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the apprentice & accountability

Sean Spurgin

I don’t know if you are watching the Apprentice this year, I still find it addictive TV. Although, not always for the right reasons. I have found myself recently watching it r through the lens of ‘oh…that’s not how you should lead people’ or ‘oh my god…that is not a negotiation!’ etc.

One thing that does upset me is the level of accountability shown in the boardroom. Personally, I don’t think the programme is showing great business role models. If kids are watching this, they must be thinking ‘you know what, if it goes wrong at work…just blame someone else and throw them under the bus’, and that is not a message I am comfortable with.

When we are faced with a challenge or frustration of some kind, our first instinct is usually to protect ourselves and look elsewhere for someone to blame…..“Who dropped the ball?”

 Resource: Great video on ‘Blame’ – RSA


For most of us, this is an automatic defence mechanism, which comes to us so naturally, we rarely stop to think about how we are reacting in a particular situation.

Finger pointing and blame are the ultimate waste of resource as they take a lot of time and energy and accomplish nothing.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review stated, ‘one out of every two managers is terrible at accountability’.

Frightening thought!

One of the things we talk a lot about at Blue Sky is raising accountability in business, by starting at an individual level.

We have a great model that brings accountability to life……



Also, watch this video


On the surface, accountability is about owning or taking responsibility for yourself, your actions and your impact. Beneath the surface are a set of behaviours that either enable us to take accountability or to take the role of a victim.

If you have a situation in your life that you want to change, then the lens that you look through and how you see that situation will massively determine whether you do something about it, or not. The accountability ladder is a model for describing the different stages of understanding and behaviour in being accountable and it’s a tool that we use every day at Blue Sky both with our clients and in our own operation, to help us understand why we may not be getting the results we want out of life. Where you are on the accountability ladder directly affects that lens and your chances of actually making that change.

The Ladder has eight levels of accountability that allow us to step back, evaluate and really look at the choices we make and how we handle different situations. The top four rungs describe accountable behaviours (things that happen because of you) and the bottom four describe victim behaviours (things that happen to you). Below the line is the place where mood hoovers thrive, it is also the place where nothing new happens. If you’re rolling around below the line, blaming others making excuses or just waiting for something to magically become different, then nothing can change and, if that’s what you want and you’re happy there, then that’s OK, there is no judgement in accountability.

But if you really want something to change then you have to make a choice and the more time you can spend towards the top of the ladder, the more opportunities you can open up for yourself. Holding yourself accountable is the foundation of a successful mindset.

So how does it work?

Victim Behaviours:

  1. ‘I did not know’: These are the people who are not even aware of the problem or that there may even be a problem.
  2. Blame: It is always easy to point the finger at others. Overcoming this step requires people to point the finger at themselves and admit they may in fact be the problem, not other people or factors.
  3. Making excuses: making excuses as to why things are not getting done is very easy and a masked form of procrastination. People make excuses like ‘I am too busy’ or ‘I have never done that before’.
  4. Wait and hope: waiters and hopers are those who do just that. Wait and hope for miracles and successes to happen in their lives without ever lifting a finger and having to actually go out and get it done.

Accountable Behaviours:

  1. Acknowledging reality: people who are at this level look at the situation in black and white, realising there are tasks that need to get done and they are responsible for doing their part.
  2. I own it: once people have acknowledged the reality of the situation, they then decide are they going to fall back down the ladder and make excuses like blame and complain or they take ownership of the problem and move forward to create solutions.
  3. Find solutions: owning the situation is key and once people own it, the next step is to brainstorm and start thinking of solutions.
  4. Make it happen: as it says on the tin, this is about making it happen

 Next time you watch the Apprentice see how many victim behaviours you spot!

 Personal Accountability: How to know when you’re “Above the Line”

  •  You quickly recognise when you are in the victim cycle
  • You acknowledge the reality of existing problems and clearly understand the consequences of not resolving them.
  • You try to broaden your understanding about a problem you face by seeking a greater understanding from others
  • You acknowledge when you make a mistake
  • You listen when people offer their perspective and thoughts
  • You look at what you are personally doing (or not doing), that is getting in the way of your progress; as opposed to solely looking at how others are preventing your progress
  • You test your view of reality with other people when faced with a complex problem
  • When explaining your lack of progress, you are quick to acknowledge how you contributed to the lack of results

Do you recognise any of these behaviours in you?

What could you build on to improve further?

Things you can do right now

  1. Acknowledge the reality; print off the last 10 emails you sent, both personal and professional and as you read back through them reflect on where you were on the ladder when you sent them.
  2. Think about a change you want to make right now; where are you with that change on the ladder? How could you start to move yourself up two or three rungs to start to take some action?