Do you suffer from FOMU?

The Fear Of Messing Up

Remember being that little kid who did the wrong thing and had to own-up, then apologise, while your parents looked down at you in complete disappointment? That feeling of embarrassment and shame that made you feel so small you hoped the world would just swallow you up.

And now here you are in a leadership role with not only your parents looking down on you but also your siblings, friends and anyone else who can see in. You’re desperate to never feel like that ‘naughty little child’ ever again. And, if that feeling isn’t enough, you frequently hear reinforcing statements like “that could be career limiting” and “you need to protect your brand”.  So what do you do…

You take things too seriously – so much so that you’ve lost your sense of humour, the things that used to make you a fun person to be around.

You refuse to make decisions – just in case they’re the wrong ones and have built yourself a reputation for being a difficult stakeholder.

You micromanage – because you are responsible for your team and they were once naughty little children too – surely, they can’t be trusted.

You hold on so tight – that nothing moves, you start to stall, to become stagnant and stale in your career.

You develop a FOMU – fear of messing up and you start to second guess everything you and your team do. As your FOMU increases so too does the likelihood it will happen.

And eventually it does…you’re removed from your role or exited from the organisation, no one can work with you…and your greatest fear is realised…you’ve messed up!

When you step into a leadership role it’s important to let go of your FOMU and learn to sit in discomfort. Gary Burnison wrote an article on leaders ‘messing up’ and said that the key to getting past the fear is through courage. He wrote that “with no fear of failure, leaders can look themselves in the mirror and know they have analysed the risks, assessed the opportunities, and moved courageously forward”.

When you choose to be a courageous leader (instead of a FOMU leader) you will approach your mistake differently. You will:

  1. Review what went wrong and what role you played in it.
  2. Take a courage pill, put your hand up and admit the decision you made wasn’t ideal (this is always the hardest and most important part).
  3. Apologise and correct your mistake, where possible.
  4. Reflect on how you might do things differently next time.
  5. And, you don’t make the same mistake again – because you know that it will become career limiting and detrimental to your brand.

If you suffer from FOMU then you’re not alone, but you have a decision to make. Do you want to keep going down the same FOMU path or do you want to be the courageous leader who takes risks, learns and constantly evolves! The choice is yours!!


Shelley Flett is a passionate leader with a keen focus on assisting others to identify their goals and move in a direction to ensure they’re achieved. She is a Directional Leadership Coach, Trainer, Facilitator, Mentor and Speaker who ignites vision and purpose in those she works with.

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