Bill Benjamin

How can a SCARF help Robin change?

In HIJACKED Episode #3, we see Robin further undermining his own leadership by micromanaging his team. What impact does this have? When people feel they are being micromanaged, they don’t feel trusted. When people don’t feel trusted, they disengage, stop taking risks, and often become micromanagers themselves, which creates a culture of mistrust.

Clearly Robin needs to change his behavior and approach, but if you were his manager, how would you coach him? In our All Change is Personal program, we help leaders understand how to get to the underlying emotional needs that affect people when they are going through change, and we teach how a leader can leverage those needs to coach the person to navigate through the change process.

In Robin’s case, it’s a personal development change that’s needed (which can be the hardest type of change that many people need to go through). But how can we identify his driving emotional needs? For this, we leverage David Rock’s excellent SCARF model. The SCARF model identifies key emotional drivers that we all have, and how those impact our response to change:

  • Status – Will I be seen as competent in this change?
  • Certainty – Do I know what the future holds for me?
  • Autonomy – Do I have control and choice in this change?
  • Relatedness – Do I feel a connected or isolated in this change?
  • Fairness – Am I being treated fairly in this change effort?

Let’s look at which of these five emotional needs might apply to coaching Robin to change his behavior. It would seem that appearing competent is very important to Robin. This is often a critical need for people who work in highly analytical and technical fields. At the beginning of their career, their technical competence is what allowed them to excel, so it would make sense that they would think that would also be important to them as a leader. The challenge is that when it comes to the qualities that people admire in a leader, technical competence is low on the list (provided the person has a minimum threshold competence).

Coaching Robin could involve helping him to recognize that his competence as a leader is not based on being the smartest person or having all the right answers. If he wants to demonstrate his ability as a leader, then he needs to work on his Emotional Intelligence related qualities. Robin can also be coached to recognize that as an individual contributor, his success was based on how well he did his job. But as a leader, his success is now dependent on others, and they have the same needs (i.e. they want to feel competent too). Robin needs to find a way to allow others to be successful.

The second of the SCARF needs that may drive Robin’s behavior is autonomy. He has a very directive style, which is often a sign of someone who has a high need for control. This is a very challenging quality to coach someone around, because they are often not even aware that they are showing up this way. Taking control and being directive is likely the way they have always operated and it has worked for them up until now.

The coaching that could be offered to Robin is to turn his behaviors around on him. Have him imagine how he would feel if someone was constantly telling him what to do and assuming they were always right, especially if it was his boss.

The reality though is that if we were Robin’s manager, we don’t really know what emotional needs drive his behavior. How would we find out? True coaching involves asking good probing questions and really listening for the SCARF emotional needs. In fact, Robin himself may not be aware of what needs are driving his behavior, so a great coach would help him see that for himself. John Kotter from the Harvard Business School in his book “The Heart of Change” said:

“People change what they do less because they are shown an analysis that shifts their thinking, than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings”.

In order to influence people to change, or to be able to deal with change, we need to help them understand the needs that impact them when they go through change. The SCARF model is a great way to think about how people are impacted.

Where can you start? Start with yourself. When you are dealing with a change or being asked to make a change (either organizationally or personally), which of the SCARF needs affect you? If you can bring awareness to your own needs, then you will be much better at coaching others the deal with theirs. And more importantly, it allows you to model the thinking and behavior you want to see in others. As Einstein said:

“Leading by example is not the main means of influencing people, it’s the only means”.

So if you want to help lead teams through change and coach people to make their own personal changes by recognizing their SCARF needs, start with yourself!

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