Leadership in Action – The Science of Certainty


This is the second of five blogs that cover the potential triggers in the workplace that make up the SCARF model (NeuroLeadership Institute). SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. When one of these is threatened, an amygdala hijack is likely. Today’s focus is Certainty, and we provide effective Connecting the Dots methods to use with your staff – instead of scarfing them.

Certainty is a firm conviction of the future. In the work environment, certainty connects staff to a predictable future. As leaders, we can threaten that certainty by focusing on the problems at hand and the potential failure of the department if something does not change.

When we are managing, it seems that focusing on the problems at hand is what we are supposed to do. This problem-focus is based on the limiting beliefs of scarcity and perfectionism, the thought being that the true path to success comes from solving all the current problems. This problem-focus fails to realize that a perfect, problem-free organization is an impossibility. Followers quickly recognize the impossibility of the strategy. They disengage their personal energy, as they come to understand that no matter how hard they work, it will not be enough. Since reaching the leader’s goals will never happen, the followers shift to avoiding mistakes or making sure they aren’t being blamed for making a mistake.

We create certainty in our staff by tapping into their teleological nature. Creating vivid pictures of the future engages followers to realize that vision. This approach is consistent with the appreciative inquiry method, where we recognize what is currently working and set plans to expand on the current success. This instills an abundance mentality and helps to create certainty in the organization.

As we connect our staff to our goals, through painting a vivid picture, or vision, of the future, we also want to bring that future closer to reality by articulating a strategy to achieve the vision. This simple cause-and-effect path helps the staff see how they can contribute to achieving the vision. The effective leader then reinforces current actions that are already moving the department towards this vision. Followers see where their individual effort will make a difference and they engage their discretionary energy in the pursuit of realizing the organization’s vision. This, in turn, drives more proactive and innovative actions by the staff.

As a leader, Connect the Dots and create Certainty by articulating a vivid image of the future, the strategy to achieve it, and how each person can contribute to the successful achievement of the vision.