The Buck Stops With You

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Accountability has been prominent in the news lately. Unfortunately, it’s more about people assigning accountability to others rather than accepting responsibility themselves. We watch as public figures frantically look to find someone; anyone to blame for their own actions. They seem unable to separate finding fault in others from accepting accountability.

President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk announcing that, “The Buck Stops Here.” He knew that, as president, he was accountable for everything that happened in his administration. But President Truman was also well known for carefully investigating, finding causes, and taking action to fix problems. He demonstrated that while good leaders should take accountability for their actions and the actions of their team, they must also work to find the causes of a problem and take action to fix it.

Jack and Jill were assigned a project, which they failed to accomplish. Their supervisor, Dick, had to tell the manager Jane about the failure.

Jill blamed the problem on Jack, complaining that he didn’t do his part. Jack blamed the problem on Jill saying her attitude made it difficult to work together.

Dick informed Jane about the problem saying that he would find out more about what happened. He investigated and found that Jack was not proficient with the tools necessary to complete the project and Jill took every opportunity to sabotage Jack’s efforts.

Dick reported back to Jane. First, he takes responsibility for the problem. Then he explains the issues with Jack and Jill and outlines the corrective action he intends to take.

Jane accepted Dick’s report and thanked him for his candor. Considering what Dick had told her she realized she has some accountability as well. Dick is a new supervisor and she had not provided the leadership training and coaching he needed.

In this scenario, everyone had some responsibility for the project’s failure. As the immediate supervisor, Dick should have seen the problem sooner and taken action. Part of that accountability was to investigate to uncover the real problem.

Jane also accepted accountability for the problem when she realized that Dick had not developed in his leadership role. His development is her responsibility and she will take action to help him become a better leader.

At the basic level, Jack and Jill continued arguing about who is responsible for the failure. Dick sat down with them and explained that he is responsible for the failure of the project. He then leads them in a discussion of what happened, helping Jack and Jill understand how they have contributed to the problem. He made it clear that while he is accountable for the failure, their behavior is unacceptable.

Accountability is important at all levels. But, leaders should not hold anyone else accountable until they have accepted their own accountability.

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