7 Signs We’ve Taken Accountability Too Far


Jeremy posted this question on our QBQ! Facebook page:

Is it possible to have too much personal accountability?

Our response: 

Sure, Jeremy—but then it’s not personal accountability. It’s crossing boundaries, being controlling, and taking charge when we have no right.

This topic has always been a challenge to convey to people—including myself.

Why? Because of this truth:

Any strength taken to an extreme becomes a weakness.

Once we start nodding our heads and thinking, Amen! Personal accountability is critical and I need to practice it more. I will get started right now!—we run the risk of going to the extreme.

So, here are seven signs that warn us we’re taking accountability too far:

  1. Lecturing others on how they need to be more accountable!
  2. Possessing an overwhelming sense of responsibility which leads to believing that everything is our fault.
  3. Trying to solve people’s problems—even when they don’t want help!
  4. Doing someone else’s work for them.
  5. Covering for, adopting, and enabling people around us.
  6. Habitually offering unsolicited advice.
  7. Informing others they aren’t asking The Question Behind the Question.

I must say, #7 always makes me chuckle. We’re so human that, if we’re not careful, we’ll read the QBQ! book or go through a QBQ! training session and decide that we are now The QBQ! Police. Before we know it, we’re running around telling others that they shouldn’t be asking victim-oriented, blame-centered, procrastination-inducing questions!

When we recently gave the QBQ! book a gentle rewrite, we added a chapter titled “Accountability and Boundaries.” I felt strongly that this topic needed to be addressed. Here’s a portion:

“When sales managers step in and close the sale, when project leaders carry the team’s ball, when parents clean the child’s room—it teaches nothing positive and adds no lasting value. Certainly, leaders ask QBQs like, ‘How can I help?’ and ‘What can I do to contribute?’ but they don’t do other people’s work for them. For most of us, defining boundaries—where my accountability ends and another’s begins—is a lifelong process. I suggest asking the QBQ, ‘How can I set good boundaries?’ Accountable people are committed first and foremost to excelling in their own job and performing their own work the best they can.”

Okay, let’s learn together by sharing our thoughts below. Questions for comment:

Share a time when you crossed important boundaries and took accountability to the extreme. What were the consequences? What did you learn from the experience?

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9 Responses

  1. Very good post today John. It speaks strongly to the idea that most people want to be helpful to others. This in fact, is a great attribute. This can apply to our co-workers or employees or our children. It is difficult to watch people struggle and work through tough times when we can help them carry the load or offer solutions. Yet, it is correct that everyone learns the most by going through tough experiences themselves versus readily getting help.
    So to help or not to help–that is the question. One of the first things I ask myself is “Does the person who is struggling doing all they can to help themselves?” If the answer is yes, I am more likley to help. However, I find there is no pat answer for all situations–when to help others is a lifetime skill that must be practiced and developed through wisdom and experience.

  2. John,

    I struggle with #2! Thanks for sharing these. Nice to know that there are other “me’s” out there.

  3. Always loved this point, and so important to remember. I guess one of the marks of QBQs relevance for people is how strongly they want to share it with others. But as you say, as soon as our focus moves to other people we’re in danger of no longer thinking accountably.

    Not to say we can’t use it to help others, of course, but modeling is much more effective than telling. 🙂

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. John, great post. I am glad to see these 7 items to continue to help me improve and not take personal accountability too far.

  5. I have been guilty of operating in all seven areas of too much accountability. The most painful was when I took responsibility for a bad hire by over-compensating, taking responsibility for her mistakes, making excuses out of guilt (2), trying to train to make up for the mistake (3), trying to solve her problems so she would work out on our team. It was awful and created a lot of stress and frustration for our team. She is no longer with us and I have learned some invaluable lessons in managing my own stuff.

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