Using the Accountability Ladder to achieve career goals

If you want to be successful in your career, you can’t just wait for it to happen. You need to take ownership and make it happen. The Accountability Ladder explains the steps between being powerless and achieving success. It is essentially 8 rungs of a ladder divided in half. The bottom 4 describe a ‘victim mentality’ and the top 4 lead the way to accepting responsibility and becoming empowered.

A simple way of explaining it is to imagine a child who hasn’t done their homework. Picture this scenario as the child explains the situation to their parent at 7pm on Wednesday evening:

  1. “My friend just told me my homework is due tomorrow, but I didn’t know” (unaware/denial)
  2. “The teacher didn’t remind me” (blame others)
  3. “It’s too late now. What’s the point” (can’t do anything/excuses)
  4. “I’ll just have to hope the teacher forgets about it” (wait and hope)

This child has a victim mentality. They are not taking responsibility or trying to find a solution. However, in the same situation it could go like this:

5. “Oh no, my homework is due tomorrow” (acknowledge reality)
6. “I’ve messed up. I should have checked my planner” (own it, don’t blame others)
7. “I’ve still got time. I’ll just have to stay up late” (find a solution)
8. “Would you mind giving me a hand to get this done quickly” (make it happen)

This child has taken ownership of the problem and will do what it takes to get the task done.

Ladder of Accountability

It’s easy to translate this to the adult world of work. Perhaps you know somebody in your organisation who always seems to be in control, who is a ‘can do’ person. Alternatively you may know somebody who doesn’t pull their weight, who blames others and shirks responsibility.

If you want to progress in your career you need to be on rungs 4 to 8 of the ladder and start to identify what it is you want to achieve. Let’s imagine you’re stuck in a junior management role but want to be in a senior management role. Rather than complaining that you keep getting looked over for promotion, you need to assess why. Is it because you are lacking skills? Or there are no opportunities within your current organisation? Once you know what you’re dealing with (acknowledge reality) you can decide to do something (own it), plan what you’re going to do about it (find a solution), and take action (make it happen).

For more on this, read Do You Have a Career Destination in Mind?