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Responsibility v. Fault

Growing up, whenever I was asked if I had finished a task I was given, it was really easy to spit off about a million different reasons for why I wasn’t done. Most conversations with my parents (mostly my mom) went a little something like this:

“Hey Gino, have you cleaned your room today? It was really messy and I asked you to clean it yesterday.”
“No, Mom. I haven’t cleaned it yet. I had a lot of homework yesterday and then I had work and you asked me to help AJ with his math homework. Remember?”
“Oh yeah! I do remember. If you could just please get it done soon that would be fantastic!”

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a supervisor, a friend or just have ever delegated a task to someone, I’m sure you are very familiar with conversations like these. THEY CAN BE SO ANNOYING. I don’t know why my mom didn’t just roll her eyes at me and tell me to go to go clean my room right in that instance.

In my life as a Resident Assistant at UC San Diego, these conversations happened way too often, and they drove me bonkers. Food wouldn’t be ordered for an event because someone had to study for a test, decorations were not made because someone had to switch duty shifts with another coworker, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong. Please study for your exams. Please help out your coworkers when they are in need. But also, get your work done!

I am definitely no exception. However, half of the time the reason I don’t get things done is because I decided to nap or mess around on my phone playing Disney Kingdoms (no, the game is not obsolete. It’s actually a lot of fun). I just try to tell myself it’s someone or something else’s fault, instead of actually taking responsibility for my own actions. The thing is that until recently, I was completely UNAWARE that I was doing something wrong. I genuinely thought I had a completely valid reasons and justifications for why my work wasn’t getting done, but in reality, I was just placing fault wherever and whenever I could.

One tool that really changed my mindset was a piece of curriculum called the Accountability Ladder. The Accountability Ladder is comprised of 8 different rungs. On each rung of the ladder is a different word or phrase that describes your actions. The bottom four rungs on the ladder represent different kinds of FAULT. When we use fault, we give up our control over our decisions and are rendered powerless. For example, if I didn’t clean my room because I had to study for a test, I would place my actions on the rung of “Making Excuses” because I am placing fault on my circumstance. The top four rungs on the ladder represent levels of RESPONSIBILITY. In the same example above, I could say instead that I did not manage my time effectively and then I am “Acknowledging the Reality” of what actually happened. When we can take responsibility for our actions instead of placing fault, we become powerful forces in our own lives.  

The Accountability Ladder is one of my favorite tools that has helped me to organize my life. Here are three tips to using the Accountability Ladder and making sure it is effective:

  1. ‘Ladder’ Yourself Often: Knowing where you are on the Accountability Ladder is empowering. It doesn’t even need to apply to work or school but for any real-life situation. Why didn’t you wash the dishes? Why didn’t you send that email when you were supposed to? Think about where you are on the ladder so that you can “Do” something different about your situation!
  2. Move On The Ladder: Knowing that you are “Blaming Others” for things that go wrong doesn’t do anything if you keep blaming others every chance you get. Take every situation one at a time, and move up the Accountability Ladder towards “Finding Solutions” or making tangible strides to improve. Every situation is different and you may find yourself getting stuck or unsure of how to move forward. Ask for help, feedback, and suggestions from people around you that you trust so that you can gain new perspectives.  
  3. It’s Okay: It’s okay to place fault, everyone does it. Being on the bottom four rungs of the Accountability Ladder does not necessarily have to be a bad thing, as long as you don’t stay there. “Acknowledge the Reality” of what’s happening, take responsibility and “Own” your actions, and then “Find Solutions” to make positive change! We all move up and down the ladder at different times for different reasons, so be fair with yourself, but also actively challenge yourself to be better.

I know I might sound like a complete weirdo for saying how much I love using the Accountability Ladder. But trust me when I say, I am constantly asking myself, my coworkers, and my friends where they are on the Accountability Ladder so that we can all improve together! Give it a try, I am sure you will not be disappointed!

*Leadership Lesson*

Use the Accountability Ladder with your team:

  • Evaluate your performance – what has gone well for your team? what do you need to improve on? what challenges do you face internally and externally?
  • Then, take each of those items and determine where they fall on the Accountability Ladder
    • Be mindful that many of the things that you want to improve on will probably fall on the “Fault” rungs of the ladder (bottom four) at this point, if they were in “Responsibility” (top four) they most likely wouldn’t be concerns!
  • For all of the items that fall on the bottom four rungs of the ladder, determine what Actionable Steps can be taken by the group to move that challenge or concern into a place of Responsibility.
    • Use this as a time to brainstorm, gather as many ideas as you can and decide later what will be the most feasible.
  • At this point you are actively “Finding Solutions”, the next and most important step will be “Making it Happen”. It might take another meeting, or involving your superiors but come back to those solutions to determine which one is the best fit for your team, your organization, and the problem at hand. Do what you need to do to make that solution a reality and be prepared to evaluate it for effectiveness down the road.
  • Tell us how it goes!

*Meet the Author*

GinoCalavittaGino Calavitta is an avid Netflix watcher who enjoys practicing American Sign Language and going to concerts!