Taking Off the Training Wheels: How to go from bystander to upstander

by Jul 14, 2022

Written by: Sabrina Singh


What is courage?

Many would say it’s strength…perhaps even fearlessness. But the true definition contains a few key components. Courage is taking action despite the presence of fear

Imagine a young boy learning how to ride a bike. He’s only ever ridden one with training wheels. It is safe, and relatively easy. There is little chance that he will crash or fall over, so he freely and happily rides the safe, training-wheels-reinforced bike.

Then, one day, his mom takes the training wheels off. What is the boy feeling when he sees the bike?

Probably a little confused – there’s been a change. Probably a little upset – this wasn’t a change he asked for. And most importantly, probably a little scared to get on the bike and ride it. His safety net is gone, and there is suddenly a presence of fear.

After a bit of encouragement, he decides to attempt this new challenge. He reluctantly hops on the bike, while his mom keeps it steady. Then, she lets go and he starts to peddle.

Naturally, he gets scared and stops pedaling. He falls over. His mom explains how he must keep pedaling to stay balanced, and encourages him to try again.

This time, he keeps pedaling. He overcomes his fear and keeps going. But when it comes time to get off the bike, he doesn’t know how to stop, gets scared, and falls over. His mom explains how to use the brakes, and encourages him to try again.

This time, the boy pedals a little faster, rides a little longer, and successfully brakes and hops off the bike. What is the boy feeling now?

Probably a little relieved – the danger presented did not result in harm. Probably proud – he did something courageous. And most importantly, probably less scared to get back on the bike next time.


What can we learn from this story?

  1. For courage to be present, fear must also be.
  2. Overcoming that initial fear is the biggest step.
  3. The more willing we are to take action against that fear, the more we will learn along the way, and the less scary that fear will become.

So let’s put this in the context of workplace bullying. If you witness bullying behavior, it becomes your duty to step in and stand up for the target. It’s probably not a duty you expected; it’s certainly not one you wanted; and it’s associated with fear. What if there’s social backlash? What if I become the new target?

But just like the boy didn’t expect to lose his training wheels, we sometimes are faced with situations we didn’t ask for. And just like he overcame his fear, got on the bike, and started riding…we must be courageous and intervene. 

Now let me be clear – intervention looks different for every person, and for each unique situation. Whether it’s direct intervention, seeking out help, or simply making your presence known…the important part is that some form of action is taken.


And here’s the good news! 

The first time we face this uncomfortable situation is likely one of the hardest. Each time we practice intervening, it feels a little less scary. This is because the more you do something, the more you learn, and the less “foreign” it feels.

Additionally, there are resources available to help! Catherine’s newest LinkedIn course, “From Bystander to Upstander,” contains valuable insights into the whys and hows of intervention. We have made the course free for the next 24 hours.

At the end of the day, we must realize that silence and inaction…are acceptance. It’s our duty to find the courage to take off those training wheels and learn how to ride our intervention bikes.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

3 Savvy Ways to Spend Your Budget Surplus

It’s halfway through the year, and for some companies, the fiscal year is wrapping up, leaving them with an unexpected budget surplus.  While it might be tempting to funnel these extra funds into new equipment or throw after-hours parties, there's a more strategic...

Implicit Bias Training That Works

A significant barrier to achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce is implicit bias. Implicit bias occurs when, for instance, you hear the word "engineer" and immediately assume it is a man, or hear "teacher" and assume it is a woman. Have you ever been guilty of...

Over 50% of Workers Now Value Balance and Belonging Over Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Yesterday, I came across research by Randstad and it really got me thinking about how much the workplace landscape is changing. This study included insights from 27,000 workers worldwide and what really caught my attention was that nearly half of the respondents—47%,...

Your Culture Matters as Much as Your Legal Compliance

Legal compliance serves as the bedrock of any organization. While it lays the foundation, a positive workplace culture breathes life into your organization. A strong, supportive culture fosters employee engagement, boosts morale, and enhances productivity.  This...

How We Create Respectful Work Cultures

For the past 15 years, we have been dedicated to transforming toxic workplace cultures and fostering positive environments through executive coaching, corporate training, and large-scale culture change projects. We’ve serviced over 250 clients and their thousands of...

42% of employees would QUIT over political disagreements

Is it appropriate to restrict employees from expressing their political views at work? On the one hand, you want people to feel free to express themselves. But then, you don't want those water cooler chats to turn into full-blown political showdowns. According to a...

Why Retaining Top Talent is More Difficult Than Ever

Finding and keeping great employees can be tough for companies all over. With changes in employee expectations, advancements in technology, and shifts in the job market, it's a real challenge. In 2019, a whopping 42 million U.S. workers alone said "so long" to their...

Can Your Corporate Culture Influence Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is a serious concern for organizations worldwide. While there are many reasons why it happens, one thing that doesn't get enough attention is the company culture itself. How people act and treat each other at work can make violence more or less...

How to Utilize Culture Surveys for Cultural Change

Surveys are a wonderful resource for measuring the success of culture change. Many clients approach us with the awareness of a cultural problem…but an inability to identify the cause. And that’s where we step in, often using survey scores as an identifier.  Let’s take...

Microaggressions Can Become Part of an Organization’s Culture. Here’s Why

We're talking a lot about making sure everyone feels included and respected in the workplace. But sometimes, it's not the big, obvious stuff that makes people feel excluded and disrespected - it's the little things. We have likely all experienced situations where...