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Earlier this year some fellow business coaches and I agreed to each identify five or six non-fiction books that are our "go to’s" when we work with groups and individuals. Although I rely on QBQ! What to Really Ask Yourself – Practicing Personal Accountability in Business and in Life myself, I was a bit surprised that it showed up on more than a few of my colleagues’ lists. Not that it isn’t a fine book…I just wasn’t aware that it had the following that it did, at least amongst some of my peers. John G. Miller’s handbook aims to help eliminate blame, complaining, and procrastination and addresses what he feels is a major issue: the lack of personal accountability.


"It’s not my fault."

"Why is this happening to me?"

"No one told me."

"It couldn’t be helped."

"Who dropped the ball?"

"It’s not my problem."

In one form or another, we often hear these questions and statements. Why does it seem, Miller asks, that the only thing people know how to do anymore is point the finger elsewhere, blaming something or someone else for their problems, their actions, or their feelings?

It is understandable that we think and feel the way we do, especially when we get frustrated. But the above exclamations are all negative and don’t solve any problems. Say them aloud. How do they make you feel?  For me: powerless; like a victim of the environment and the people around me. I don’t want to be a victim. I want to have influence and a say in my circumstances. Many of the organizations that I see today reflect our society’s tendency to blame other people, act like a victim, and generally not take responsibility for our own actions. QBQ is a tool that helps individuals practice personal accountability by asking better questions. The idea that we are accountable for our own choices and are free to make better ones is fundamental to the QBQ. Miller writes that "Sometimes people think they have no choice. They’ll say things like, "I have to" or "I can’t." But we always have a choice. Always. Realizing this and taking responsibility for our choices is a big step toward making great things happen in our lives."

Let’s review the tool that Miller believes brings personal accountability to life: the QBQ. Here are the three simple guidelines for creating a QBQ.


1.    Begin with "What" or "How" (not "Why," "When," or Who").

When we ask "When," for example, we’re really saying we have no choice but to wait and put off action until another time. Questions that start with "When" lead to procrastination. Procrastination is a sneaky problem. We put off a problem until a little later, and then a little later, and then a little later, until before we know it we have put off action so long that we have a serious problem. Miller quotes a friend who likes to say: "Let’s take care of the little things while they’re still little." When we ask "Who" we deflect to someone else and take the responsibility off of ourselves. We’re looking for scapegoats and someone else to blame.

2.    Contain an "I" (not "they," "them," "we" or "you").

Personal accountability is about each of us holding ourselves accountable for our own thinking and behaviors and the results they produce. Blame and "whodunit" questions solve nothing. They create fear, destroy creativity and build walls. There’s not a chance we’ll reach our full potential until we stop blaming each other and start practicing personal accountability. No matter what we’re trying to accomplish, there’s always a barrier of some kind to overcome, and it’s often something over which we have no control. Instead of focusing on the barriers, let’s work to become so good that we’ll succeed no matter what. Who do accountable people blame? No one, not even themselves.

3.    Focus on action.

To make a QBQ action-focused, we add verbs such as "do," "make," "achieve," and "build" to questions that start with "What" or "How" and contain an "I." You end up with questions like these:

"What can I do to help you do your job better?"

"What can I do to make a difference?"

"How can I support the team?"

"How can I help move this forward?"

"How can I provide value to you?"

"What solution can I provide?"

"How can I do my job better today?"

"How can I improve the situation?"

"How can I better understand you?"

"What can I do to find the information to make a decision?"

"How can I adapt to the changing world?"


Taking action may seem risky, but doing nothing is a bigger risk! Even though there are risks involved in taking action, the alternative, inaction, is almost never the better choice. Miller writes that:

  • Action, even when it leads to mistakes, brings learning and growth. Inaction brings stagnation and atrophy.
  • Action leads us toward solutions. Inaction at best does nothing and holds us in the past.
  • Action requires courage. Inaction often indicates fear.
  • Action builds confidence; inaction, doubt.

QBQ is the practice of personal accountability: We discipline our thoughts. We ask better questions. We take action. QBQ: The Question Behind the Question. Practice it…and may it serve you well.