Accountability: The First Brick of Success

I love this brick. I paid $10 for it in 1982.


It came from the Anaconda Mining Company smokestack in Great Falls, Montana. The “Great Stack,” as it was called, was built in 1908 and was 585 feet tall—quite a feat for the times. Karen and I were lucky enough to be living in Great Falls in September 1982 when a demolition crew detonated charges to bring it down while the whole city watched.

But it didn’t go quite as planned. This is how the Great Falls Tribune described the moment:

“The Great Falls smokestack died slowly and defiantly Sept. 18, 1982, as thousands of onlookers lined up to watch its public execution. Instead of a quick death, the landmark was gut-shot and a splinter comprised of about one-third of the structure stubbornly held together to continue dominating the skyline—forcing demolition workers to deliver a coup-de-grace seven hours later.”

Watch less than one minute (2:49-3:43) of this 1992 TV documentary to see exactly what Karen and I saw that day so long ago!

Bottom line, the Great Falls Great Stack didn’t crumble as expected. It must have been built right.

I believe that my favorite brick and the mighty structure it came from—and how strong it stood that September day—is a metaphor for what successful living looks like.

Question: What “bricks” are needed for successful living?

One might argue that there are many, but I choose to believe the cornerstone is PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. How easy it would be to crumble under the weight of life without PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY.

Seriously, how strong—how long—could we stand if we blamed, played victim, felt entitled, and procrastinated our way through life???

And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I recently keynoted the annual Meineke franchisee convention. When the President, Paul Clayton—former Jamba Juice CEO and longtime Burger King executive—and I first spoke by phone, he asked, “John, since I haven’t read your QBQ! book yet, how would you sum up your message?”

I said, “Paul, six words: No excuses. I own the result.”

He responded, “You’re hired.”

Paul is a wise man. No, not because he booked me to speak to his fine people, but because he knows that running a business is hard work. Just like holding down a job, managing people, volunteering, building/maintaining relationships, keeping physically fit, staying financially sound, being an outstanding parent working to raise great kids, and selling anything.

This is life and nobody said life is easy.

How can we do life and do it well without PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY? When the explosive winds of change come, along with the frustration, disappointment, pain, and heartache that daily living can bring, can I—will I—stand strong?

I can and I will if I have the right bricks in place.

At QBQ, Inc., we believe the first brick—the most critical brick—is PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. Said another way, PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY comes first. (Remember this piece?)

Disagree if you want, but for me this is one belief that cannot be toppled.

For Discussion:

Is the “brick” of PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY in place in your life? How has it helped you live better? Do you believe there is a different brick that comes before PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY for successful living? If so, share what it is and why you feel it comes first!

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36 Responses

  1. I completely agree with you on the Brick concept. I suppose first and foremost, my faith is a driver in my actions to do good so that comes first. The Personal Accountability really comes into play when I make a mistake and actually OWN said mistake, instead of minimizing it. Better to admit an error than and have someone temporarily upset than to cover it up with a lie and compromise integrity.

  2. Some of the best advice I ever received was someone told me that sometimes the greatest gift you can give to someone is the gift of consequences. I gave myself that gift and I discovered personal accountability took the place of excuses.

  3. Being personally accountable for my actions has caused me to question some of the places I have worked but that is because the accountability factor was not a part of the culture at these places. Much like ethical behavior, personal accountability can cause you angst when the business culture you are in has a conflicting value set than you (the person with ethics and personal accountability). But I still hold true to my ethics and personal accountability even though I have chosen to let go of positions that cause me to have the angst. As long as the thread of hope is there I continue my quest to find the culture that allows me to hold on to ethical behavior and personal accountability.

  4. If it to be, it’s up to me! No excuses, no reasons. Be the Brick!
    Ironcially part of my family owned a brick manufacturing operation in West Virgina – The Cushwa Brick Company – and I have a Cushwa brick I proudly display on my bookshelf. It will henceforth have new meaning for me. Be the Brick!

  5. I totally agree! It is so easy to blame others (which I do). It is a constant battle to be positive and not play victim but is so worth it. You not only gain the respect of others but you gain respect for yourself! Stay strong!!! And thanks for these great messages and reminders!
    You ROCK!

  6. I view personal accountability as ONE very important character trait. There are many interconnected characters traits, such as honesty, integrity, faith, sincerity, reliability, self-awareness – the list goes on. If any of these traits is missing, personal accountability is diminished or lopsided like an egg or flat tire. I view these traits, INCLUDING personal accountability, as foundational. Without a solid foundation, a building can’t stand for very long time and will eventually will crumble.

  7. I agree with Personal accountability first! I speak on Your Personality Strengths and how they show up in your communication. I use this equation;
    Awareness + Accountability + Action = Success! You must have some self awareness,or knowledge of the issue in order to accept (or not) the role you play.

  8. I believe that if one is fortunate to have the strength to lift the brick, it comes from all of the lessons learned in childhood, from family, teachers, coaches, etc. The stronger one’s character is, the easier life’s lessons are going to be, and there are many obstacles to overcome every day!

  9. I just love your write ups of personal accountability and the analogy of the brick! I know you put in critical thinking to generate the neat write up. This made me remember the adage, “If you want to soar with eagles you cant hang around turkeys!” Cheers, John G. Miller!

  10. John,

    I’m with you that personal responsibility is a cornerstone of successful living. It allows you to live a life knowing you’re taking it where it needs to go. You’re also willing to man up and take on the responsibility for your own actions.

  11. I think this is the challenge facing the workplace today. So many do not take personal accountability and want to push the load onto someone else. It is so easy to deflect rather than reflect.

  12. Absolutely agree with the brick of personal accountability; I just wish our current society valued it as much instead of the leaders of it not taking any accountability. Our youth especially think they are entitled to almost everything with no accountability.

  13. This is such a crucial conversation topic – one that we’ve been having in our home with our teenage son (17 going on 18). He has always struggled mightily in school, and it’s FINALLY sunk in that playing the victim or blame game doesn’t do anything but keep him stuck where he doesn’t want to be. We transferred him to an alternative high school here in Atlanta and he is absolutely shining now – it’s a joy to watch! One of the things we always talk about is what kind of “house” he is building for his life. Is he using straw or brick? This is so timely and will be the topic of discussion tonight at dinner. Thank you! 🙂

  14. This message could not have come at a better time. I admit I’ve spent a majority of my life playing the blame game and feeling hopeless with the direction of my life. Recently I decided to reflect back over my life and I realized, accepted, and embraced that in every situation where I felt like the “victim”…I was personally responsible for that feeling. I cannot control someone else’s actions but I can control the environments I choose to put my self in, the relationships I chose to engage in, and the reaction or response to people and situations. Looking back…I’ve always had a choice. I am excited to move forward with this next phase of life fully aware and accepting I am personally responsible and personally accountable for my self and my life.

  15. Just as with any building you must have a cornerstone (brick) to have a good start to a firm foundation. Accountability is that brick for the success of life. Without it you are destined to fall.

  16. I learned long ago that having broad shoulders and owning up to my own choices served me better than pointing the finger of blame. When you’re known for taking responsibility for your choices others will back you when you need it.

  17. Due to technical problems, I am posting this for Oliver C. who emailed it to me!:

    A few years ago I was struggling with the relentless concern of providing a better life for my family. Time is short and the cost of opportunity is too high. So my dilemma was simple. I believed I had the skills and abilities to become a manager but I seem to lack the support to get the opportunity offered to me. Tried outside but I lacked the experience. As always it is easy to blame your work load or your circumstances, the amount of travel to and from work, etc., you can use your imagination for my excuses.

    I had not read the QBQ! back then but I had a moment of light. I realized I had to have the credentials to assure and ensure I had the skills and abilities to be a manager. At the same time the company started offering on-line classes. So determined to get my promotion I made my plan. It was my plan; no one gave it to me. The success depended on me alone.

    So I started taking the on-line classes. It took me about 1 hour to take one class. The time needed to get to work on time and the time I deemed necessary to keep my family life was an important factor. So to make better use of my time I started taking the classes at lunch. It was hard and not fun and I had to change a few routines, etc. The threat of making excuses or playing victim was always there. So to make long story short I met my own target. It was an accomplishment all in its own for me. No one can take that away from me.

    Needless to say I not only met the target to be considered for promotion, I smoked it! And, I got my promotion—and not one but three! Now that I have read the QBQ! it all makes sense.

    John, I like your definition of the QBQ: “No excuses. I own the result.” the best advice of the QBQ in my opinion is: “repetition” so read the book again, and again, and again! You cannot risk the fact that you may forget about it. The price can be very costly. Which I learned the hard way, of course.

    I hope my story helps and encourage anyone who reads it.

  18. I lived in Great Falls when they decided to take the stack down. I remember watching it happen on TV and how it did not go down like they thought. I remember thinking maybe the stack was never meant to come down, but I remember them saying it needed to come down because it was polluting the water. Thanks for the memory with this post and for the many nuggets of wisdom.

  19. Completely agree with this message! It’s very easy to get caught up in “It’s not my fault or job to fix it.” Maybe I didn’t cause the issue, so what. The problem was brought to my attention. It’s my job to fix it or find the person who can and help them fix it.

    As they say, when your point one finger at someone there are 3 more pointing right back at you. (the thumb doesn’t count!)

  20. Hi John, I found you via entrepreneur on fire. and just listened to your podcast. The interview was so powerful and inspiring- make the calls, simplicity, habit, concentration etc. I am going to take those inspiring words and make more calls to get the results for my startup business. I will always remember” I am accountable for my results”. love your energy and thank you again.

  21. Hi John:

    I’m here because I found a nearly perfect-condition copy of QBQ in a stack of books at Goodwill. I was immediately drawn by the title which very closely mirrors the message of an audio series I’m currently re-listening to called Natural Selling; reticular activation making good.

    I will finish the QBQ book today and I appreciate this quote, “Ownership: ‘A commitment of the head, heart, and hands to fix the problem and never again affix the blame.”

    Personal accountability is desperately needed, especially today in a society sickened by blaming others (e.g. politics) and conditioned by the same to expect everybody but themselves to “make it happen,” whatever ‘it’ might be. To advance quickly, one must take personal accountability to heart, starting with me.

  22. I certainly agree that personal accountability is a foundational brick that must be set even if not the cornerstone. But we must use the mortar of love. If we dive into the personal accountability arena without loving ourselves, it leads to self-condemnation. In turn this could lead us into self-righteousness and hopelessness.
    Great discussion!

  23. I have to say that my brick of accountability is my faith. My belief in God’s word keeps me grounded as the bible gives practical ways to live our lives. Forgive, Love, be kind, discipline yourself, give, self examination repentance, and the list goes on. This has become my way of life and keeps me grounded in all areas of my life.

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