Do Something! Don’t Be A Bystander

Do Something! Don’t Be A Bystander

The Train Wreck:

I voted this week.

What should be a moment of red, white and blue pride was far from it.

I selected from two people for whom I have no respect. Yet, with the stroke of my pen, I officially advocated for one to be President of the United States!

What happened?!

How can these by my choices?! How can this represent the best our great nation has to offer?! How could the “system” have let me down?! This isn’t “fair!”

Truth be told – it wasn’t a surprise. I’ve watched this train wreck for months.  I knew what names were going to be on the ballot – I saw it coming. But, here is the lesson:

I didn’t do anything!

The lack of action in the presence of danger is what Social Psychologists call the Bystander Effect. Briefly defined, it is when an individual is present, aware and available, but chooses not to act/help. Instead he/she ‘stands by’ and waits  for others to act.

I can’t control the election. However, I didn’t have to just sit back and watch –  I had influence, but didn’t engage.  I didn’t send letters, didn’t donate dollars, didn’t attend a rally, didn’t support a better candidate. I didn’t do squat. The consequence –

  • I’m “forced” to choose from two horrible “leaders.”
  • I’m “forced” to submit to the policies, procedures or decisions he/she makes.
  • I’m “forced” to make excuses to my international friends that Americans aren’t as dumb as they look!

Organizational Lessons Learned:

Before I whine on too long – let me get to the organizational lessons learned. The point is this – becoming a bystander is not rare. In fact, it is quite common in organizational behavior.

I promise that within your organization (or immediate department), there are many dynamics and issues experiencing the Bystander Effect. I’ll name just a few:

  • Poor (or marginally) performing employees.
  • Bosses who don’t “get it” or are doing more harm than good.
  • Policies and procedures that aren’t helping.
  • Ineffective (or non-value add) meetings/events.
  • Colleagues who don’t get it and/or do regular damage.
  • Daily dumb or damaging decisions.

Do you agree? Can you identify these (or other) situations at work where you “see” the problem/danger but don’t “act.” The most common explanation for a lack of action in Bystanders is “I thought someone else would do something” or “It didn’t seem to bother anyone else, so why should I do anything?

If you choose to be a Bystander at work, the consequence is much like this election – bad leaders remain and the organization becomes vulnerable and weaker. The fact that many others are probably watching the same dynamic/s (and choosing not to act) is the bigger danger.

Do the Work:

Be a genuine leader. Have the courage to act. Stop being an Organizational Bystander.

Follow these steps

  1. Notice: This is situational awareness. Wake up and look around. Pay attention to your surroundings. Engage in what happens around you. Look at events from a fresh or new perspective. Be attentive and tune-in (beyond the challenges of your immediate job).
  2. Interpret: This is sense-making. It requires you to be deliberate and analyze the impact – near and long term – on what you notice. Things are rarely life or death at work, but they have consequences that need to be understood. Questions like “What if..”, “What could..” , “Why..?”, “Why not…” or “What’s best..?”
  3. Level of Responsibility: This is your “organizational” job description. Most of what you notice could fall under the favorite excuse of “It’s not my job.” However, you need ownership in the company. A sense of obligation and responsibility to engage and improve what you see. If you don’t have ownership, maybe it’s time to get yourself fired!
  4. Form of Assistance: You don’t need to be a Superhero to avoid the Bystander Effect. Instead, deliberately determine the involvement you choose to take. It could be direct – you intervene, or indirect – you intervene through others. In this case “others” could be a person (e.g., boss, HR, etc) or system (suggestion box, email, etc.)
  5. Act: This is the key – do it. Engage and take action. Make a difference. Impact what you see and move the needle. Be a difference maker.

There is nothing I can do at this point with regard to the election. I’m stuck with the winner (although Canada is only a river away from Buffalo)! However, there are many aspects in your world where you can break the Bystander Effect and begin to influence and change.

Take a look around and be honest with yourself. What is happening that shouldn’t be? What is hurting the company? Most importantly – what’s it going to take for you to stop watching and start engaging?

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