Accountability and the Bystander Effect

Successful leaders and business consultants know the importance of accountability. Accountability means staying responsible for what you do and this is one of the very best ways to ensure that you are working to the utmost of your ability.

In a business setting, keeping staff accountable is what will ensure that they feel a sense of professional pride and don’t try to cut corners. When it comes to motivating yourself and sticking to goals, accountability will help to prevent you from making excuses so that you have to complete the task that you’ve set yourself.

But did you know that accountability can also make you a better person? Even make you a hero?

The Bystander Effect

Every psychology student will have been chilled by the tragic story of Kitty Genovese. She was a young woman in real life who was murdered in the street in broad daylight. She screamed for help and plenty of people stuck their heads out of the window – but nobody thought to help her.

This tragic story is often used as a prime example of the ‘bystander effect’ – our tendency to do nothing in an emergency and to let terrible things happen.

A similar experiment put people in a doctor’s waiting room and had the room slowly fill up with smoke. In many cases, no one left the room or even asked anyone what was going on!

So what causes this bystander effect? Essentially it’s the work of social psychology. On the one hand we want to conform with the rest of the group which means doing nothing unusual – we don’t want to be the first person to call for help because that makes us the ‘odd one out’.

Moreover, though, the bystander effect is also the result of ‘diffusion of responsibility’. What this means is that when there are lots of people present, each person feels less responsibility to act. That’s because each person believes that the person next to them could also act. If Kitty Genovese was murdered and only one person saw, then chances are that that one person would have helped – believing that it all rested on them. Believing that they were accountable.

This is a very powerful demonstration if ever there was one of just how important accountability is and just why you need to take responsibility for everything that happens. Sure, you will have failures and sometimes there will be no way that you can ‘win’. But as long as you’re becoming resilient, you will be noticed when no one else feels accountable.

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