Leading With the Brain in Mind

November 25, 2011 Simon Leadership Development

In October I wrote an article introducing the SCARF model that has been developed by Dr David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute. Today, I’d like to take the concept further by exploring some of the key activities that might provide a threat stimulus and therefore, an away reaction versus those that provide a reward stimulus and therefore, a toward reaction. As you will see, these same factors also enable us to identify some of the differences between managing and leading.

Commanding Others versus Inspiring Others
Managers tend to get the job done by using command skills. This works, as well deployed command skills will often deliver excellent results. However, command skills also tend to create a threat stimulus that will lead to staff members not feeling empowered nor willing to take ownership of problems, volunteer ideas or make independent decisions. The leadership approach is to inspire others to do all of these things while also remaining focused on the delivery of results.

Task focused versus Vision Focused
Leading on from this, managers deploying command skills will often find themselves focusing on tasks which even if not deemed as micro-managing, will lead to staff members feeling neither empowered nor trusted. The leadership approach is to focus less on tasks and more on ensuring staff members are engaged around the vision, empowering and trusting them to perform tasks to the best of their ability and therefore, deliver the required results.  

Providing Direction versus Providing Context
A manager will often explain to people precisely what they want done and how they want it to be done. Again, this is likely to create a threat stimulus via a lack of autonomy. A leader will focus more on informing people about the bigger picture and why something needs to be done while allowing an appropriate level of freedom in working out how it needs to be done.

Being in the middle of the work versus being above the work
A natural consequence of a manager deploying command skills, focusing on tasks and providing clear direction is that they need to be closely involved in day-to-day activities – in the thick of things. A leader who is empowering their staff through vision and context is able to be more detached from the day-to-day activities, focusing their own efforts on planning and enabling activities.

Trusting Self versus Trusting Others
Typically, a manager will primarily trust themselves which in part, is what lies behind the need to command rather than lead. In this context, it is not surprising that staff will not feel trusted or empowered. One of the things that leaders do really well is to trust the people that they lead, albeit there remains a need to trust people in line with their capability or skill level.

The above set is not an exhaustive list. One can look at any number of differentiators between management and leadership and invariably, the former will have a tendency to create a threat stimulus around the SCARF factors whereas the latter will tend to create a reward stimulus. Scholars, consultants and authors in this field have spent years trying to explain the difference between managing and leading. The latest advancements in neuroscience now provide some compelling evidence to support what many of us have being evangelizing for a while – management gets the job done but in the process, it tends to create a strained working environment whereas leadership gets the job done while creating a highly engaged working environment.

The message from me is clear – try to lead more so that you can manage less!

See you at the top :)

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Leadership, Leadership Development, leadership motivation, leading versus managing, SCARF,

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