Is Your Leadership Model ‘Sticky’ in People’s Minds?

wand for honey

Authored by

NLI Staff
The NeuroLeadership Institute's new "Idea Report" highlights the importance of leadership models being "sticky" in the brain. Now think: Is yours?

Why is it that you can remember certain people’s names and not others? Or all seven dwarves in Snow White and all eight of Santa’s reindeer, but not a simple shopping list?

It’s largely because the former lists are “stickier” than the latter. That is, they work with the brain’s capacity for memory, rather than against it. Generally speaking, research on memory has shown that people can remember words and phrases that preserve mental resources, such as with simplicity, rhyming, or color choice.

NLI’s research on creating brain-friendly leadership models has found this stickiness to be essential. According to our data, organizations whose models burden their employees’ brains with complexity almost ensure the models will go unused. Meanwhile, models that “stuck” in people’s minds were more likely to get employed on a regular basis.

Conventional wisdom versus research

In many ways, stickiness subverts what leaders tend to believe about effective models. Leaders often think that by creating as exhaustive a framework as possible, they’ll ensure nothing will get left out. This stems from their sense of loss aversion. At the risk of being incomplete, they over-correct and become too thorough.

The great downside is that organizations’ models become enormous and unwieldy. With so many values, principles, and competencies in front of them, employees may just throw their hands up and ask, Where do I even begin?

Going sticky

Getting sticky with leadership models means resisting the temptation to go exhaustive, and instead trying to go essential. As we detail in our “Idea Report,” sticky leadership models distill an organization’s multiply defined competencies and values into just a few words.

Organizations that partner with NLI to develop their own “leadership principles” follow the same approach. We work with leaders to determine core phrases that uphold the larger values of the organization. (In some cases, the practice of determining these phrases becomes a clarifying exercise to establish those values.)

At Microsoft, for example, the principles Create clarity, Generate energy, and Deliver success bolster CEO Satya Nadella’s mission to create an empowered, always-growing culture of “learn-it-alls” not know-it-alls. Since 2016, those principles have “exploded like wildfire” throughout the company.

To learn more about NLI’s research on building brain-friendly leadership models, click the link below and grab your copy of the Idea Report today.

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