The SCARF model was developed by neuroscientists to frame and address the responses of threat and reward.

Research and findings in social neuroscience, and the potential negative response in challenging situations, has resulted in practical, impactful and sustainable solutions. These are more relevant now than ever before.

These studies reveal that the body’s neurological, physical and emotional responses when facing a life or death situation, or when under other forms of physical threat, are similarly experienced when our personal or professional lives are under sudden, heightened and/or extended degrees of change or stress.

This model comprises of 5 domains which are listed below indicating how they specifically relate to the COVID-19 threat that we are currently experiencing.


This is our perceived position in relation to others in terms of importance. This can be impacted in various ways during COVID-19:

  • losing our position of influence
  • being unable to assert our status when working remotely
  • by not having all the aspects and representations of status present as we would have in our normal work scenario.


This is defined as our ability to predict our immediate future. This is impacted by various factors, such as uncertainty about our jobs, the economy and how the well-being and that of our families will be affected by this.

There is little or no clarity of how long this will carry on for and what our world will be like when this eventually passes.


Autonomy is our ability to make our own choices and to be in control. This is severally felt by the lockdown and associated restrictions that were not of our to choosing.

  • How are our choices and freedom reduced due to these restrictions?
  • What can we do to improve each of our situations?
  • Having not chosen this we can easily feel like victims.


This reflects how we value the acceptance of ourselves by others as well as our sense of connection with and being part of one or more groups. Being socially distant can lead to being isolated. However, every person can potentially be a threat of infection for us and us in turn for them.

  • Will we be accepted by others if we become sick?
  • What can we do to keep our sense of connection with others – particularly if we are remote from some of our loved ones during this time?


Each one of us is affected differently by this. Some businesses have increased sales due to the epidemic. Some will not survive and many will struggle.

  • Is this fair?
  • Am I losing my livelihood because of anything that I have done or mistakes made by me?
  • How can something that started on the other side of the planet so negatively and profoundly affect my life?

In the future, successful and significant leaders will be highly aware of how they are influencing the brain function and chemistry of others. We share this framework of future leadership which gives stakeholders a heightened sense of awareness of how they act and the influence this has on others, which in turn will increase the social awareness of the group.

Providing insight and understanding of the effects of stress on the brain and how best to introduce and manage change is needed now more than ever.

LAST month, Harvey Weinstein cut a sorry figure in a New York courtroom, dishevelled, handcuffed and in a wheelchair. The once-powerful Hollywood producer was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual misdemeanours that fuelled the global #MeToo movement.

He once again drew attention to the dangers of toxic masculinity.

Consider this, HR refers to workforce requirements as “manpower”. A courageous leader is one having the “balls” to stand alone. Being combatant is often an admired trait. A display of weakness reduces your chances of vertical ascent.

Underlying masculinity breeds a type of a leader that excels in command and control.

Research shows women are set up to lose in this scenario. Many women who do attempt to compete in the masculinity test, putting work ahead of home are often hamstrung since they are also responsible for a disproportionate amount of caregiving and emotional labour, at work and home.

If they wear the proverbial pants and demonstrate the “maleness of power”, it will probably be viewed negatively. A woman who demonstrates decisiveness and is seen as bold often endures perceptions that she is overly ambitious and curt.

Only the ability to lead and motivate others positively should matter.

What does it take to lead?

A tough work ethic, the ability to forgo work-life balance, willingness to put in long hours, dedication to one’s career as well as the ability to motivate by fear characterised by “old school” leaders. However, research shows that the small number of women who occupy corner offices, often possess leadership traits different from those associated with successful men.

A study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that women outscored men on 17 of 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. The ability to balance assertiveness and ambition, lead with empathy, inclusiveness and a willingness to share power and spotlight make women better leaders.

Successful women executives often downplay their contributions to the success and focus more on the contributions of others.

Female executives influence others through empathy. Most successful executives take a collaborative approach to work, leading from behind and helping everyone feel they are relevant and valued stakeholders.

Female executives often take a holistic view of planning. They may be suited to seeing new problems and challenges coming before others do.

Women understand exclusion from experience and can position their interactions to best connect with others. Women who lead successfully also pay attention to how they show up – relateable. They work to make others comfortable.

By sharing power with others, female executives create a results-driven environment without being emotionally draining. Power-sharing also flattens corporate hierarchies, fostering trust, and creating networks of collaboration and communication between teams.

Many aspirant and resident male leaders would do well to reflect on and internalise the distinguishing attributes.

(Published in The Star early edition, 3 April 2020)

How do you detoxify the workplace?

Changing a toxic culture often takes intervention and external perspectives from a qualified leadership coaching company. This does not mean you, in your capacity, can’t make an impact.

Small, meaningful actions done with the right intention can bring about change, even if that change only occurs initially within your immediate circle of influence.

It is important to remember that leadership does not work in isolation. Any positive (or negative) influence will have a ripple effect throughout the organisation and beyond, including the customer experience, supplier relationships and the greater community.

Take positive action!

Here are 4 small and meaningful actions you can take to improve the quality of your leadership influence:

  1. Be the leader you wish you had.
  2. Focus on simple things like politeness, kindness and courtesy.
  3. Constantly check-in with your emotional and mental state so you can recognise the effect you have on others. 
  4. Learn to adapt to what each moment or opportunity needs from you so you can perform at your best.

Leadership, after all, is about serving others.

How do you know if you are a toxic leader?

If you are worried you might be a toxic leader, chances are, you are not one.

Toxic leaders would not question their actions and words, nor would they care about the effect they have on others. They tend to be very inwardly focused because they operate from a place of ego and fear. Neither allows a person to be discerning and reflective.

Detoxing does not happen overnight.

But with compassion, understanding and tolerance, you can shape business and society into something much more sustainable and inclusive.

It all starts with the small things.

Companies eager to please the workforce have ‘templatised’ this vexing question of work-life into a set of deliverable actions – flexible working hours, working from home, Friday bars, generous paternity leave etc.  All of these mask the core issue, isolating work and life as two opposing states of being.  This separation is rather unrealistic when you are plugged in 24/7. 

If you turn one of the deliverable actions on its head, then the flexible working model is essentially designed for the company, you are simply trying to fit in.  What it has achieved is getting people to choose what time to come to work and not balance life in the true sense. 

It is important to understand what your needs are for work-life balance.  Remember, you are paid to work, not to give up your family and life.  The work-life equation is more personal and should not be left to businesses to solve.  Only you know best about the kind of life you want to lead.

The fulcrum of work-life balance is a priority and not conflict. Generally, those who are happier are those who are accepting and pursuing a blended idea of work and life. 

 If one of your priorities is to spend more time with your family, then you need to balance it with engaging in deep work when you are at work or running your business. Learning to prioritise is knowing your path and empowers you to decide what you say yes to and what you say no to. This self-actualisation is a vital part of the work-life balance that keeps you more productive and healthier. 

When you are involved in deep work that is aligned to your priorities, any stress or distractions play second fiddle to the enthusiasm and energy you bring. Moreover focus and flow from knowing your priorities promotes excellence both at work and in life. 

There is increasing awareness in business of the value and imperative of servant-based leadership as a model for building positive, hopeful and collaborative teams, organisations, communities and societies.

This is concomitant with what we define as “Exponential Leadership” which presupposes the proliferation of self-aware leaders with a coaching, agile and inclusive style – moving away from the traditional rigours of “command and control”.

Bizarrely, we find ourselves facing the conundrum where the cry is for new and evolved leaders and yet much of the world is being led by the antithesis.

Many of superpowers have political leaders that are dictatorial, ultra-conservative, bigoted, and, in most instances, militant. They are contributing to the degrees of complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and increasing social polarisation and discord.

What is urgently being called for is consciousness and conscience, authenticity and integrity, empathic vision with a long term strategic view and play.

But what can we do about it?

Firstly, recognize that there are things that we seemingly can’t control or influence and start focusing on what we can. Political values are based on social values which are based on individual values.

Accordingly, let us begin to positively change individual values starting with our own. Through our metamorphosis of character and the way in which we show up and do what we do, we can impart and impute the exemplification of excellence in action.

This may be a lonely and challenging road less travelled, but as we remain steadfast to our cause and not deviate from our inner compass, we will discover people of similar heart and mind who share our propensity for creating a more inclusive, generous and values-based society that is sustainably prosperous in all aspects of life.

So whilst we commence by standing alone, we contribute to a positive contagion of standing alone, together.

Nobody said it was going to be easy, or be smooth sailing, or that success was guaranteed.

There are hundreds of thousands of books in the world covering topics such as business, entrepreneurship, success, power, wealth, leadership, influence, branding, and marketing.

The resources that are available and the access to information are abundant and instant. Social media platforms have made global networking easy and convenient. If there is a question, there is certainly an answer; if there is a problem, there is a solution to be found. And yet, despite all of this, there are still major challenges faced by entrepreneurs and business owners.

At the start of any initiative, be it training for a marathon, birthing a new business venture or deciding to get engaged, there tends to be an air of positivity and hopefulness – otherwise, why would one even begin? Excitement, even though a positive emotion, can cause a number of blind spots.

Let’s explore this for a moment.

Michael is training for an ultramarathon; a gruelling 100km trail run along the remote terrain of the Witteberg Mountain range. It is the toughest trail run in South Africa. Runners are expected to navigate the trail themselves with the aid of a map, a compass or a GPS unit. There are no refuelling points along the way to fill up on food and water, so each runner must take a full supply of what they need to sustain themselves whilst taking note of how additional weight will affect endurance levels. They are also running at a height of between 2200-2500 meters above sea level.

In preparation for this, he has spent the last 9 months working closely with sports nutritionists, performance coaches, trainers and previous ultramarathon winners. He also has past experience to assist him, having a huge passion for endurance sport since he was a child having spent the greater part of his teen years at competitions and races across the country. He is fit – mentally, emotionally and physically – and ready to pursue his dream of finishing this race.

The race starts at 4am and the participants have 30 hours to complete the race. With the best intentions and armed with a positive mind-set, Michael starts off well and continues strong for the first 25km. After the 30km mark he starts to notice a pain in his shin and a cramp developing in his shoulder from a previous injury. This slows him down substantially but he carries on. A few more kilometres into the race he slips on some rocks and falls hard on his hands and knees. This further aggravates his injuries. During the fall, one of his water canisters crack and he loses half of his water supply.

The race has now become more of a mental challenge for him as he struggles just to keep pace.

A sense of hopelessness and despondency start to rear up and he realises how alone he is out in the wilderness. There is no one else around him. It’s just him and the cold mountains. He knows that the finish line is over 40km away and with very little water left, blisters on his feet, a sharp pain in his leg and a heavy feeling of breathlessness from the lack of oxygen, he sits down on the cold gravelled ground and puts his head in his hands.

It’s at this point where one can justify reasons to give up. Sometimes things are just not worth the pain, struggle and hardship. The alternatives always look more appealing and becoming seduced by them is easy. As he sits there, he can feel his heart pounding, his ears ringing and his muscles throbbing. In this moment he takes a deep breath and remembers the reason he started this journey: to embrace the adventure that is life.

Manage expectations

At what point did you think it was ever going to be easy?

Things will get tough. There may be a time of prosperity and there may be a time of recession, nothing can be guaranteed. What makes the difference between a pro-sportsperson, a great entrepreneur or a business leader and the rest is their resilience and absolute tenacity to see through the struggles and trials, no matter what. The key is not to fall into any illusions of security or predictability.

Redefine things

What does success look like for you?

The way to rise above any situation is to reframe the thoughts and language around it. Emotions are, after all, just a physical response to a story created in the mind.

If your idea of success is just about being ahead of others, you will definitely not explore the full potential of who you are.

Let it go

When things get hard, (and they will) how will you keep your head above the water?

Learn the art of detachment. Detachment does not mean carelessness or not being fully present. It means not obsessing or holding on too tight. Have a plan and a goal and then let it go so that there is room for adaptability and agility; two things that are essential to survival in today’s world.

And above all else, just keep going!