Fear of Being Left Behind

Barry Goldberg On Leadership

Fear of Being Left Behind
(Leon | Unsplash)

Fear of being left behind is very real in business. It is a topic that comes up often in client meetings. While we are wrestling with the impact of COVID, inflation, a mysterious labor market and political gridlock, the need for reshuffling priorities feels constant and, for some, overwhelming.

The fear of being left behind can manifest in several ways, including a reluctance to invest in new technologies or strategies, a focus on short-term results over long-term growth, and a lack of willingness to take risks or try new approaches. Sometimes, what Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, both members of the adult development faculty at Harvard, called “immunity to change” plays an outsized role in our daily decision making.

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In a business climate that seems to be reinventing itself in ever shorter cycles, it is easy for leaders to become reactive. While the fear of being left behind may be understandable, it can also create risks that can harm business performance. In the end, when we are in a reactive mode, we have only three choices, the same choices all organic matter has when under threat: fight, run or get small. 

To overcome the risks associated with the fear of being left behind, businesses must adopt a proactive approach to innovation and growth. This involves taking calculated risks, investing in new technologies and strategies, and staying focused on the long-term goals of the organization.

Netflix modeled this ability to remain agile under stress. In the early 2000s, the company faced significant challenges as the DVD rental market declined and online streaming services began to emerge. But the company was able to stay ahead of the curve by investing in new technologies and developing a culture of innovation and experimentation. It had to find a new way to fight.

By taking calculated risks and staying focused on the long-term goals of the organization, Netflix was able to transform itself from a DVD rental service into a leading provider of streaming video content. If it had only been able to see itself as a mail-order company, it would have gone out of business. 

Unless your organization has an ability to go underground and wait it out, the most likely strategy for keeping up with market changes and conditions is to lean in — but with brains rather than bravado.

Embrace change: Leaders must be willing to embrace change and take calculated risks to stay ahead of the curve. This involves investing in new technologies and strategies, exploring new markets and opportunities, and being open to new ideas and approaches.

Foster a culture of innovation: A culture of innovation and experimentation that encourages employees to think creatively and develop new ideas is much more likely to provide a game-changing idea than doubling down on a nose-to-the-grindstone approach. This involves providing resources and support for research and development and creating a culture that values experimentation and risk-taking.

Focus on the long term: Focusing on the long-term goals of the organization, even in the face of short-term challenges or setbacks, involves avoiding short-term thinking.

Make critical decisions in a way that keeps them aligned with the organization’s long-term vision and strategy.

Stay agile and responsive: Market conditions and consumer preferences change with the proverbial wind. Remaining agile involves staying informed about emerging trends and technologies and being willing to adapt quickly to new developments.

Celebrate successes and recognize employees who contribute to the organization’s success. This involves creating a culture of appreciation and recognition in which employees feel valued and appreciated for their contributions.

Fear of being left behind is a common concern. To overcome these risks and drive business success, leaders must adopt a proactive approach.

I. Barry Goldberg of Little Rock is a credentialed leadership and executive coach. He trained for coaching at Georgetown University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.