The One Thing Accountable People Know

That 1 ThingProspecting by phone for many years, I learned that sometimes executives answer their own line. However, upon hearing me ask for a moment of their time, they’d bark, “I’M IN A MEETING!”

I learned to handle that objection, but it baffled me. My unspoken thought was—THEN DON’T ANSWER YOUR PHONE!

Not unlike someone complaining just the other day, “Your text woke me from my nap!”


These small but real scenarios actually demonstrate the value in learning to ask “The Question Behind the Question” (QBQ) and bringing greater PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY into one’s life.

The one thing accountable people know is this:

There are few situations where one can’t look in the mirror and pose this QBQ:

“What could I have done differently?”

Almost a decade ago, the real estate market crashed. Unable to pay the easy-money mortgage they’d personally signed, those who accepted responsibility for their actions responded to a foreclosure with QBQs like, “How could I have avoided this mess?” and “What can I do to learn from this experience?”

Less accountable people ripped out and loaded up plumbing fixtures, furnaces, and air conditioning units and drove away.

All so the evil bank couldn’t have them.

No personal accountability there. Not much looking into that proverbial mirror, either.

It’s risky to use an example from my life, but I’m going to take that risk …

In 1997, I spoke at a Land O’ Lakes event held at a restaurant. Planning to tape my talk, I brought a brand new audio recording system that featured an 18” x 6” receiver that served as a base for two antennas.

Minutes into my after-dinner keynote—CRACK!!!

Turning toward the noise, I saw an anxious server with a heavy tray of dishes standing next to my receiver. She’d stepped on it, breaking one antenna off forever.

The old John might’ve been pretty peeved. Patience with others has never been my strong suit. But this time, @QBQGuy—applying the same material I was sharing that evening—went straight to this accountable thought:

I just bought that! Frustrating! But, I should never have left it on the floor next to the kitchen door. My fault.

So I waved the server off with a smile and said, “Don’t worry about it. I shouldn’t have put it there”—and went back to work. Relieved, she went back to work, too.

It was a good moment for all.

When small and large problems arise, pausing to ask, “How could I have prevented this problem?” instead of blaming or playing the victim, shows who we are, deep down inside where we really live.

And deep down, I want to be an accountable, responsible person who takes ownership for my life.

I bet you do, too.

So the next time someone interrupts your meeting, wakes you with a text, or steps on your antenna, just do that one thing most people won’t do:

Ask the QBQ, “What could I have done differently?”

There’s no better way to experience and enjoy the power of PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY.

How do you plan to apply this message? Share here!

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3 Responses

  1. I have tried to use this concept when faced with the question.. What could I have done differently? I say to myself…”Life is 10% what happens to me… and 90% how I deal with it and I need to constantly work on my 90%!” I can not change what has happened to me, but what is most important is what I do next. Trying to have and keep that mind set seems to help me focus on a positive re-action to what has just occurred. It is not always easy to accomplish, but when it happens the results are always for the best.

  2. Hi John,

    Thanks for the great information. I enjoyed the story you shared about your radio / antenna. This message makes think about ‘treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves.’ Often we respond to situations or people too quickly without thinking of “how” we are responding. So simply pausing and considering how to respond differently (as you indicated) can be a huge help. Thanks for your insights!! — Lisa

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