Leadership or Spectatorship
The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon which refers to cases where individuals do not offer help to a victim when others are present.
There has been lots of research done around this topic, starting as early as the 1960's when two psychologists were interested in the murder of a lady called Kitty Genovese in New York and even though her neighbours were apparently aware of what was happening, remained completely unresponsive.
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.
If most people are waiting for others to take the lead, this presents lots of opportunity to take the lead yourself. Seize them.