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Responsibility: The Buck Stops Here

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Lately I've been observing the behaviour of many of our esteemed political leaders around the world, and one thing is becoming painfully obvious. With few exceptions, they are not prepared to take responsibility for their decisions, actions and inactions.

I could cite a few examples: Responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated worldwide vaccine roll-out. Climate change and the outcomes of the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow. The ever-mounting piles of human-generated waste clogging our land and sea. Toxic waves of pollution befouling the air that we breathe.

In national legislative assemblies and international bodies including the United Nations, there's plenty of finger-pointing and recrimination, but no-one appears able to accept any responsibility.

Those in office work as hard as they can to appear to be doing something, while being careful to do nothing that would disturb the status quo.

Those in opposition scream their outrage and demand immediate action. "They ought to be doing something," they complain. But then, when they win the next election, what happens?

That is not leadership.

Being responsible means accepting that "the buck stops here" and it sometimes means pissing people off.

Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It's inevitable, if you're honourable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: you'll avoid the tough decisions, you'll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you'll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.

So what if a few malcontents are out in the streets holding up banners loudly protesting that their personal freedom is being infringed? Must the leadership give way to the demands of the vocal minority over the best interests of society as a whole, fearful for their chances of re-election at the next poll?

An effective leader will always take responsibility for her/his decisions and actions (or inactions) and for the outcomes that flow from them. An effective leader will not shy away from making difficult choices in an attempt to avoid pissing anyone off or to maintain their personal popularity.

If you procrastinate over difficult decisions, if you don't accept that the buck stops with you, and if you treat everyone equally "nicely" regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the people who'll be most pissed off with you are the most creative and productive people in your organization.

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