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Fear Is the Mask Opportunity Wears

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my career in the HR management sector, it’s that fear is the mask opportunity wears. The job of the HR manager is to help the company see that opportunity.

In the old days, sources of competitive advantage were land, capital, equipment, and technology, because technology moved so much more slowly. But today the main source of competitive advantage is intellectual talent—harnessing new ideas and bringing them to fruition. Finding and supporting that talent is what HR managers are all about.


The problem is, most companies have a built-in sense of fear of the unknown, which stops them from taking the forward-thinking steps their hired talent urges them toward. Soon they find themselves without a vision for the future, irrelevant to the current market, and bereft of the talent that once made them so vital.

There’s healthy fear, and then there’s unhealthy fear. The unhealthy kind is when you just put your head in the sand and you don’t think you need to compete on any of  the “soft stuff”: human capital, intellectual capital, culture. But, to be the best competitors in the future economy, the soft stuff is the hard stuff.

I identify two kinds of healthy fear:

Healthy Fear: A New Direction

First is the fear that indicates growth potential. A company or person might experience the fear of striking out in a new direction, such as when I left my position in a traditional HR department to start my own HR consulting group, or when Goldman Sachs rolled out its first wave of LGBT-inclusive policies in 2000. In both cases, these moves into unknown territory proved fruitful. My company is succeeding, and Goldman Sachs has been able to attract top talent from the LGBT community.

The two keys to such successful forward movements are thorough research and having an HR manager who is empowered at the C-level to be a truth teller, a culture changer, and a business executive.

Healthy Fear: The Unknown

The second healthy fear is the unknown, which motivates you to draw on the knowledge and experience of the people around you.

When HR managers become convinced that changes need to occur, they are best served to be humble about their fears and approach their colleagues and superiors for advice. Say something like, “I’m worried this is just a little too much change at once. Can you help me think this through?” Showing a little bit of fear is actually showing how strong you are and how committed you are to success.

Overcoming fears is part of our process of mastery—not just on a personal level, but on a corporate level. Those who can identify and face their fears will be more successful. And HR managers should be on the front line of that endeavor.

Fear. You. Opportunity!

Are you thinking about doing something new with the future of your company or your own life? Do you feel some fear of change or the unknown? Good! That’s the feeling of opportunity. Lean into that fear, seek advice from knowledgeable colleagues, and move ahead!

Contributed by Sue Marks, CEO, Cielo.