With more managers leading remote teams, learning how to create environments (virtually and physically) that elevate emotional intelligence and are psychologically safe must be strategic and authentic. However, leaders cannot develop high emotional intelligence in others if they themselves fail to visibly use it in their actions and relationships.
If you are looking for a little guidance, try David Rock’s SCARF® Model. The domains for SCARF include Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. This brain-based leadership model is great for collaborating with and influencing others, and when coupled with emotional intelligence, can help create a healthy and motivated culture.
Status: Our relative importance to others
Good leaders can help other people feel important. They will not belittle others but allow everyone they manage to feel included. This is key in creating psychologically safe environments, whether it be in the workplace or at home. This allows people to ask questions, learn, contribute, and challenge without losing status. Leaders will be able to provide feedback without team members fearing that there will be negative consequences to their position.
The feedback should be consistent and not delayed until the end of the year reviews. Provide feedback in ways that boost rather than deflate your employee’s status. Also, the feedback should have some level of reciprocity. As a leader, being intentional with checking in with your employees is equally important. This allows them to feel seen and heard and that you as a manager respect them.
Certainty: Our ability to predict the future
We are living in a time with increased unpredictability and uncertainty, so don’t leave your people guessing. It helps to be clear, especially when communicating with those you manage. Uncertainty can trigger the threat circuitry in our brain causing increased anxiety and our fight-flight-or-freeze response. Leaders can offset the threat by having well-defined expectations, sharing vision and goals, and breaking down complex processes into digestible chunks.
For example, a leader being clear with their communication to staff regarding return to office procedures. This can be stating that they’re still in the planning phases for what it would look like for staff to return to the office or if they already have a set plan, it is articulated how the plan was created with the staff in mind. Being direct will help decrease anxiety and uncertainty within the staff. This is a great use of emotional intelligence by addressing the relationship management competency.
Autonomy: Our sense of control
People want to feel independent and competent, regardless of age. Micromanaging does not help but will simply frustrate the individual and can leave them feeling incompetent or with a sense of failure. Creating an atmosphere where you allow others to contribute, take the initiative, and have responsibility can help foster that feeling of autonomy. Doing so will help increase their intrinsic motivation. A lack of autonomy intensifies their lack of control and uncertainty and can increase the threat state which creates feelings of fear and anger. Consequently, it will decrease creativity and insight which will make it difficult for them to work with others.
Relatedness: How safe we feel with others
We work better when we feel we have something in common with others. This can help boost engagement and build team morale. A good leader will work to create a safe environment by finding ways for members to build a good rapport and decrease “othering.” Psychologically we can suffer when experiencing feelings of being “othered.” Modern leaders work to create environments where employees can relate and feel they belong by being effective and attentive listeners. A leader can participate in activities such as eating lunch together, attending retreats, or doing volunteer work together. They can also engage in conversations about non-work-related topics and find ways to include humor within their team.
Fairness: How fair we see exchanges between people to be
Good leaders will take fairness seriously and intentionally implement it within their policies, procedures, and behavior. Fairness speaks to the equity piece within all environments, professionally and personally. Organizations where there is perceived unfairness can create a culture of distrust, low engagement, and less empathy.
Analyze your behavior and decisions in general.
- Do you advocate for fairness or favoritism?
- Do only certain people have privileges and are easily promoted over others?
If so, employees who perceive others as being unfair will feel less empathy towards them and in some instances, will feel rewarded when they are punished.
In the instance of the return to office example, critically analyze the fairness of it.
- Are certain employees able to have a more flexible schedule than others?
- If so, why?
If there’s a good reason one group can work remotely more often than another, take into consideration the flow of certain projects and tasks. Favoring one person or group over another can negatively impact morale, communication, and efficiency.
The brain experiences the workplace first and foremost as a social system and good leaders strive to create spaces that are psychologically safe. Leaders who work to bring their best self to work ideally give permission for others to do the same.
Let’s be clear, each of us is a leader in our own right, whether or not we have it in our title. However, if you manage people, they will emulate what you do. You set the tone, and they will echo that, whether good or bad.
Good leaders want to be effective. This SCARF framework helps to optimize the feeling of reward and lower the threat threshold within yourself and others. It helps not only to manage your team but manage yourself.
Farah Harris is a psychotherapist and the founder and CEO of WorkingWell Daily, a company committed to improving work environments by addressing emotional intelligence, belonging, and well-being.