Do Curious Leaders Manage Change More Effectively?

Do curious leaders manage relationships, and therefore change, more effectively?

I am a curious leader, and I reflect daily and journal on various situations I encounter to understand how I might become better at what I do and, more importantly, who I might become. It is a trait first taught in my student years in the mid-1970s, which I then developed and polished over successive years.

During my reflections, managing change is something that preoccupies me often, as it is the main common thread that unites my clients, and they are drawn from public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. Hold that thought!

My World View

I am also a fan of the philosopher Theodore Zeldin and his thinking about being more reflective. He challenges our limited attention spans, our inability to get emotions right, how important the social world is, and how paying more attention to ourselves and others can change how our brains function.

I love a particular quote attributed to Theodore:

“When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way we relate to each other, as we have made in technology?”

I love that sentiment, as I regularly encounter through my clients, their partners and competitors power and control as two abiding maxims, rather than a more collaborative relationship approach.

Better understanding our relationships are critical to that breakthrough.

What I know is that a more critical reflection on our relationships leads to better understanding our experiences, and therefore, to more choices, especially in change scenarios.

From my experience, those choices shift the balance of power in the relationship and equalise the opportunities available to all parties.

To help my clients, I use and advocate a tool from the work of David Rock, known as the SCARF technique, which he designed to help improve the way people work together.

The SCARF Model

In essence, David’s model enables you to consider your current and future relationships from these perspectives:

  • Status – What is your perception of where you are concerning others? A perceived improvement in status lights up your brain more than a monetary reward, as does feedback.
  • Certainty – Your brain is a certainty creating machine always trying to predict what’s going to happen next. Removing ambiguity as much as possible reduces threat signals to you and your team, or organisation.
  • Autonomy – People need to know they have choices, even if they are limited. No perceived or real choice equates to high stress, no control, and no autonomy. Autonomy relates to regaining control, with stress dropping dramatically.
  • Relatedness – Our brain perceives people we’ve not connected with as threats. Once we link with others, we generate a perception of friend rather than foe, enabling us to move more quickly to ‘common ground.’
  • Fairness – A fair exchange activates a reward experience, and an unfair trade activates a danger response. Best advice: treat people with fairness by being more transparent than may seem needed.

Benefits to You and Your Team, Organisation, or Clients

As a tool, SCARF offers my clients three particular advantages:

  1. It provides a framework for helping their internal thinking become more potent in driving forward behaviour that delivers results.
  2. It helps them to minimise business threat.
  3. It helps them to maximise business reward.

Not applying the SCARF principles can also lead to a series of manager missteps, and these can, in many cases, be easily avoided or remedied.

I know from years of experience that most, if not all, change plans rarely survive their first encounter with people, at whatever level of an organisation. I also know that often an understanding of the relationship aspects of those change scenarios features low down the order for consideration.

What to do now?

I advocate making relationships much more central to your thinking and taking the time to be more curious about them, even so far as employing a technique like SCARF to underpin your research and thinking. When I shared the method recently with a client who leads a rapidly-growing social media company, he reported later how astonished he was at the impact for him and his business.

I would urge you to consider taking that same step — are you curious enough to make it?

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