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The NLI SCARF Model: Understanding Your Social Motivation

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

Consciously or not, when we interact with someone, we either meeting their social needs or depriving them which leads to either uplifts and motivates them or causes them to withdraw and shutdown.

The same way when we know our social motivation. Whenever our social needs are met, it can be rewarding or a form of threat to us. For leaders, it is also helpful to increase their employees motivation and engagement.

NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) introduces the SCARF Model. The SCARF Model assesses the differences in people's social motivation. Some people are more sensitive to status threat and rewards, others to certainty and relatedness (The SCARF Assessment, NeuroLeadership Institute). When their social needs are met, it gives them a sense of motivation, empowerment and the drive to move further. While not paying attention to it leads to threat resulting to demotivation, disengagement and withdrawal

Over a decade ago, NLI identified five such domains in humans' social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness - and this is what SCARF stands for.


NLI defines Status as the drive we feel to stand out from the crowd. When we share our new ideas and receive credit for jobs well done, status is that glow of importance and value we're looking for (5 Ways to Spark or Destroy Your Employees' Motivation, NeuroLeadership Institute).

For people with high sensitivity to Status, knowing that their ideas are heard and receiving credits from it gives them a sense of fulfillment and the courage to do more. If they are discredited or someone owns the credit due for them, it becoming a threat which may result to discouragement, loss of motivation and to look for a way to be part of a group that values their ideas and be affirmed of it.

What do you think makes you feel to stand out from the crowd? Do you think you are naturally competitive? How would you react if someone takes credit of the ideas or things that you've done?


Humans need certainty in things, we need to know what's going on. For people with high score in Certainty, they like things planned well in advance. They don't like last minute changes. When things done last minute or always in a rush, they may tend to be stressed out, losing focus and direction.

They also need clarity in their roles and responsibilities.

How do you respond to last minute changes? How do you want your roles and responsibilities shared to you? How confident are you when you don't see certainties in the things you are doing?


Autonomy is about having a sense of control over the work we do and the decisions we make. People who has high sensitivity to Autonomy needs trust that they can do their work on their own, they don't like being micro-managed. When this becomes a threat, there is a tendency to loss motivation and low performance output.

What is your take about micromanagement? How productive are you when you are given the autonomy to do things?


NLI defined Relatedness as the sense that we belong - that we're in the in-group. There's a sense of need to become part of a group, making an effort socially and hate when others don't. People with high sensitivity to Relatedness find it easy to connect with others and love doing things that make others feel important and special. A threat for them is being excluded from a group or losing the sense of belongingness.


Humans innately want to feel a sense of equity and equality in social interactions. People with high sensitivity to Fairness may hate someone who cheats the system. People should be treated fairly as well as systems/laws should be followed strictly.

Get a glimpse of the SCARF Model in this short video by Neuro Leadership Institute (NLI):

Wanna know your sensitivity to SCARF? Take the SCARF Assessment now through

Don't forget to share your results in the comments section!

And oh.. as an assignment, if you have your CliftonStrengths results, discover how your CliftonStrengths results can correlate with your SCARF results... Interesting, is it?

I will share mine on my next post!


The SCARF Assessment. Neuro Leadership Institute.

5 Ways to Spark (or Destroy) Your Employees' Motivation.

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