungry tiger, but you may have a challenging conversation with your boss, and (unfortunately) your physiology will respond in just the same way; a series of internal events causes your thinking brain to close down as you prepare to:

  1. defend yourself in fight by entering into an argument and perhaps saying something you might regret later, or
  2. protect yourself in flight as you stop listening. You may not physically run away, but mentally and emotionally, you have “checked out”.

So, what has all this got to do with leadership, you may ask?  David Rock’s research led him into a deeper understanding of these responses as he developed the SCARF model.  In social situations, we are constantly looking for rewards and threats and we can perceive threats to any or all of the factors listed below;

  • Status: Our relative importance to others
  • Certainty: Our being able to predict the future
  • Autonomy: Our sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: Our sense of safety with others
  • Fairness: Our perception of fair exchanges between people

If you are in a position of leadership, where you need to influence others so that they can be creative, productive, collaborative, and open in communications, it is your duty to develop the culture which does its best to eliminate threat, and – keeping the SCARF model in mind – here is what you can do.

  • Status: Safeguard others’ status by what you say and do, cut through hierarchical barriers.
  • Certainty: Be as clear and as consistent as you can be.
  • Autonomy: Stay clear of micromanagement, genuinely engage others in decision-making.
  • Relatedness: Strive for inclusion and connectedness, develop rapport and trust.
  • Fairness: Demonstrate transparency, be clear on the rules and apply them fairly.

I would advise not to try all these at once, just take small steps to develop the right habits, and your team will notice.

Do this right, and you will definitely not make it into the list of the world’s worst bosses, as Violeta described last week.