The Buck Stops with the Leader

Harry Truman, 33rd President of America, had a sign on his desk with the inscription ‘The Buck Stops Here’. It was given to him by a friend. This sign sat his desk throughout his 8 year presidency. It helped remind him that he could not pass the buck but had to accept a personal responsibility for the governance and leadership of the nation.

We live in a culture of blame shifting or passing the buck where certain leaders look out for scapegoats for failed decisions but hoard all the glory for successful ones. There may be many legitimate reasons for the failure of any decision yet ultimate responsibility lies with the leader. Sports’ coaching is a great example of the buck stops here mentality. Coaches come under enormous pressure when their teams fail to meet the fans and owners’ expectations and most tend to get fired if results fail to improve.

Leadership involves making tough decisions. This is a difficult job which can sometimes be a lonely and thankless burden. Leadership is a results oriented business and decision making determines the success and failure of any leader. The pressure to make the right decision is huge especially when you don’t have all the information you need at your disposal. Leaders need to be strong enough to own their wrong decisions instead of seeking scapegoats to blame for poor decisions.

People under leaders can make suggestions but the responsibility of key decision making lies with the leader. It is easy to make a suggestion but harder to make a decision especially a decision that has dire consequences if wrong. Everyone has an opinion and a suggestion but not everyone has a decision. It is easy to criticize those at the top when you don’t have the weight of pressure and the responsibility of failure around your neck. It is easy to second guess their decisions when they get it wrong.

Everyone is a genius with the benefit of hindsight but it is also important to remember that leaders, even the best ones, are susceptible to errors in judgement.

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One Response to The Buck Stops with the Leader

  1. Ogechi

    Nice one! This one is for every power-eyeing individual. Many people focus on the power and extra benefits of being in the top position. I definitely agree that more attention should be given to the fact that as a leader there is the burden of not having the privilege of acting in hindsight.

    I think one truth to consider is that not everyone is supposed to be a leader. For those who are leaders or en route to leadership, it’s way past time to start taking responsibility for the consequences of forgetting to remember that the ‘here’ where the buck stops means excuses, instead of explanations, are unacceptable.
    Do I sound frustrated?…I’m just tired of people going into leadership for the title change.

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