Lesson of leadership: How to make fear your best ally in decision making

Published by Gabrielle Guerrini on

Lesson of Leadership : How to make fear your best ally in decision making

Decision making is an action we take multiple times a day.
When confronted with different options, we must ask ourselves to choose option A or B. These decisions can be related to work or personal life. Making decisions defines our path forward, but paradoxically, they are based on our past experiences, as with most human experiences. Making decisions is one of the most important and frequent of human processes.
Another aspect we must cope with every day is fear. This defense mechanism is designed to keep us safe, but we do not need it to prevent us from making decisions or from leaving our comfort zone.

So, what is the relationship between fear and decision making? How can one impact the other?
Two concepts popularized by Harvard Business School Graduate Patrick James McGinnis* are:
   – FOMO: fear of missing out. Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.
   – FOBO: fear of better options. Inability to make a decision as there may always be better options. So FOBO is hesitation and fear at the same time.
“FOMO is like a wine cup, and FOBO is like a cigarette: having one cup of wine is not harmful for your health but having many of them can be, while smoking a cigarette is bad for you, and for people around you.”, McGinnis explains.

FOMO originated as a marketing concept in 2000 in a paper by marketing strategist Dan Herman**: “It all begins with a growing awareness of the virtually endless selection of attractive options for the consumer to choose from. The FOMO experience is based on the fear of “what will I miss because I don’t have the necessary time or money, or because I do have another barrier of some kind?”

It is ubiquitous across users of social media and has a huge impact on the decision-making process. Brands are shaping consumers’ decisions, pushing them to always be connected, aware, the first to know, and the first to react. The negative impact is that younger or influenceable people are constantly looking for validation by reacting to events, buying products, and trying to be popular.

The fear of missing out is tied to the fear of the unknown. We fear the outcome and our inability to handle it, including not knowing the reactions and judgment of others, facing failure, and many other things.

Fear, and subsequently FOMO, has both positive and negative sides. The bad side is that FOMO has become normal for advertisers to use, which has caused it to become omni-present. This means that we fear to miss out on interesting information or events happening elsewhere, and beyond that, to take initiatives in our owns lives which can have us become saturated with information and experiences resulting in reduced enjoyment and burnout.

Some might argue that FOMO is good because it reflects a desire to want to do more and learn more, but there is a difference between curiosity and FOMO. Being open to learn and discover new things is not the same thing as fearing that others are doing things that we are not.

Therefore, the good side of FOMO, or fear in general, is that it pushes us to go beyond self-doubt and can result in LEADERSHIP, which is a key driver for employees. This means replacing fear of doing something and recognizing that it may be a positive opportunity. Consider the following situation when presented with something new:

   – Initial reaction = fear:
“This idea or opportunity is beyond my skills. It is new and no one thought of it before, so it might be unworthy, and consequently I will lose my image and notoriety if I try and fail. The first reaction could be: I am not taking this risk. “
   – Recognize and remove fear = leadership blooming:
“This idea is a real opportunity. It is new and uncommon. Someone else might do it first so I need to see if I can transform it into something positive for me and others.”

Most of the time, we are stuck between fear (initial reaction) and leadership (blooming). This time loss could be invested in action instead.
I believe that fear biases decision making for both small and big decisions. Being aware of this concept can help one accept fear, understand it and turn it into energy for action. FOMO can be used in a positive way.

For example, I am fearful of public speaking, especially in front of people that I do not know. It is scary; I am afraid to sound ridiculous, forget my ideas or waste peoples’ time. However, as I am aware those negative ideas only exist in my head (fortunately), by acknowledging them, I can be better prepared to be successful when giving a speech in public.

Fear is natural and should be welcomed as any other negative emotion so that it does not ruin all the good things besides, and all the creative ideas that cross our minds regularly.

Now that we are aware that fear can and should be turned into a positive advantage, we can see that FOMO can be related to different types of opportunities:
   – Using a product that can change people’s lives,
   – Taking courses or obtaining certificates that may accelerate your career,
   – Taking a job or project that would improve your skills, network, and career,
   – A human story or path that one might cross and that might be enlightening,

Missing out on an opportunity from the above examples may happen for two reasons outside of fear alone:
   – Either we are not well prepared yet, so we will make our best effort for the next opportunity,
   – Or it is not well suited, and we need to find another opportunity.

The best corporate strategic leaders use both their own fear and FOMO as a leverage to experiment with new ideas or launch new products. Still, leaders should not panic if an idea or opportunity is missed out; they need to think of it as a chance to act faster, wiser, and smarter on the next one. Missing out is an opportunity itself in some cases!

Keep in mind, that good ideas, even if scary, need stubbornness to bloom, they need to be caught, believed in, brought to life. It is the only way for creativity, and for “big magic” according to Elizabeth Gilbert***. I believe in this impressive formula: the good side of fear can turn a brilliant idea with strong believing and disciplined labour into an awesome reality.

We do not need to be involved in everything; but simply to express our ideas and to believe in ourselves and our skills. This will help balance between fear, FOMO and FOBO, and learn to manage human and social anxieties and turn them into something positive.

So, fear and decision making are completely connected. Self-questioning each time we are scared of something or hesitating before taking a step can help us channel our fear with questions like: “What am I scared of? What should I do if an opportunity comes to me? What will I gain if I get to manage my fear? What happens if I vocalize my ideas?”

Talents are a company’s most valuable asset, and improving how employees deal with their ideas can help companies in their evolution and performance. Turning employees into true leaders through their fear, daring, and risk taking are a great value for people and companies.

Companies need new ideas for their evolution and performance, they need good decisions, but they mostly need employees who are true leaders through their fear.

Notes and sources:

* Op-ed: opposite the editorial page, is a written prose piece typically published by a newspaper or magazine which expresses the opinion of an author usually not affiliated with the publication’s editorial board : https://harbus.org/2004/social-theory-at-hbs-2749/

** http://fomofearofmissingout.com/fomo

*** Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert https://books.google.fr/books/about/Comme_par_magie.html?id=Du_TCgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false


Consultante EVA Group

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