QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John Miller

Before I was let go from my job due to the pandemic, my boss gave me this book (not just me, the whole staff) and we had a series of discussions regarding personal responsibility, accountability, and leadership at the workplace. This book makes the point — in a short and sweet way — that woe is not us, no one likes a pity party, and we can absolutely control how we respond and react to certain situations. This is an excellent book for the workplace, but also for managers of any team of any size, and those looking for a way to improve their overall performance in business and beyond.

  • How do we ask more personally accountable questions of ourselves?
  • “Why” “Who” “When” are bad ways to start questions. Negative — IQ = Incorrect Questions since nothing positive comes from it
  • Opposite of personal accountability; something or someone else is responsible for the problem or situation
  • What can I do to make a difference? How can I support the team? “I” important
  • QBQ: A tool that enables individuals to practice personal accountability by making better choices in the moment.
  • We are accountable for our own decisions and are free to make better ones
  • We always have a choice
  • First reactions are usually negative
  • We need to ask better questions to get better answers; QBQ’s are questions we ask ourselves
  • Begin with “What” or “How” and contain “I”; focus on action
  • What can I do?
  • “Why” questions = poor me, pity party
  • Need to eliminate victim thinking
  • How can I do my job better today? What can I do to improve the situation? How can I support others?
  • When I play victim, who I am serving? No one
  • We always choose our own response; stress is a choice and the result of our choices
  • If a strategy or tactic is working now, odds are it won’t work in the future — too much change taking place in the world to stand pat; how can I adapt to the changing world?
  • Effective communication is about understanding the other person — what can I do to become a better listener, how can I understand others?
  • “When” questions lead to procrastination, which means time lost; procrastination increases stress and is costly — what solution can I provide?
  • Procrastination is the friend of failure; I’ll do it later thinking is costly, take care of the little things while they are still little
  • Creativity is succeeding WITHIN the box — hitting targets, reaching goals
  • Let’s succeed within the box; how can I succeed with the resources I already have?
  • Practice the fundamentals day in and day out
  • Don’t ask “who”, this just looks for scapegoats, creates fear, destroys innovation and prevent people from engaging
  • Accountable people look for solutions, not scapegoats — what could I have done differently? how can I learn from this experience?
  • We’re all on the same team; if you want to win, you need to be good enough to beat the ref (can’t blame the ref for losing)
  • Don’t focus on barriers, work to become so good that we’ll succeed no matter how many bad calls come your way (dammit Ohio State!!!)
  • “what can I do right now to make a difference?” personal accountability changes the world one choice at a time (the book is largely about personal accountability and practicing it in your work and life, and all of the tips aim towards it)
  • Ownership — a commitment of the head, heart and hands to fix the problem and never affix the blame
  • How can I appreciate people’s gifts and strengths just as they are?
  • It begins with me — personal accountability is not about holding others accountable — teams are based on individuals and successful teams are based on individuals who practice personal accountability
  • Don’t ask what can we do; ask what can I do — if each member of the team does that the team can move forward
  • We only have real control over our own thoughts and actions
  • Managers don’t change people — change only comes from the inside, as a result of decisions made by the individual — let’s mold our own thoughts and actions as opposed to others
  • Integrity — being what I say I am by acting in accordance with my words
  • At your job, believe or leave — if an organization is no longer helping you reach your goals, why stay?
  • Teams don’t change; people change, one at a time
  • Modeling is the most powerful of all teachers
  • QBQ’s focus on ACTION — what can I do right now? how will i make a difference today?
  • Doing nothing is risky; inaction is almost never a better choice
  • Action leads to solutions, brings learning and growth, builds confidence, courage, moves us forward
  • Leadership is about the way we think — practicing personal accountability, choosing to make a positive contribution
  • Servant leadership — humility
  • Don’t do other people’s work for them (I have a hard time with this)
  • How can I be a more effective coach? What can I do to understand each person I manage? how can I build a stronger team (business)
  • Executive — how can I be a better leader? what can I do to show I care? How can I communicate more effectively?
  • Employee — what can i do to be more productive? how can I adapt to the changing environment? what can i do to help myself? how can i become more engaged?
  • Parent — how can I get to know him better? what can I do to help her get through these tough years? how can I improve my parenting skills?
  • Spouse — how can I improve myself today? what can i do to help him out? how can i listen to him more?
  • QBQ — “what” “how” (not “why” “when”) — Use an “I” — no more victim thinking, complaining, blaming, procrastinating
  • I can only change me; take action!
  • asking better questions of ourselves
  • Daily, moment to moment practice of avoiding incorrect questions and asking QBQ’s instead
  • Learning is about changing — learning equals change
  • Repetition is the motor of learning


  • Hold ourselves accountable — how can I let go of what I can’t control? modeling!
  • A person’s thoughts and behaviors are always the result of the choices they make
  • Managers model personal accountability — my job to keep the QBQ alive
  • Organizations made up of individuals and outstanding organizations are created by individuals doing outstanding things

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.

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