In our second book article we have shown that for an optimal “functioning” and thus also for a positive state of the human brain, fearlessness, positive emotion, relationship and purpose are fundamental conditions. This knowledge has significant implications for dealing with change and transformations in companies.

There are many misconceptions and false assumptions about change, such as that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail - a misconception - there is no study that even comes close to proving this[1]. One misconception is that resistance is the typical response to change. Then, the conclusion is often that this resistance must be “broken” or at least that one must intensively devote oneself to the resistance.

From a neuroscientific point of view, however, the topic is about dealing with what has been learned and changing habits. This has nothing to do with resistance, but with patterns, with learned habits. It’s a normal, “healthy” reaction. If something has worked in the past, why change it? To put it simply: Why should I get up with my right foot in the morning if it has worked so far with my left foot?

Change Management - New thinking and practice

Looking at the issue from a neuroscientific point of view, from the perspective of those who want to see change in other people, it is a question of creating the appropriate framework conditions so that patterns, learned habits can be changed.

Thus, the focus of the first step is to serve the 4 factors fearlessness, positive emotion, relationship and purpose. The aim is to create an environment that allows people to move forward. Then the “resistance” dissolves. This view and approach is not only much more effective, but is also experienced by leaders as very liberating, since it allows and enables a positive approach and action.

What can a leader do?

Enabling fearlessness - It is also a misconception that people will not change if there is no sense of urgency. Here, too, the study shows that this is not the case. Consequently, managers do not need to focus on the urgency and negative consequences of a not changing. This creates fears and anxieties. Instead, one can concentrate fully on the positive future. Leaders can identify opportunities and possibilities and help team members with finding the right path.

Create positive emotions - be confident - always, discuss opportunities - listen and understand concerns, then focus on the positive. “We can do it! “Creating and discovering success - there is nothing more motivating than success. These are the maxims for a leader in change.

That doesn’t mean being naive and ignoring mistakes. Managers must be able to distinguish between right mistakes (which have created a learning opportunity) and wrong mistakes (e.g. not following a proven procedure out of laziness). (More on this topic in one of the next articles).

Enable and build relationships - engage and help team members build positive relationships. One task is to actively and consciously promote the formation of relationships. This also means that a leader builds positive relationships with team members holistically (as a person, not just as a leader).

Showing purpose - helping team members to see the purpose overall and for their work. This is often new territory and goes far beyond the classic understanding of leadership. To bring the “why” closer and to connect it with the individual context, leader often need support with doing this.


Here are some examples of successful activities that we have already found in companies:

  • Freedom from Anxiety
    • Listen!
    • Ask what a solution might look like
    • Teach mindfulness exercises
    • Identify possibilities and help to find the way forward.
    • Communicate the things that will remain the same.
    • Protect against the culture of finger pointing through the hierarchy.
  • Positive emotions
    • Always be confident - focus on opportunities, assume feasibility - “We can do it!”.
    • Find and celebrate successes
    • Generate results
    • Communicate contributions
    • Encourage
    • Find the positive in failure
  • Relationships
    • Personal commitment
    • Help people with building relationships
    • Create networking opportunities
    • Encourage people from other teams to meet
    • Teach how to build relationships, how to build bridges
    • Be approachable as a person
  • Purpose, Meaning
    • Communicate purpose, intention and vision with the change
    • Develop a Purpose Statement
    • Create relevance of work - adapt roles and responsibilities, enable flexibility

What can the leaders do for herself?

In order to be able to work with team members accordingly, a leader must come into the appropriate state. This raises the question of how a person can bring herself into such a positive state. Some very helpful practices have already emerged in the areas of “emotional intelligence” and “dealing with ambiguity”.

Fearlessness - Attention exercises that put one’s own situation in a broader context. Reduce one’s own fear reflexes and reactions, become aware of one’s own fears, reflect on these and question them. Learn how to deal with ambiguity.

Positive Emotion - Practice! Write down positive experiences at the end of the day. Also, the question “What is the good side of a particular problem?” is helpful. Finding and celebrating success with the team.

Relationship - Build networks, promote exchange, bring people together and build bridges. Build relationships herself, out of interest (not as a method) in people.

Purpose - To (repeatedly) ask and answer the question of the purpose of one’s own actions, both personally and with regards to one’s own contribution to the purpose of the organization. Work out the contribution and purpose of your own team - ideally with the team.

[1] Reconsidering Change Management Applying Evidence-Based Insights in Change Management Practice - Routledge Studies in Organizational Change & Development - Steven ten Have,‎ Wouter ten Have,‎ Anne-Bregje Huijsmans,‎ Maarten Otto