Jon Pratlett

Jon Pratlett has over two decades of experience, coupled with extensive study and on the ground action, supporting leaders and their teams steward their organisations to transform to their desired state.


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Jon at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon 2000 World Championships - 3.8k Swim, 180k Bike & 42k Run.

Main | Insight/Reminder 1 »

Leading with the Brain in Mind

Having a model to be able to better predict how people are likely to respond to change can serve to modifying a potential threat into a potential. Neuroscience reveals that at least five human motivational needs require consideration and meeting, in order to minimise threat and maximise reward. The importance of each of these needs will vary between individuals and may differ from situation to situation. For example, the need for a high level of certainty about your job, as compared with the unpredictability of a high risk sporting activity in your leisure time.

 The CARER Model, adapted from SCARF (Rock, 2008), is underscored by a mindset of self awareness and awareness of others, and a leadership identity as a CARER rather than a “scarer!”

The CARER Model

                    Minimise Danger                                      Maximise Reward    

Certainty (Predictable)

Autonomy (Discretion)

Relatedness (Bonding)

Equity (Fairness)

Reputation (Status)


Certainty – People generally need to be able to predict what's happening ahead of time. Familiar music is predictable, we anticipate what is coming next and the brain likes that certainty. Leaders can provide certainty by being transparent, providing updates on management decisions, being clear on their expectations and ensuring their team understand how their work contributes to the company’s performance? In most situations, uncertainty creates a threat state.

Google’s HR team have learned from their measuring management performance just how effective certainty, created by consistency, can be.

“We found that, for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.” Laszlo Bock, Human Resource Executive (Bryant, 2013).

Take an organisational restructure, for example, people need to know what's going on. It is important to give people even a small amount of certainty, such as, “I'll get back to you tomorrow morning at nine”. Even if by 9am you have no news, letting people know that gives them more certainty than saying, “I don't know anything, but I'll let you know when I know something” It lets them at least think, “My manager will update me tomorrow. I can let that worry go for now.”

Kevin Rudd announced on July 8th 2013, proposed changes to rules to allow all labor party members a vote to determine the leader of their party. “Today, more than ever Australians demand to know that the prime minister they elected, is the prime minister they get. The Australian public requires that certainty. These changes will give them that certainty.” (In the process, increasing his level of certainty too, no doubt).

Be clear, reassuring, routine, consistent, predictable, regular, transparent, honest, reliable.

Autonomy - Leaders can give people autonomy very simply by allowing people to make choices wherever they can, such as flexibility in work design - in the 'how to' of projects – instead of explicitly explaining how to do things. Even when it comes to a performance review, giving someone a choice of time or venue can may reduce the threat response.

Relatedness – Our evolutionary wiring predisposes us to be social. We can’t do without food, water, shelter and social connection. Mammals are born immature relative to most other animals. Fundamental needs not being met cause pain. Social disconnection activates the brain’s pain circuitry and causes social pain, which on brain scans, shows up in the same area as physical pain. The pain of rejection or exclusion is as real as physical pain and our language reflects that – hurt feelings, broken heart, gutted! 

To minimise pain and maximise reward as leaders, taking a genuine interest in your people, in who they are, their goals and dreams, increases empathy and understanding.

When faced with an in-group and an out-group under your leadership, failure to address such a situation has consequences beyond productivity. As one executive once told a McKinsey consultant, “I have never fired an engineer for bad engineering, but I have fired an engineer for lack of teamwork.” Fail to appreciate the social impact of change on the individual and team, and expect disengagement and disciplinary issues.

Equity (Fairness) - The brain requires fairness both in how the 'self' is treated and how 'others' are treated. The brain quickly puts someone into a threat space if they perceive they are being unfairly treated. It is all about perception, as perception is reality.

Be balanced, consistent, transparent, open, honest, generous.

Reputation (status) – Giving recognition where its due, asking for someone’s opinion, seeking permission on when to provide feedback, providing opportunities for learning and growth, all contribute to meeting this human need and inspiring engagement.

“The acquisition of one’s good reputation robustly activated reward-related brain areas, notably the striatum, and these overlapped with the areas activated by monetary rewards” (Izuma, 2008).

There is both a multiplier effect when more than one of these domains are impinged upon, and an offsetting effect, when one or more are enhanced to make-up for a know deficit in other. “I am wondering whether you would consider becoming a contractor, which means less security, but more money and autonomy.”

Be willing to be wrong, open to correction, generous with acknowledgement, strong on developing others and delegating, flexible.

Don’t put people down, ignore them, be condescending, aloof, arrogant and impatient.


When a number of these 5 social needs are violated, such as an organisational restructure, there is a multiplier effect in terms of increased threat. This can be mitigated in part by engaging people in the process early and asking for, and taking into account their input; acknowledging the potential social impact; keeping them up to date etc. By anticipating the potential CARER impact, a leader can also offset a violation of one or more needs by increasing the fulfilment of another. Although the CARER needs are pretty generic there will be differences in their individual importance.

In summary, this article has hopefully, stimulated your thinking and provided some tips to assist you in collaborating, influencing and persuading those you lead, in more effective and brain friendly ways.


Bryant, A. 2013. Available from: [Accessed June 19 2013].

Izuma, K., Saito, D.N., & Sadato, N. 2008. Processing of Social and Monetary Rewards in the Human Striatum. Neuron, 58, 284-294.

Rock, D. 2008. SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Neuroleadership.

" Working with Jon, the results were amazing. Moral, attitude, mutual respect, understanding and cooperation all improved. Tensions eased. We achieved our stretch income and operational growth objectives. Jon far exceeded my expectations" Mike Parsons. CEO. GE Capital Finance Australia.

Jon is running a two day seminar "Collaborative, Engaging and Influential Leadership - Insights from Neuroscience" in Sydney on Sept. 10th and 11th 2013. Details here.

Interested in learning more about how we can help you, your team and your organisation? Contact Jon Pratlett

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