Donna Rae Smith: Combatting fear of change can benefit you and your business

Fear. We all know what it feels like: The rising sensation that you might not be strong enough for what you’re about to face. Unlike in nature, where animals can quickly size up their likelihood of survival, our ability to recognize a threat and weigh our chances isn’t always so refined. In the business world, leaders often flee when what they really need to do is move forward.

Ego is also at play. Leaders often choose to stick with the plan, even when it isn’t working, rather than make changes and risk the consequences.

This isn’t a new phenomenon and yet the cost of fear is constantly rising. We live in a world where the pace of change is ever accelerating and the future is difficult to predict. As leaders, we’re often forced to make decisions without all the information we want or need — and yet timely action is a must.

What’s required is agility and confidence — the ability to look change in the face, decide how to act and move boldly in that direction. Leaders who wallow in fear get stuck in place. They suffer from “analysis paralysis” — waiting so long to make decisions that it’s too late to act. In order to be effective, leaders must push past the paralysis and be willing to take risks and face change head-on.

Here are a few ways to begin the process of breaking through the fear of change:

Admit you don’t know everything

The CEO of Manco, Jack Kahl, used to have a famous Socrates quote on his door: “I know one thing, that I know nothing.” Jack set the tone for the organization by continually driving home the message that everyone, beginning with him, was to be constantly learning, experimenting and improving. 


Start mild before wild

Risk-averse businesses don’t have to go from zero to 60 overnight. They can begin by identifying mild strategies for increasing their risk exposure and move on as they become more comfortable.

The key is this: Whatever change you make, it has to be observably different. You must define in advance the impact you’re seeking to achieve so that you can measure whether you reached it. If you’re the only one who can see or feel the change, it isn’t significant enough. In order to accelerate results, your action must be observable to other people.


Question your motives

Even when teams or companies are in trouble, processes that are no longer doing any good are held on to. This happens because leaders want to prove that they’re right, rather than experiment with something new. If you find yourself continuing to push stale processes, ask yourself why.


Try on different lenses

No two people see the world in exactly the same way. As comfortable as we get seeing things our own way, the fact is we need to seek out the perspectives of others. Great innovations and change initiatives have begun precisely that way — when the circle of ideas was expanded to include people who might not otherwise have been consulted.


The ability to respond effectively in the face of change is a learned habit. And like any habit, it requires consistent practice over time to take root. Take the first step by experimenting with these strategies. Over time, your agility and confidence in the face of fear will undoubtedly grow.


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the worlds most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Smith at [email protected].


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