Personal Accountability: Needed Then—and Now

Trust me on this: The old stuff is the good stuff.

QBQ! History

It was 1995 when the cover of this VHS tape was produced. My first “speaker demo video” ever. No laughing, please! Mustaches were in.

That year, I decided to go out QBQ, personal accountability, accountability, trainingand speak on personal accountability. I’d been selling and implementing leadership and sales training for a decade and had conducted more than ten thousand hours of training with clients. This is where I began to notice that people—including me—tend to ask lousy questions beginning with “Why” “When” and “Who” that not only solve no problems but lead us into victim thinking, procrastination, and blame. Bad stuff.

The Original QBQ! Story

Then one Monday morning Jim, a client, phoned and asked to meet. He’d lost his job as vice president of human resources for a telecommunications firm. Over lunch, he shared that while he was on vacation, three of his five-person staff held a meeting with the CEO to complain about how Jim was running the department. When he returned to work that day, the CEO called him in and, with little to no discussion, fired him.

Feeling protective of a guy I liked, I said, “But, Jim, the question is, why didn’t he give you a chance to explain—you know, to defend yourself?” Nodding in solemn and total agreement, he said, “Yes, John, that’s the question.” An hour later …

We shook hands in the parking lot and I wished him well. But as I opened my car door, it hit me like a brick: That was the wrong question. And I had encouraged him to ask it!

My next thought was: What anyone in Jim’s position—including me—should have asked was the … question behind the question!

Something like, “What is there about my management style that caused my people to go around me?” would’ve been a healthy beginning. Or, “How can I become a more effective manager/leader?”

I soon taught my new The Question Behind the Question concept to a client team—St. Jude Medical in Little Canada, Minnesota. There, two things happened: The “QBQ” acronym was born and I discovered that the idea stuck with people! I realized I had hold of an idea that was simple, unique, and powerful—and one the world truly needed.

QBQ! Is Still New—To Some

Yes, our world needed QBQ! and its message of personal accountability in 1995, but it still needs it today. This reader’s email to us on May 2, 2017 says so!

John, I work in Alaskan tourism and always try to go “the extra mile” for our guests. QBQ! taught me what great service is: No excuses when things go wrong, even if it wasn’t your fault.

One morning, I was getting passengers onto a motorcoach. Due to a mix-up stemming from bad info, I had to tell a group they needed to wait for the next coach. I wasn’t at fault, but I didn’t say who was or make any excuses. I just apologized for the confusion. The customers weren’t super happy, but at least I owned the problem instead of throwing someone on my team “under the bus.” 🙂

Everyone needs QBQ!—it’s so timely!

A note like this is honoring, but it also makes me chuckle, The principle of personal accountability is timely, for sure, but it is also timeless. This powerful, life-changing principle is new to some people, yet it’s old, very very old. And that’s why it works.

Do you QBQ!? If you don’t, here’s a quick tutorial. Now, our discussion question:

“The Question Behind the Question” is 22 years “old.” If you’re using this unique and powerful way of living an accountable life, what value has it brought to you?




15 Responses

  1. Got both books and love. I share from often when speaking. Enjoy the emails as well. But I do feel bad for your delusion: mustaches were never in during the 90’s.

  2. I recently purchased 22 QBQ books for the call center I work. I passed them out and told everyone to read them by May 26th and would follow-up with a worksheet to complete.
    They were asking questions like:
    Why do I have to read this book?
    When will I have time?
    Who’s bright idea was this? :)!
    You get the picture right, so there was grumbling, I told them if they spent their time reading instead of grumbling they would be done with the book by now!
    A few days later I was hearing them talking again. This time it was …..”Did you read the coke story?” “Yea but I liked the Home Depot one even better” said another. Moral of the story, I now have them telling me they are reading it again and passing it along to someone else. They have also asked if I could buy the other books? I need a discount John:)! QBQ alive and well in Davie FL.! We still need work, however, improving daily!

  3. Thank you for your continued push for personal accountability. I see so many people who need to learn this.

  4. I remember that lunch story like it was yesterday! If anything QBQ! is needed more today then ever before. It seems we are living in a culture of blame, our country is so divided that it is impossible to even have a conversation with someone who has different political views. Even Hillary has a list of people and things that cost her the election. Perhaps she should ask: “What could I have done differently?”

    I’m 69 years young and have never seen such a division, and I’m not just talking politics although so many learn by observing the behaviors of our seniors. Keep up the good work John, it is desperately needed!!

  5. The principle of personal accountability must be fading fast-as a college basketball coach, the biggest struggle we face is not only kids not holding themselves accountable, but even more so, afraid to hold teammates accountable. It’s the rare kid who doesn’t mind if his teammates hate him for a couple of hours.
    A colleague said this about former NBA coach Sam Mitchell-the players don’t like him because he holds them accountable.

  6. I admit-its a nice ‘stache!…:)
    The QBQ message has been one of the best customer service training tools for our small company. I refer to your teaching often in our management meetings. There is probably not a day that goes by that I don’t ‘hear’ your cultural concepts ringing in my ears, keeping my attitude right, and giving us tools to respond to customers and employees with respect. If I’d choose one method or concept that has helped me be a better leader, I’d choose the QBQ way!
    Thanks, Phil
    Oak Hill Bulk Foods of Penn Yan NY

  7. I’ve found that by taking responsibility when things go wrong, I can get to working on the solution much quicker! That’s better for everyone!

  8. I am not always good at remembering to QBQ; however, I am working on getting better at it. Sometimes when it feels that things and people are working against me and how I see a vision playing out, is to step back and realize that underneath whatever is happening on the surface, most people want our organization to be successful. We just have a different idea on how to get to that point. I try to keep in mind that everyone is working toward the same goal and remind myself that there is more than one way to get there. I ask myself how being open minded can help us come up with better ideas than I may have had.

  9. I had the opportunity to be loaned the QBQ two weeks ago upon starting work as a Brokerage Underwriter at J.M. Wilson Corporation, an MGA in Portage, MI. Since reading through the book (TWICE – because “repetition”), I have found myself even more conscious of my daily efforts to have personal accountability and ask the right questions when problems arise. Especially in training, I may not know the exact path on how to handle problematic situations. Nonetheless, I am able to think positively and productively through the lessons in the QBQ! Thank you John, for providing such an innovative, applicable and efficient strategy for personal accountability in the work place, and in life!
    (Also, I would highly recommend ‘Extreme Ownership’ by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin to anyone who has benefited from the QBQ!)

  10. Hi John,
    I always enjoy your messages as a great reminder to me to ask the better question! What value has this brought? Hearing my 10 year old daughter today ask me, “Mummy, how can I help you remember to fetch my bike?” I had a very proud mummy moment – and the realisation that, despite appearances, she is listening to me…
    Have a great day!

  11. Personal accountability is actually quite freeing. Recently I was the recipient of a parking ticket and rather than blame anyone else for the confusion, I owned it. Anger (and boy, was I angry) quickly subsided. Personal accountability freed me from bitterness and negativity.

    It’s simple, but simple isn’t always easy. Scott

  12. Hi John,

    greetings from sunny (and hot) southwest Florida! I love hearing the history of your personal development and the evolution of QBQ, it is your legacy! Keep preaching the message, as you say it is timeless!

    all the best!


  13. Thank you John for sharing your wisdom and stories. I was recently in a situation that I failed to take personal responsibility in the moment and was called out by my daughter. I was a great reminder of what you teach. Jody

  14. About forty-five years ago, I read a book by a man named William Glasser. The title of the book is Reality Therapy. This book eliminated the word why from my vocabulary. I have found that there is no better way to hold some one accountable. By replacing it with pointed questions, you may not make friends but you can make a point.

  15. John, I was browsing in Poor Richards bookstore in Colorado Springs and found a copy of your book “Personal Accountability”, copyright 1998. It was autographed for Toni and Rich. It is now one of the treasures in my library!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *