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How to Use Neuroscience to Be a Better Manager

The day you become a manager, you transition into an entirely different career.

Now, you don’t do the work yourself—you have to influence people. Now, everything you do and say has an impact on the people you supervise. Everyone’s looking to you to set the tone and provide the direction. That can be a scary place.

Fortunately, understanding some very basic neuroscience does wonders for increasing your effectiveness at management. If you ask me, every new manager—and every seasoned manager who’s doing a terrible job—should start by understanding the SCARF model and its implications for management.

The Power of Employee Forecasting

If the company is the bus and its leader is the driver, as Jim Collins’s famous analogy states, then it stands to reason that when the bus is moving, the driver should mostly be looking out the windshield (toward the future) rather than consulting the rear-view mirror.

Yet I still see many CEOs who attempt rear-view leadership. They collect historical business intelligence, sometimes very sophisticated, from across the organization and try to glimpse the road ahead by examining what’s already happened.

Despite these data-interpretation efforts, rear-view leaders are frequently blindsided by new developments from inside their own companies. Sales, marketing, finance, IT, and other departments produce more and more information, but the CEO struggles to separate the signal from the noise. He or she sees plenty of numbers, but what they mean about future performance remains cloudy.

Becoming a full-time Chief Executive Data Analyzer isn’t the solution. Looking to historical information for insight has its place, but those insights are best mined by the functional leaders with the appropriate expertise and perspective—not the CEO. Instead of squinting into the rear-view mirror, the CEO has to look up and ahead.

How to Not Get Fired As CEO

CEOs fail at an alarming rate. Dan Ciampa has found that two out of five new CEOs fail in the first 18 months, for example. And Sequoia Capital has said that 45 percent of founding CEOs in their investments are fired in 18 months.