Change or chaos?

Originally, I had planned to write a post today about change and how to cope with it both as a leader and as someone on the receiving end of change for which they feel unprepared. I had intended to reference the excellent course on change management that I attended some years ago and to discuss the merits of the SCARF model1. If you don’t know what that is, the acronym refers to a framework by which it’s possible to understand people’s responses to change – and therefore how to make the process of change easier and more positive.

SCARF stands for Status (because we feel threatened if we perceive our status to be reduced), Certainty (because uncertainty about the future leads us to make mistakes), Autonomy (because if we don’t feel as if we have a choice, that puts us under increased stress), Relatedness (because if we don’t feel we belong, then we don’t trust people and situations) and Fairness (because we feel threatened if we believe we are not being treated fairly).

One of the reasons I wanted to write about change was because I met someone last week who is about to start a new role and it got me thinking about my own experiences of being a ‘new starter’ in a role or organisation. I had intended to share some words of wisdom about how to get through those first days and weeks and end on a generally encouraging note.

But over the past few days we’ve been exposed to change of a most radical kind and when you look at it through the lens of the SCARF framework, doesn’t it feel as though the new President of the US has got just about everything the wrong way round?  Whatever your views* on the rights and wrongs of the executive order he signed banning entry to the US for refugees for 120 days (and an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria) as well as all immigrants and visa holders from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Syria for 90 days, don’t you feel that the way it was done is also a huge part of the issue?

In leadership terms, the first 100 days of any new CEO are vitally important, a time when the leader sets the direction for his or her tenure and it’s clear that the intention here is to signal strong leadership. Yet, quite aside from the moral and ethical questions associated with his current approach, what we’re actually seeing here is an example of how not to lead any organisation. Directives are unclear and poorly thought through, executives who are supposed to implement them don’t appear to have a clear understanding of their instructions, and huge damage is being inflicted upon the reputation of the organisation itself. This is not how to manage change. This is how to create chaos. Then again, perhaps that was the intention.




  1. The original SCARF paper was published in 2008 by Dr David Rock in NeuroLeadership Journal issue one.

*For the record, I’m one of the more than 1,646,055 people who have to date signed the petition calling for the proposed Trump state visit to be downgraded. And I’ve revised that number upwards four times in the last few minutes.

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