John G. Miller is a world authority on personal accountability. He is a frequent keynote speaker and the author of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, Flipping the Switch and Outstanding! 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional. He is also the co-author of the brand new Parenting the QBQ Way. He is founder of QBQ, Inc., an organizational development firm based in Denver, CO. Its mission is “Helping Organizations Make Personal Accountability a Core Value.” He and his wife, Karen, have been married for thirty-three years. They have seven children and two grandchildren.
Procrastinating, whining, blaming, deflecting, playing the victim, entitlement. I guess I can start out by blaming you for removing all excuses! If you take all these away, then what are we left with?
A better person. The humanness in all of us leads us to fall into these traps, but they are costly on many levels. It is more difficult for me to serve others, grow myself, reach objectives, and simply be outstanding when I engage in these traps. We at QBQ Inc. have discovered these traps can be eliminated by using the tool we call The Question Behind the Question – the QBQ. The QBQ enables us to practice personal accountability and when we do, we are better in all areas of life.
You’ve worked with organizations all over the world. Often when you’re called in, the culture is not at its finest. How do you assess the state of accountability within a culture?
We listen. Our words represent our inner thinking and attitude, so when we hear people asking the wrong questions – we call them Incorrect Questions (IQs) – like “When will that department do its job right?” “Who dropped the ball?” and “Why don’t I get more coaching?” then we know there is a lack of personal accountability within the culture. The myth is, “There are no I’s in team.” There are definitely “I’s” in every single team everywhere, and when the I’s practice personal accountability, the team can do great things.
How do you help people own decisions and actions?
We find it’s best to teach people the power of taking ownership and how to do it. Our hope is for all people to discover the importance of owning their decisions. If they don’t own their decisions and the results of their actions, there is no personal growth. Said differently, if I make a bad decision or take an action that leads to a poor result and then make excuses, blame others, and become a victim in my own mind then I am contributing little, learning nothing, and making no difference in this world. By learning to ask The Question Behind the Question – the QBQ – people can take ownership from the inside out and lead a better life. You find in all outstanding organizations, people do not search for culprits by asking “Who made the mistake?!” but rather they ask a QBQ like “What can I do to help solve the problem?” and “How can I contribute today?”
Would you please explain the difference between IQ’s and QBQ’s. What are some of the concerns with “why, when and who” questions versus “what or how” questions?
An Incorrect Question leads me to victim thinking, procrastination, and blame. The “Why” questions take me to victim thinking. Questions like “Why are they doing this to me?” is victim thinking. The question “When will they get back to me?” is the same as purposefully delaying action. So that is procrastination. And “Who” questions are definitely all about finding a culprit to punish! Rather, a QBQ begins with “What” or “How,” contains an “I” (because I can only change me) and focuses on action. So the better question—the QBQ—sounds like this: “How can I make a difference right now?” This is a powerful question, for sure.
That’s right, there are 47 ways to be exceptional in the Outstanding! book. One of my favorites is “Make No Excuses”! You’ll find that the best organizations do not make excuses for results—outwardly to the marketplace and inwardly colleague to colleague. Imbedded in the organizational culture is intense personal ownership and accountability for all things. I also love the “Speak Up” chapter. As we see in “less than functional” organizations, people are fearful to share what they truly observe, perceive, and feel. But outstanding organizations allow people to speak freely with no fear of recrimination. This is how they stay head of the pack in the marketplace. Failing organizations are not changing, and it’s often because the people have learned over time that speaking up is a risky thing to do!
I’ve heard you talk about team building and how we can lose sight of the individual. “The team” can be an excuse. How do you re-instill a sense of team?
Teamwork is important, but over the past 30 years we have overdone the whole teamwork thing. As “teams this” and “teams that” have been talked up by management for three decades, we have lost sight of the power of one—what one person can do to make a difference; what one person can do to solve a problem; what one person can do to contribute. So in the QBQ! book we teach that there actually are “I’s” in team, and when each “I” takes personal accountability for results, the team will be far more successful. To be clear, we have nothing against teams! We just don’t want people hiding behind the team with statements like, “Well, the team didn’t get it done!” and “The team missed the deadline!” Teams cannot be excuses for individuals to hide behind when results are lacking.
Your recent focus has been to take personal accountability into the home and help parents raise outstanding kids. After working for many years with corporations, what led you in this new direction?
Our new book, Parenting the QBQ Way, came from the market asking for it. As we keynote corporate events and conduct training sessions on QBQ!, we know that 80% of any audience is moms and dads. We’ve known for years that people were taking the QBQ! message of personal accountability home and many asked us to put it into a format that ties directly to parenting children. We decided to do it! Karen and I felt this was important because of a couple key principles that we state in the book: “parenting is a learned skill” and “my child is a product of my parenting.” If I don’t recognize that I can get better as a mom or dad, and I fail to grasp that I am creating what my children are becoming, then I will never be an outstanding parent.
You use stories to make your concepts come alive in your books and speaking. I read Parenting the QBQ Way recently and am thinking about how you opened the book with a story about Grayson. Would you share a brief version of that story? How can leaders use stories? And what does Grayson think about his inclusion in a book?
Grayson is simply a 12-year-old boy who came into our house and showed respect, courtesy, and mature behavior – more so than the other 12-year-old boy that was with him that day. The other boy was not misbehaving that day, but Grayson stood tall in our eyes. After Grayson interacted with Karen and me, we looked at each other and said, “Now that boy has some outstanding parents!” The story as Chapter One of the book gives the reader a picture of our message: that my child is a product of my parenting. And that’s what stories do. Because the human mind never thinks in words but always thinks in pictures, excellent communicators—leaders—always are working on their storytelling abilities. As a preacher once said, “I know if I’m not telling a story, then I am preaching.” My dad, as the Cornell wrestling coach and a pastor, was a natural storyteller and I was mentored by two storytellers in the business world, so I learned the power of storytelling from them. I always know the audience is with me most when I am telling a great story.
Some of us had outstanding role models as parents, but many aren’t as fortunate. Of all the areas to achieve personal accountability, I think the home can be a big challenge. If you didn’t grow up in a home with great role models, how do you break that cycle and then model personal accountability?
Learning. That’s what it’s all about! The truth is all parents make mistakes, but the next generation has a choice: It can either repeat those mistakes (we call it “winging it”) or it can learn to avoid those mistakes, learn new practices, absorb new ideas, and develop new skills so they can be better moms and dads. The family is the most critical team in the world, and if the family isn’t right, our society isn’t right. We can break the patterns of the past but only if we are aware that those patterns exist and each of us has the desire to grow as a mom or dad. The good news is, what we teach about personal accountability is a totally learnable methodology and skill. The Question Behind the Question is a practical tool for each of us to use at work and at home!