If you witnessed an accident, what would you do? Would you rush over to help, administering first aid to casualties and calling the emergency services? Or would you stand by and watch, waiting for someone else get involved? However much you’d like to think that you’d be the hero, research suggests that you’re more likely to do the latter. Why?
Leave it to someone else…
This behaviour is called the ‘bystander effect’ or bystander apathy. It arises when we’re afraid of ‘losing face’ in front of strangers. In this situation, it’s because we assume that there are other people better qualified to get involved than we are or that if we step in it may be unhelpful or unwanted. In other words, it’s a fear of failure. It sounds like an irrational fear, particularly when the consequences of our not getting involved could be that someone in trouble doesn’t get the help they need. But it’s been observed in numerous psychological experiments and in real-life emergency situations.
The benefits of being a responsible person
Being more responsible doesn’t just mean that you’re a better person to have around in the event of an accident. When you’re willing to take responsibility, you become a more productive and efficient person. In the workplace, your efforts to become more responsible are sure to get noticed and will help you climb the career ladder, because you won’t just be doing the minimum required to pull your weight – you’ll be owning tasks and showing that you’re someone who’s got what it takes to lead others. Outside work, other people will start to realise that you’re someone they can rely on, bringing new opportunities to enrich your life.
But how do you go about becoming more responsible? You can start by understanding what’s currently holding you back.
What stops us taking responsibility?
We’ve already seen some of the reasons for not taking responsibility in the accident scenario described above. Fear of failure is one of the biggest things that holds us back, as we’re conditioned from an early age to seek approval from other people. This means that unless we’re sure that we’ll be successful, we avoid doing things that could risk drawing criticism. Again tying in with the accident scenario, we’re also held back by an assumption that we don’t have the relevant expertise, and that someone else does.
Other reasons for not stepping up to the mark include lack of time – we perceive ourselves to be too busy to take responsibility for something, though closer inspection may prove that spending too much time being unproductive may in fact be to blame. You may also be avoiding taking responsibility for something because you’re simply not interested in it; examining your own motivations – or those of an employee – may be key to dealing with this mental block. Alternatively, you might actually be willing to take responsibility, but you’re just not sure how to convince other people that you are.
You can become a more responsible person
Our iLead Task Responsibility tool is designed to help you identify, evaluate and challenge your lack of responsibility and the reasons behind it. Employers or managers can also use the tool to help with the personal development of their staff. For each of the reasons for lack of responsibility mentioned above, the tool takes you through a practical step by step process that allows you to work through the underlying causes and become a more responsible person.
Overcoming your fear of failure
To give you an example of how the iLead Task Responsibility Tool can help you become a more responsible person, or help you with training your staff, let’s take a look at the step-by-step process that helps you work through challenging the fear of failure.
Step 1 – identify what it is that you’re afraid of. By defining it, you’re making a start on challenging it.
Step 2 – evaluate the fears you’ve written down, and assess whether they’re rational concerns. What’s the worst that could happen if your fear were to be realised? At this point you can also exercise some methods for keeping your fears in check: writing them down, focusing on the present moment and thinking about the successful moments in your life that you needlessly worried about beforehand.
Step 3 – reinterpret your fears. Peel back the layers of the fear to find out what’s at the bottom of it, and where they originate. For example, are you only afraid because of something that happened to someone else?
Step 4 – do something about it. Talk to other people, who may help to put your fears into perspective, and focus on the positive outcomes from each of your decisions, no matter how small. Gain confidence from thinking about what you’ll learn, and from developing different ways of achieving what you want to achieve – these are your back-up plans, and they make failure less likely.
For more information on how to put this knowledge to effective use, read the ‘How to take responsibility’ tool in the iLEAD™ Task Leadership book.
Shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute Management Book of the Year Award 2016, iLEAD™ Tools provide you with the advice and practical resources to enable you to develop your task, people and thought leadership skills. By gaining a better understanding of leadership and learning how to lead, from how to communicate your vision to how to make ethical decisions, you will become a better and more effective leader and create stronger and more successful teams.