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The Ladder We Can All Climb For Better Outcomes

Updated: Jan 20

I recently met with a team leader wanting to “motivate her team to individually develop themselves.” She had already set the expectation for team members to take 2 hours (or whatever time was needed) off the phone to spend time on their own development, and had been further encouraging the practice during monthly team meetings. She was discouraged that only one team member was actually following through.

I commented that the motivated team member must have already visualized how investing in herself would benefit her, the team, and/or her customers. The leader then responded, “Well, yes – she wants to climb the corporate ladder, and I know she’ll do it. It’s just that for many on the team, including myself, we’re only a couple years away from retirement. That’s not our motivation.”

When I asked what her personal motivations for development were, she didn’t know. She then turned the conversation to the challenges of the team, who were constantly under pressure and always feeling obligated to “fix the fire” over developing themselves. She said leadership was responsible for their situation by not listening to the team’s concerns, and for placing more work on already full plates. She didn’t see an end to the cycle and was feeling completely unable to help her team grow through it.

I’m guessing many of you can empathize with her situation. I felt her pain. And yet I had a different perspective.

You may have heard that thoughts become beliefs and beliefs drive our actions (or inaction.) If we believe we have no power over our circumstances, we’ll see things through the “victim” filter and act – or not act – based on those beliefs. If we believe we have power over our circumstances, we find opportunities to act toward our visions until they become reality. And we’ll find ourselves more engaged and empowered, despite the circumstances.

The proof? The team member who was motivated to invest in herself, despite the circumstances, and was taking action to make it happen. She had the same workload and customer pressures as the rest of the team but had committed to her goal. She was ready to sacrifice comfort for ultimate success.

I realize that “climbing the corporate ladder” isn’t a goal that appeals to everyone, so I want to offer another ladder that, if each of us courageously committed to climbing this ladder, we would experience better outcomes, stronger relationships, more productivity and personal peace. So, what is this magical (not really) ladder?


The Ladder of Accountability

Click here for a more detailed review of each level.

The base of the ladder is where most of us start. We’re “unaware or unconscious” of our growth areas. We don’t have a vision for how different actions would lead to different – better – outcomes. So, we just keep on doing what we’re doing and getting the same outcomes.

Generally, we become aware of growth opportunities in one of two ways:

  1. We become consciously aware on our own or

  2. External sources bring it to our attention (this is usually the more painful option)

Below are a few examples:

  1. Your leader sharing developmental feedback during a performance discussion that would lead to better outcomes (External source)

  2. You personally recognizing that the work is shifting from what it was when you first started the job and you will need to enhance your current skills to stay relevant (Personal realization)

  3. Taking on new responsibilities – work, family, home, etc. – and recognizing the need to learn new skills or tools (Personal realization)

  4. Your spouse/kids/extended family/friends are having negative reactions to your negative reactions and have either mentioned something to you directly or are now guarded around you (External source)

  5. Recognizing that you are reacting to your life and are feeling the pressure of being pulled into multiple directions with multiple expectations – you’re exhausted (Personal realization)

  6. Your body is experiencing aches and lethargy from over-consumption of carbs and sugar – you feel generally crappy and your clothes don’t fit anymore, which depresses you (External source and personal realization)

The way you become aware of personal growth opportunities could impact the pace at which you move up the ladder. When external sources bring it to your attention, there’s a natural tendency to stay in the lower part of the ladder longer. Where ever you are, that’s your starting point.

On the ladder graphic, notice the lower four rungs are described as “Victim Behaviors.” I would describe these as “protecting the personal comfort zone.” The rungs within this section represent ways of thinking and acting that tend to blame external forces as the reason for not taking personal responsibility. The longer you stay on these rungs, the more rigid, frustrated and exhausted you’ll become.

Going back to the conversation I had with the leader, notice where her responses fell on these rungs. She believed that management, workload, and customer pressures were contributing factors to her and her team not taking initiative to develop. This led her to feel powerless, waiting and hoping that somehow, something would change. This lead to frustration and apathy, and her counting the days to retirement.

Compare that to her team member who had already moved into the “Accountable Behaviors” rungs of the ladder. This team member had:

  1. Accepted the reality of the workload and job expectations

  2. Embraced that she could spend work time on personal development

  3. Found opportunities that fit with her vision of her future career path, which also helped her be more productive in her current role

  4. Shifted her mindset to recognize she was in control of her circumstances, not the other way around

Applying the Ladder: Personal Examples

It’s easy to just see this tool as something leaders in businesses use for employee development discussions, but it’s much more than that.

Earlier I mentioned that if each of us courageously committed to climbing this ladder, we would experience better outcomes, stronger relationships, more productivity and personal peace.

Allow me to share personal examples where I’ve experienced just that in my personal life.

So that you don’t have to keep scrolling back to the first ladder graphic, here’s another version!

Example 1: Getting Healthy

I’ve turned to food for comfort since I was a kid. Especially sweets and carbs. Having built this habit early in life, I turned to this comfort strategy again and again, wishing and hoping that somehow, I’d get different outcomes by doing the same thing over and over. Over time, all I experienced was the negative impact it was having on my health and well being. I was frustrated, tired, lethargic, and generally foggy.

When I look back with the perspective of the Ladder of Accountability, I noticed I spent most of my life on the victim rungs:

  1. Blaming. Blaming a society where it’s easier to order pizzas than make a healthy meal. Blaming myself for not having enough will power. Blaming stressors for driving me to sweets and carbs for comfort.

  2. Excuses. “If I only had… time… finances…the right shoes…I’d workout more.” “If we didn’t have so much going on in our lives, I’d eat better.” “If only work wasn’t this stressful…”

  3. Giving Up On Myself. It’s so much easier to deflect accountability with “I can’t” than it is to lean into the commitment that comes with “I can and I will.” The latter comes with sacrifice – of time, possibly finances, and most definitely comfort.

The movement beyond the victim rungs of the ladder came the year I made “health” my goal. (Read more about it in this post.)

I accepted the reality that sweets and carbs were my coping mechanism and that this strategy wasn’t serving me anymore. I had to learn new habits to have better outcomes.

I came to a point where I feared staying stuck more than I feared what it was going to take to make the change. I came to the end of my excuses and faced up to the reality that I was the only one making decisions – and taking action – on what to eat or not eat. I had the power to control my circumstances (not the other way around.)

I was able to shift my mindset when:

  1. I stopped looking at sweets as something I “couldn’t have” and looked at them as “something that would take me further from my goal rather than closer”

  2. I cared more about me than what others thought about me, like making choices on what not to eat at potlucks or work parties

Breaking the old habits and making new habits took WAAAYYYY longer than I wanted (I’m all about immediate gratification, after all!) Two years later, it’s been a journey of small, intentional decisions that eventually added up to better health… and being down 25+ pounds to date. It’s less about the weight and more about my overall health – which also improved!

Example 2: Overcoming Reactive Anger

Just like sweets and carbs had been a comfort coping mechanism for me for years, reactive anger was my go-to reaction for most circumstances where I felt out of control.

When something triggered me, I could hear my tone almost immediately become aggressive, critical, sometimes condescending and snarky. In typical cause-and-effect fashion, my negative reaction would cause the other party to shut down and/or become defensive, usually responding with anger. Or, they would choose to avoid or ignore me. Both reactions increased my reactive anger and resentment toward both the situation and the person(s).

I quickly realized that having a teenager is a mine field for my reactive anger. My triggers include:

  1. When the chores aren’t done (or done to my expectations)

  2. The phone usage starts to push the boundaries of the contract we’d previously agreed to

  3. I’m sure parents of teenagers could help me create a list of about 30 more things, but this post is long already, so I’ll just move on!

Having been through my “better health” experience, I recognized blaming when I heard it: “If only he would do what was expected/asked, I wouldn’t have to react so strongly for him to HEAR me.” I realized I was playing the victim and keeping myself – and my relationship with my teenager – in a cycle of frustration and annoyance. This is not the outcome I wanted, so something had to change. Me.

I moved more quickly up the ladder this time around. I:

  1. Accepted my bad habit of reactive anger and the negative outcomes it produced.

  2. Embraced the reality that while I could choose better solutions that would lead to better outcomes for me, I couldn’t control my teenager or his responses. I would need to be prepared to own my actions, regardless of his reactions.

  3. I wanted a better relationship with him, but I could only control my half of the relationship. Owning this realization was both scary and empowering.

I started by observing and recognizing my triggers. I would feel the initial surge of adrenaline, to which I would normally have reactive anger. Instead, I acknowledged that I was feeling out of control. I would take a quick pause to collect myself and my thoughts. Lastly, I would use ask first for my teenager’s input. Something like, “Tell me how you see this situation.” This allowed me time to collect my thoughts while also getting important information I may not have gotten had I shut down the dialogue with reactive anger.

Just like getting healthier, overcoming reactive anger isn’t something that happens overnight. The immediate gratification of staying a victim must be replaced with intentional decisions that can be awkward and uncomfortable. It can get discouraging, which can cause people give up when they don’t see change right away. What seems small in the moment can add up to significant positive outcomes if you keep at it.

The first time I knew it was working was when my teenager dropped a large soup can on our glass top stove and the glass cracked in multiple places. Instead of having a reactive outburst, I caught myself, looked him in the eyes, and said, “It’s only stuff.” To which my surprised teenager replied, “Wow! That was a really good way to see things!” It was a deposit on our relational bank.

The second acknowledgement came on our family vacation a few months later. We were having dinner together and somehow the conversation included something about short tempers. My teenager then commented, “Mom, I’ve noticed yours is much better!”

Cash in another deposit in our relational bank!

In both scenarios, I courageously committed to climbing the ladder. I then experienced better outcomes, stronger relationships, more productivity and personal peace.

What Rung Are You On?

As you reflect on where you are in your current life journey:

  1. Which rung(s) are you on?

  2. Are you where you want to be?

  3. Are you getting the outcomes you want?

  4. What’s holding you back that is within your control?

  5. What would it take to get accountable?

  6. Are you willing to sacrifice current comfort (or discomfort) for future personal peace?

Where ever you are, that’s your starting point. You get to choose to take the next courageous step – or not. You’ll know when you’re ready for better outcomes, better relationships, and personal peace.

When you are ready, consider scheduling a free, 30-minute consultation to talk through what next steps may look like for you.

I came to a point where I feared staying stuck more than I feared what it was going to take to make the change. I came to the end of my excuses and faced up to reality.” Me


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