We all know the phrase, “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). While this phrase may be more prevalent in personal life, Dr. Marty Nemko points out that many business leaders are held back by a similar kind of FOMO: the fear of losing what you already have. This fear of losing what you already have keeps business leaders from new and impactful opportunities, and hinders organizational development and growth. This insight article reviews the concept, highlights businesses who have fallen short from this fear, and surfaces ways you can help clients mitigate their fear of losing what they have.
Fear of losing what you have
The fear of losing what you have can manifest itself in many ways. For business leaders, fear of losing what you have can mean having a fear of losing clients, employees, or productivity levels. The heart of this type of fear is the avoidance of change and risk. As technology develops and the global economy changes, it is vital for business leaders to find the root cause of these fears and work to conquer fears and embrace change.
Research by Katrina Aaslaid (2019) in 50 Examples of Corporations That Failed To Innovate demonstrates how businesses have let the fear of losing what they have overwhelm their risk-taking, judgment, and decision-making process. These business cases serve as an example of the fear of losing what you already have, and the dangers of not overcoming it.
“Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” - Dale Carnegie
Nokia’s fear of losing clients
Although Nokia created the first worldwide cellular network, they failed to innovate with the development of the internet. While other cellphone companies, like Apple, adapted to changing technology, Nokia feared that they would “alienate current users if they changed too much.” They feared that if they changed too much, they would lose what they already had: their customers. This ultimately led to their downfall while other companies like Apple and Android still thrive to this day by taking risks and staying on top of new technology.
Blackberry’s fear of losing current technology
In the early 2000s, Blackberry’s technology was “second to none” but their focus wasn’t on user experience. Because they were invested in “protecting what they already had,” they failed to innovate, retain customers, and attract new customers (Lagerstedt, 2018). While they are still around today, their fear kept them from being a leader in the technology industry.
Blockbuster’s fear of changing direction
With the creation of Netflix and other online streaming platforms, the profits of Blockbuster ultimately plummeted. Although they were offered partnerships with Netflix, they turned them down. According to Aaslaid at Valuer, because Blockbuster “had been the leader of the movie rental market for years, management didn’t see why they should change their strategy.” Blockbuster was in the lead and had a solid market, but times were changing and instead of changing with them, they feared that they would lose the business they already had, failed to change, and ultimately went bankrupt in 2010.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” - Jack Canfield
How fear hinders growth
Clearly, the fear of losing what you have can have disastrous consequences. However, what causes these consequences? What is it about this type of FOMO that leads to the downfall of businesses and their leaders?
Avoidance of change
Many executives falsely believe that in order to keep what you have, you must continue providing the same products, doing the same things, and having the same goals. However, this does not take into account the changing global marketplace, the advances in technology, cultural shifts, changes in product demand, and the newly developed needs of consumers. While fear holds a business leader in place and prevents them from making industry-leading changes that have the potential to increase their customer base, customers and other businesses are already looking to what is next. This can cause businesses to be left behind as new technology develops and markets change.
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” - Benjamin Franklin
Prevents necessary risk
Although technology was changing, Blockbuster believed that their strategy in the movie rental industry was steadfast. They were blinded by their fear of losing their ground as an industry leader, ultimately causing them to avoid the risk of changing their strategy, which could have saved their business.
When business leaders are afraid of losing what they already have, they reject the opportunity to take the necessary risks. As the global market changes, businesses must change their strategy and risk their current customer base in order to create opportunities for more growth and development. If a business leader is a victim of this type of FOMO, they are less likely to take the risks necessary to develop their businesses.
Even the greatest managers and business leaders must ensure that their business’ productivity and production levels are adequate. However, this must be balanced with the priority to develop, maintain, and provide a positive work culture for employees. If a business leader is overcome by a fear of losing current levels of productivity, the priority to provide a positive work environment can be compromised. As a result, they adopt poor management techniques such as micromanagement or hyper vigilance. While this may protect them from reducing productivity levels in the short-term, their fear-motivated management can cause a reduction in productivity and employee retainment over time.
“The fears we don’t face become our limits.” - Robin Sharma
Reduces rational thinking
In the midst of fear, it is hard for the brain to engage in complex and rational thinking. The University of Minnesota explains that when the brain registers fear, it “short-circuits more rational processing paths” and focuses instead on survival. They also state that fear impacts “thinking and decision-making in negative ways” which can lead to “impulsive reactions” and the inability “to act appropriately.”
Because of the high-impact decisions that business leaders make every day, it is vital that they make rational decisions for their business. If leaders are overcome by a fear of losing what they already have, their thought processes and judgment becomes clouded by fear, making them prone to poor decisions and outcomes.
How executive coaches can help clients
The fear of losing what you already have can overwhelm and overcome business leaders if not properly addressed. With the right questions and insight, executive coaches can help their clients overcome this type of fear and guide their clients to success. Consider the following questions and discussions when helping clients conquer the fear of losing what they already have.
“Replace fear with curiosity.” - Steven Spielberg
Find the root source
Executive coaches often help business leaders identify the root sources of their goals, ambitions, and fears. The ICF core competencies share that a vital part of executive coaching is identifying the “factors that influence current and future patterns of behavior, thinking or emotion.” By helping business leaders identify the “factors that influence” or are the root sources of their FOMO, executive coaches can help clients overcome, understand, and develop resistance to this fear (2021). Consider the following questions:
What fear leads your action?
Where do you think this fear comes from? Why?
How do you think you learned this fear? Does this learning apply to this situation specifically?
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” - Marie Curie
Another core competency set forth by the ICF states that executive coaches work with their “client to integrate new awareness, insight or learning into their worldview and behaviors” (2021). This can be done by discussing the consequences of their fear. If an executive has a fear of losing their customer or client base, the executive coach and client can discuss the potential consequences of being led by this fear. Executive coaches can also discuss what research has indicated about the effects fear has on mental processes and decision making. The following questions can be used to discuss the consequences of being led by the fear of missing out.
What could be the potential consequences of being led by fear?
How do you think your fear is affecting your judgment and decision-making skills?
How has fear aided your leadership thus far?
“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.” - W. Clement Stone
Create action plans
The ICF states that an essential role of an executive coach is to “design goals, actions and accountability measures that integrate and expand new learning” (2021). As business leaders identify the source of their FOMO and begin to see the consequences of their fear, executive coaches can work with them to create goals and action plans to help overcome it. For example, if an executive is ruled by their fear of losing productivity levels and as a result is micromanaging employees, executive coaches can encourage clients to take note of when they are micromanaging and then choose an alternate path. By creating action plans, executive coaches can help clients identify when they are being ruled by their fears and work to overcome them.
The main takeaway
The fear of losing what you already have can cripple business leaders’ decisions making processes. As seen in the examples above, this can negatively impact businesses even to the point of bankruptcy. This type of FOMO blinds business leaders to the necessary changes and risks needed in business management and can make them lose sight of their priorities as a result.
Executive coaches can greatly impact their clients by helping them identify the source of their fear, the consequences of their fear, and potential action plans that can be developed to prevent being ruled by fear. By doing this, executive coaches help their clients lead their businesses with success, increase their resilience, and improve their decision-making processes.
“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” - Henry Ford
Aaslaid, K. (2019). 50 Examples of Corporations That Failed To Innovate. https://www.valuer.ai/blog/50-examples-of-corporations-that-failed-to-innovate-and-missed-their-chance
ICF. (2021). Updated ICF core competencies - ICF - international coach ... International Coaching Federation. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://coachfederation.org/app/uploads/2020/07/RevisedCompetencyModel_July2020.pdf
Lagerstedt, E. (2018, December 9). 50 examples of companies that failed to innovate. Innovation, growth & renewal. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://inquentia.com/50-examples-of-companies-that-failed-to-innovate/
Nemko, M. (2021, September 13). A FOMO variant: Fear of losing what you have | psychology ... Psychology Today. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-do-life/202109/fomo-variant-fear-losing-what-you-have
University of Minnesota. (n.d.). Impact of fear and anxiety. Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/impact-fear-and-anxiety
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