Fear Can Bring Out the Best And The Worst

Fred MillerThe ’80s and the ’90s were a time marked by organizational and individual fear. Businesses were transforming from companies that specialized in manufacturing and processing into ones that were built on service and solutions. As downsizing and outsourcing made certain skills obsolete and bred fear in an apprehensive workforce, organizations themselves were afraid for their very survival. Even now as we enter the 21st Century and potentially an era of unprecedented possibilities there is a residual fear from this period that still resides within organizations and their people. As with any strong emotion, fear can either have a positive or negative effect on the person experiencing it. There is a part of fear, born of anxiety, which imbues us with adrenaline and motivates us to remain focused and do our best work. Conversely, there is a part of fear that immobilizes us, freezes us in place and prevents us from making decisions or changes that are often of critical importance.

As I travel from organization to organization the collective caveat I am hearing from people of all generations, but especially the Boomers, is “I better stay where I am because it is bad everywhere.” Whereas the familiar adage declares that the grass is always greener on the other side, the overwhelming sense among people is that the grass is greener right where they are. The problem is that despite a complete reversal of a tried and true axiom the former is not true, and neither is the latter. There will always be better organizations than where you are and there will always be worse organizations than where you are. The challenge for each individual is not to be restricted or stopped by fear and indecision, but instead to have the courage to explore and find the right organization, one that appreciates your unique talents and allows you to do your best work; a place that truly is greener for you.

Many people though are too afraid to take that first step towards greener pastures. Many boomers are hesitant to make a move because they are fearful that no organization would hire someone in their late 40s or 50s or 60s. Members of Generation X and Y are not as afraid of change; however, they sometimes lack the necessary experience to recognize the difference between healthy and productive change and change that is made simply for the sake of change.

It is encouraging to see organizations beginning to value the repository of knowledge and experience Boomers can bring with them to a new position in a new company. Likewise, it is encouraging to see organizations working hard to show Gen X and Gen Y that the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else. This is a time for change, flexibility and exploration, but to this I attach a note of caution. While movement for the sake of movement is a waste, not moving for the sake of not moving is also a waste.