Emergence Leadership Academy – SCARF

Emergence Leadership Academy – SCARF

By Rev. Dr. Ryan Polly

How often do you:
- find yourself stuck?
- stop yourself half way through a project and then change paths?
- find yourself thinking over and over but not moving toward a new outcome?
- let fear stop you from following the path that you are called to follow?

If you put your hand down on a hot stove, you would pull your hand away, correct? And, in the future you would likely no longer put your hand on that stove. The brain quickly made a connection that hot stove equals painful. The thing is, for the brain, social pain is very similar to physical pain. It is very possible that your brain has learned to stay clear of things that could lead to social pain. Thus, a fear response has been your brains way to keep you safe. If you find yourself stuck and not moving forward, it’s possible that you have some sort of internal (and possibly unconscious) barrier keeping you from moving forward.

The neuroscientist Dr. David Rock uses the acronym SCARF to help demonstrate the social needs of the brain that lead to either a reward or threat. Dr. Rock’s work demonstrates that every human brain has a need for the following five elements: (though the degree of need is different in each person)

S – Status, the relative degree of importance to others.
C – Certainty, ability to know and predict the future
A – Autonomy, sense of control over events
R – Relatedness, sense of belonging and safety with others
F – Fairness, fair exchanges between people

Leadership is often thought of as external to oneself. It’s thought of as inspiring others to take action, rallying the troops toward some positive outcome. While it’s true, strong leaders do inspire and mobilize people, the secret to their success isn’t in their charisma (though that certainly can help) but rather in their ability to be seen, fully and authentically. True authentic leadership starts in a quiet place, a reflective place, a spiritual place. The leadership that has a lasting impact, involves a deep understanding and inner knowing and the ability to say yes, even when fear grips us and encourages us to run the other way.

Nearly every leader I’ve worked with, especially those of us with a servant’s heart, come to this work wounded and afraid. For these leaders, leadership development involves examining those fears and developing the courage and willingness to say “yes” regardless of how crippling it may seem. By leveraging frameworks, such as the SCARF model, leaders learn that they are not alone, that their fear is common and that there is a process to move past it. It is during this humble inquiry that leaders learn to listen to discern the voice of the Divine from the years of negative programming that for many of us, gets in our way.

The next time you find yourself feeling stuck, or perhaps afraid, ask yourself “what might be happening in my brain that is causing me to feel threatened?” Perhaps you’ve received some unsolicited or critical advice (Status), perhaps you are feeling confused about the way forward or things seem to ambiguous (certainty), maybe things around you are too rigid and you feel you are being micro-managed (autonomy) or you don’t seem connected to those around you, or you are missing community (relatedness), or maybe there is a lack of ground rules or you find that there is unequal treatment.

By leveraging the SCARF model, you can begin to notice patterns for yourself and discover what might be getting in the way of your ability to move toward action and inspire and motivate those to follow your vision.

The SCARF is just one brief example of the many tools and frameworks we explore in the ELA program. During the Emergence Leadership Academy, we spend time defining our personal leadership, examining our strengths and challenging ourselves to reframe the “old tapes.” Through personal and group accountability and simply realizing we’re not alone (every leader is always their own worst enemy) fear begins to shift into empowerment and courage into strength. Leaders find their voice, gain the strength to be seen, and begin to truly practice saying yes.