Often when I give the keynote speech at a company conference, I like to ask all the leaders in the audience to give me a show of hands.
Invariably about ten percent of the hands in the room go up.
I then ask them how many hands I wanted to see go in the air and they begin to see where I am going with my message.
If you were in that room, what would you have done?
Would you have raised your hand?
Would you have wanted to raise your hand?
Would you consider your job title before deciding whether to raise your hand?
A common misconception about leadership is that you must be a in a position of authority to be classed as a leader.
Leadership is not a title. Leadership is a mindset.
Let me share an interesting study with you to exemplify my point.
In 1968 a lady called Kitty Genovese was murdered in the middle of a busy neighbourhood in New York. There were 38 witnesses to the murder who stood by and did not step in to assist or even call the police.
Social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley became fascinated with the lack of response in this particular case and looked in the psychology of the cause. They popularized the concept ‘the bystander effect’. The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.
There has been lots of research done in this particular area since, not just from Latane and Darley.
Dr Robert Cialdini, a Professor in Psychology talks about this particular problem in his book Influence.
In one experiment, college students in New York acted as though they were having epileptic seizures. When there was only one bystander present, the student received an offer of help 85 percent of the time. But when five bystanders were present, the student only received an offer of help 31 percent of the time
Another study involved smoke coming from under a door. Seventy-five percent of the individuals who passed by reported the leak, but when the leaks were seen by three-person groups, the smoke was reported only 38 percent of the time.
What does this show and what does it have to do with leadership?
It shows us that when people are in a group they assume that somebody else will take the lead.
This phenomenon therefore can have a huge impact on team and organisational performance, when people are always looking around them for somebody else to take the lead, especially in times of crisis.
This is just one of the interesting ways in which we stop ourselves from taking the lead in situations.
We often talk ourselves out of doing things.
What is the price of this?
And if we do it in emergency situations as stark as the one above, then in how many other situations are we holding ourselves back?
Be alert to your own bystander effect holding you back and practice stepping forward when the opportunity presents itself.
Keep making it happen,
Martin Robert Hall
Martin’s book ‘How Leaders Make It Happen’ is available here and explores the secrets, the science and the strategies of world class leadership in elite sport and business.
Get in touch via my contact page to see how I can support you.