Thinking like a leader

At our most recent Inspiring women’s networking event one of our fabulous associates Karen Waitt presented to us about taking leadership regardless of your role.   She used a tool which many of you will have heard of called the Ladder of Accountability. The purpose of this was to help us to choose to think as a leader and take ownership for how we respond in any situation.

When you’re faced with a challenge, it can be helpful to think in terms of the options described in the diagram above.  Every time you respond to a challenge you are making a choice – will you acknowledge the reality of the situation and take responsibility for getting a good outcome? Or will you become a “victim” of the situation?

The Ladder of Accountability describes the range of common reactions to a challenge. When you choose to be accountable and ‘above the line’ you are also giving yourself more influence over the outcome. Conversely if you choose a ‘below the line’ response, you risk being seen as powerless, with little to contribute in terms of the outcome.


The Ladder in action

Karen told us about a team she worked with within a private hospital a couple of years ago.  One of the women in the team told her a story about how their manager never had performance development conversations with them.  They were all very unhappy about this, and used to get into a “moaning circle” (as you do!) about how bad their manager was (blame) – and ask how could they get anywhere when they didn’t even know how they were going (excuses) – they didn’t have any development plans etc etc.  Oh well, they’d say, we’ll see what happens this year (wait and hope).  Very much ‘below the line’ thinking.

The woman who told Karen the story said while she used to get involved in these “moaning sessions”, she finally got sick of whinging and decided that unless she did something about it nothing would ever happen (acknowledging reality).

So she asked herself “what can I do about this?” (taking ownership), and decided to knock on the manager’s door and say “I’d like to make a time with you to talk about my performance and development, would Tuesday or Thursday suit you best?” (taking action).  The manager made a time and they went ahead and had the meeting (make it happen).

Karen asserted that she was not excusing the manager for not doing her job, because she should manage the performance of her team (and no one had held her accountable for it!). But, the point of the story is that the woman who bit the bullet and did something about it got what she wanted, and also influenced things for the rest of the team.  Her thinking ended up ‘above the line’.


Some tips for staying ‘above the line’

  • Challenge your thinking.  Ask yourself “What aspects of this situation are within my control?”
  • Take a proactive approach and own your own responses.
  • Help others to be ‘above the line’ – i.e. ask them “What can we/you do about that?”
  • Avoid being part of the ‘moaning circle’.


Karen Waitt - Presenting at the Inspiring Women's Network Event 21st October 2015
Karen Waitt – Presenting at the Inspiring Women’s Network Event 21st October 2015


These are free events hosted by Inspire Group, around themes supporting our current and future leaders. The events are unique in that they allow women and men from different professional groups and different generations to network in a very relaxed environment whilst also learning from our speakers and each other.

To join our Inspiring Women’s Leadership Network (men also welcome!) please email Catherine Harvey

Leave a Reply