Avoiding or Embracing Accountability?

Avoiding or Embracing Accountability?

The Ladder of Accountability is a simple tool to assess the level of accountability in yourself, your team or your organisation.  When we see behaviours in line with the bottom rungs, this suggests people are avoiding accountability. The lower the rung of behaviour, the more actively they are avoiding accountability. Behaviours that match the descriptors on the rungs further up, suggest that people are taking more accountability, through to right at the top, where they are embracing accountability fully and the rewards this brings.  The mid-line of the ladder highlights the transition between ‘victim’ and ‘accountable’ behaviours.


Below the line:

When people operate ‘below the line’, we see and hear low accountability ‘victim’ behaviours. People here often describe how things happen to them, and are often passive in accepting their influence on the outcome (I can’t/ I didn’t/ I won’t), or blame others. These behaviours often serve a purpose for the individual, so can be hard to change. Victims also require others to ignore, tolerate, collude with or even facilitate these behaviours.  Are you facilitating people to operate on the lower rungs of the ladder by holding on to too much accountability? Are you enabling a lack of accountability by taking back control when people choose this position?

It is interesting to note that the lowest level of accountability is ‘no one told me’, with ‘I didn’t know’ actually being slightly more accountable! ‘I didn’t know’ infers that the person could have chosen to find out, whereas ‘no one told me’ puts all the responsibility on others! In the next few rungs below the line, we may see evidence of some accountability, but it may be narrow and focused on the needs of that individual, not others. Blame may still occur. People may only go ‘above the line’ in relation to their own interests.

Once people choose to adopt genuine responsibility and accountability, however, they have to move ‘up the ladder’ or face not achieving the outcomes they desire. Around the mid-point, the critical first step into the ‘accountable’ zone is ‘acknowledge reality’.  Once this has occurred, we can start to gradually increase accountability towards full ownership for the outcome. When operating here, people start to recognise how things happen because of them, and actively influence the outcome.


Above the line:

Operating across the top rungs of the ladder, we observe enjoyment and growth because everyone is responsible and accountable for their own actions, and considers the impact for others.  When things go wrong, people seek out the lesson from it or help others learn from their mistakes.  Once people learn how to do this and behave this way consistently, both individuals and teams flourish. Conflict is managed constructively, defensive behaviours minimise, people are able to acknowledge and explore the world of possibilities around them, are willing to learn and help others in the process. The focus shifts to what could be and how can we get there, instead of what is wrong and who can be blamed.

For leaders, the question is simple.  Are you creating the example and conditions for people to embrace accountability?  Are you providing clear direction and delegating well? Are you calling out blame culture, finger-pointing and victim behaviours and helping people reset? Are you treating people as capable adults, where their ideas, talents and capabilities can flourish? Where are you on the ladder and what behaviours are you facilitating?


‘When everyone chooses to be responsible, no-one is to blame’  Will Schutz, creator of FIRO


Want to keep up to date with all the latest news, trends & insights? Follow us on LinkedIn or connect to the OMT Newsletter to receive relevant updates and content directly to you.

OMT Global

Established in 1989, OMT works with large organisations to develop the leadership skills of their people managers, from first-time leaders right through to senior-level executives. We provide a range of consultancy, training and development services for organisations that want to further develop and retain their talent. OMT excels in helping organisations move from ad hoc or one-off efforts to a new way of behaving and working.

Talk to us about how we can help you and your organisation