“Not my job”

Sometimes working together is not the right option.

It’s probably fair to say most people don’t like being put on the spot. It demands a prompt awareness of a situation with limited intelligence at hand, being able to synthesise that quickly whilst analysing all the available options, and then displaying confident decision-making.

Whereas foxes think like that all the time, because they have to, non-foxes are more comfortable with certainty. It’s why most people put on the spot will simply wing it, hoping no-one will catch them out.

But what if winging it could have disastrous consequences for their career? They’d need another option, one that will take them out of the firing line, at least deflect attention away from them.

There is such an option, and it’s a move that’s tried and tested.

Imagine a person in a position of leadership asked probing questions about what they are doing about a situation. Taking responsibility will make them accountable for the situation. So they say, “I think it’s important that we all work together”.

That’s called diffusing responsibility.

Diffusion of responsibility is a recognised social psychological phenomenon where if a task is placed before a group of people, most in the group assume that someone else will take responsibility for it—so no one does.

Example: you hear a scream outside at night; you assume someone else will call the police. So, you don’t. Except everyone else is thinking the same thing. So, no-one does.

Diffusing responsibility is different. It’s the, normally, conscious act by an organisation or individual of deflecting attention away from themselves by abdicating their responsibility onto others in a way that makes no-one responsible.

A classic example is blaming ‘society’, or an airline saying ‘the flight was overbooked’ instead of ‘we overbooked the flight’.

Another is suggesting ‘working together’. Instead of addressing the failure in service delivery, a local government official will say that ‘the community and the municipality must work together’.

Instead of suggesting gun control to address school shootings, a country’s president may suggest ‘everyone must work together at every level of government to keep our children safe’.

One of the roles of leadership is to take responsibility, so anyone who diffuses responsibility is resigning their leadership.

[This article originally appeared in the publication Fox Bytes (you can view it here) in the week of 28 May 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]

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