Becoming the Boss: Don’t Let FOMO Make You Miss Out on Leadership

Becoming the Boss: Don’t Let FOMO Make You Miss Out on LeadershipAs I wrote last month, the third step to becoming the boss is to last as a leader, continuing to grow and thrive throughout your career even when times get tough. Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint — and like marathoners, leaders need to commit if they hope to succeed.

One way Millennials differ from previous generations is they have a stronger sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). They tend to avoid making decisions that would close off any options, but instead leave themselves open to be able to seize a better opportunity should one come along. That’s not an inherently bad trait, but if your FOMO holds you back from all commitments, your fear will be realized and you’ll miss out on the opportunity to be a successful leader.

Leadership is not a job for commitment-phobes, and if you want to last as a leader, you’ll need to learn to make some decisions you won’t be able to reverse.

To help you understand why committing is essential and help you fight your FOMO, here’s an excerpt from my new book, Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders:

While it’s great to have options and be open to new opportunities, there comes a point where you have to start making some choices. If you want to be a great leader, you have to let that FOMO go. It will hold you back and frustrate the people around you. (In fact, one of my corporate clients insisted that I include in my training to her company’s Millennial leaders that it was not appropriate to reply with maybe to meeting invites from managers or clients. Trust me that this habit has a tendency to drive people of other generations crazy. So next time you feel the urge to reply “maybe” or “that may work” to an invitation, please force yourself to decide “yes” or “no,” or wait a short time until you can reply with a definitive answer.)

Here’s another reason to get better at commitment: research has shown that keeping one’s options open is ultimately a recipe for less happiness and success. As psychologist Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson has said, “[R]eversible, keep-your-options-open decisions reliably lead to lower levels of satisfaction than irreversible ones. In other words, we are significantly less happy with our choices when we can back out of them.”

Why? Because, according to Halvorson, when we make a definitive choice, our “psychological immune system kicks in”—i.e., our minds focus on feeling good about the decision we made and we stop thinking about the what-ifs. On the other hand, if you keep your options open, you continue trying to decide if you made the correct choice or not. That immune response never happens and you feel less happy. Plus, as Halvorson reports, “When you’re still deciding what you should do, you don’t have the cognitive resources to devote yourself fully to what you’re actually doing” and your performance suffers.

Take it from someone who has wasted way too much time and energy second-guessing decisions large and small—my college major (American studies, but would English have been more prestigious?), my business entity (LLC, but would an S corp have had more tax advantages?), and even the winter coat I just bought (a gorgeous navy blue, but would black have been more practical?). While it’s certainly important to make careful, thoughtful decisions, there is absolutely no value in constantly questioning those decisions after the fact. You’ll just drive yourself crazy and take your focus away from more important things. Commit! Commit! Commit!

“Commit!” is No. 5 in a list of “Nine Ways to Get Better All the Time” that you’ll find in Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. Get the book to learn more about becoming the boss and lasting as a leader.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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