Accountability: The First Brick of Success

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

Brick

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:

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The 3 Components of Personal Change

I just can’t resist using these pictures I took near our Colorado home, because every single time I see this scene I wonder this:

Do I do anything over and over that fails to generate a positive result?

Fotor090363319

On the left we see a driveway overrun with weeds, and a small formerly attached garage in the background. I say “formerly” because the house it was attached to burned down three years ago.

On the right we see several issues of the weekend Denver Post, tossed there by a delivery person week after week even though the house at this address burned down three years ago!

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Build Character: Teaching Accountability to Youth

ioi-book-pageOver five years ago, while still working as a university academic adviser, I started off my career with QBQ, Inc. as the “youth face” of the organization. (Because, well, let’s face it—between my dad and me, who’s going to connect more with Generation Y?) Using my vacation days, I’d travel to share the message of “Personal Accountability and the QBQ!” with teens and college students across the country.

Here is an email I received from a student:

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Accountability: Bringing a “Coach” Into My Life

Pruning - it's a good thing!Pruning – it’s a good thing!

On one of my walks that keep me from becoming a “beached whale” again, I observed this Colorado homeowner doing some serious pruning of a much-too-crowded, old grove of trees. My first thought was, That looks so much better. Wonder why he didn’t do it five years ago?

My second thought was, 1987. 

That year my dad came from Ithaca, NY to visit Karen and me in Brooklyn Center, MN. On the last day of his visit, when I carried his suitcase to the car, I found him standing on our quiet street studying our modest split-level home. After a moment or two of reflection, he said, “You know, son, taking down that big pine tree would really open up your yard and let people see your nice home.”

But I love that tree! I thought.

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8 Truths of Accountability

Since this post was first published, due to”popular demand,” we turned it into a wall poster for your organization!

I’ve been speaking on or writing about personal accountability since 1995—and I’ve come to believe there are eight truths that do exist, but are often rejected:

1. Everybody wants everybody else to practice personal accountability. Enough said.

2. Individuals make exceptions for themselves when it comes to the principles of accountability and responsibility:

Example:

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Accountability: Flying Higher Is MY Job!

I always enjoy speaking at a client event, partly because I love to sometimes be a contrarian.

Okay, who am I kidding—I love being “contrary” a lot. Karen and I even love to raise contrarians! I mean, who wants to be a lemming?

Truth be told, when any of our QBQ! speakers arrive at an event, they already have “contrarian” stamped on their forehead because our sessions are titled “Personal Accountability and the QBQ!” And I think Kristin, at age 30, is especially contrary. How much more of an upstream-swimming salmon can one be than to be a Millennial and teach PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY in this blame infested and entitlement laden society?

But enough about us, really. What about the QBQ! material? What does it do for people and where does it apply?

QBQ! changes the way we view others and ourselves. And, it applies to all aspects of our professional and home lives. Let’s just glance at a slice of our work life:

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Accountability: The Power of Our Words

It was 1974 and I was 16. Mesmerized, I stared at the church organ dangling fifteen feet above the sanctuary floor. The church was the Danby Federated Church, seven miles south of Ithaca, NY—built in 1813.

My dad, Pastor Jimmy Miller, had spearheaded a drive to raise funds to refurbish the historic building, restoring it to its 19th-century glory.

Part of the project was the reopening of the original choir loft at the rear of the church. It had been closed decades earlier to be used for Sunday school classes.

church loftDanby Federated Church - Danby, NY. Built: 1813

Several men had rigged a chain and pulley system to hoist the organ from the floor to the loft. I remember how amazing it was to see the massive instrument floating in the air!

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Accountability: The Coin of Change

When it comes to handling organizational change, there’s been little change.

While in college a decade ago, Kristin was a bank teller. One day she called home on her break and I asked, “How’s your shift going?”

She lamented: “We’re just buried in change here!”

Being the expert that I am—and her super wise dad—I responded, “That’s typical today; lots of change going on inside organizations.” The ensuing silence was deafening. The daughter then said slowly and clearly to the father, “No … a customer brought in $3,000 in coins and we’re counting it.”

Oh.

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How to Practice “The Rock” of Accountability

Personal accountability and ownership are impossible to separate. Tough to have one without the other.

In our home Karen schedules doctors and dentists and provides our adult kids a most patient ear when they call from four states away. I check bank balances, set up airline reservations, and pick up dog mess in the yard (TMI? Sorry). We simply have defined parental and household duties.

So when the next Miller teen hit the WHEN AM I GONNA GET MY DRIVER’S LICENSE?!? stage, we all knew the job would fall to me. I handle the driver training and always have. Done it four times now. I’ve got experience!

But, this time, I blew it.

On Saturday afternoon, the teen daughter who hardly knows the difference between the brake and gas pedals and I were heading home. We live out in the Colorado country where young people have practiced driving on back roads since the dawn of the automobile. So, a half mile from our house, I put her in the driver’s seat and after thirty seconds of “training” said, “Go!”

She went—and did fine all the way to our driveway. Well, there was some swerving, but no harm done since we didn’t see another vehicle. But as we got to our drive, flanked by two huge boulders, I thought, Hmm, I should take the wheel now and turn into the driveway and park.

But I didn’t. I had a mental lapse. I assumed too much. And I got lazy. I mean, it’d be too much work to switch seats now. So I said, ”Go ahead and turn in. You can do it.”

Boy, do I ever wish I had a “do over.”

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