"The moment we stop being accountable–by blaming, complaining, thinking like a victim, or procrastinating–we also stop learning, taking ownership, acting creatively, or being of service. And the trust we've built with others will quickly evaporate."
“But it wasn’t my fault! He did it, but I told him not to.” Blame is rather common today. It runs rampant in organizations and families large and small. We blame others, others blame us. Ironically we even blame others for blaming; but, what good does blaming do? Author and coach John Miller believes that we can overcome this tendency and instead begin to take ownership and transform our lives and our organizations in the process.
In Flipping the Switch, Miller explains that there are five fundamental values or principles that encourage personal accountability and when applied help us flip the switch and transform our lives. The five values are learning, ownership, creativity, service, and trust. Learning how to rewire these values into your life all starts with asking better questions.
The Big Idea
Ask the Question Behind the Question
"When we ask better questions, we get better answers. The QBQ guidelines show us how to build better questions and which questions to avoid. Also, it’s important to remember that these are questions we ask of ourselves, not of others. The QBQ is primarily a self-management tool, designed to help us reframe our own thinking."
Miller explains that the Question Behind the Question (QBQ) is a tool that helps us to take personal responsibility. QBQs begin with what or how, contain the word I, and are focused on action. However, Miller points out that not all questions are created equal. Incorrect Questions (IQ) ask why, when, or who. Asking why leads to complaining, when encourages procrastination, and who promotes blame. IQs also use they or them rather than I, which is a problem because we can only change ourselves, so asking what your spouse can do to stop being judgmental won’t work.
Throughout the book Miller provides several IQ vs QBQ examples to help understand the difference. For example, instead of asking “who’s fault is it” when a mistake is made, ask “what can I do to help solve the problem?” Or rather than inquiring “why aren’t they more well behaved?” if your children are behaving unruly, ask “How can I become a better parent?” Miller emphasizes that asking better questions leads us to better answers which in turn can influence our behavior.
Don't believe you're the exception
"We tend to teach others what we need to hear ourselves... If we hear an idea and immediately think of other people who really need it, that's a good sign we may need the idea more than they do."
Sometimes being the exception is a good thing. For example: everyone arrives to work late but you’re the exception, or most people can’t make it to the gym consistently but you faithfully log your workout day after day. However, when it comes to personal accountability, Miller explains we don’t want to be the exception. He explains that when we believe we are the exception with personal accountability we create a roadblock that impedes our progress. To steer clear of this roadblock when you start to think others “should really hear this” instead ask a QBQ like “how can I use this in my own life?”
Be honest and build trust
"Trust provides a wonderful advantage in our lives. It forms the foundation of strong relationships, which are critical to success both at work and at home. With Trust, we communicate more openly and effectively. We are more creative and collaborative. Our teams are stronger and more productive. Our families are happier. We find more satisfaction in everything we do."
We all know trust is important. No one is going to argue that point. Why then do we micromanage, gossip about, or doubt those that we claim to trust? By striving to be honest and ask QBQs we can work to build trust in our organizations and families. It will not be easy. If it were, there would be a lot less blaming. Was it really the weather’s fault that you couldn’t go running or did you just not want to go out in less than ideal conditions? Admittedly, there will be situations beyond your control but those will be the exceptions, the permitted kind, rather than the rule.
Those you work with will put in more effort when they know you trust them and won’t seek to unload the blame at the first problem. Your children will be more likely to be honest and open with you if they know you will take the time to listen to them.
“When we take responsibility for our own actions,” Miller writes, “when we practice being accountable, when we persistently invest the time in cultivating it–Trust will grow.”
Miller stresses repeatedly throughout the book the importance of personally taking action with “how can I–how will I– apply these ideas at work and at home?” supplications throughout the book. I’ve found it is simultaneously empowering and debilitating to “flip the switch” of personal accountability in my life. It is empowering because I started to realize just how much I could influence my attitude and situation in many aspects of my life. It is debilitating because I started to realize how much I blamed others, how I fell short and used excuses. It is not the professor’s fault that I didn’t get anything out of class. Those realizations stung. But I am optimistic of the results and am confident they outweigh any blows to my pride.
What can you do today to become more personally accountable and flip the switch?