Buck-Passing or Buck-Stop?

President Harry S Truman was famous for many things.  A plain-spoken man.  He made the terribly  weighty decision to drop two nuclear bombs on the Empire of Japan, no doubt hastening the end of World War II.

But he is perhaps best known by a little sign he kept on his desk (see image above).  He was the chief executive officer of the United States and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces.  He made choices that affected history and lives.

“The buck stops here.”

Buck-passing is currently in vogue now.  Has been for some time.  But it has never served anyone who has participated in it.  President Truman used this maxim to communicate one thing: I am ultimately responsible. See the picture.

Some months back, I heard someone say, “The moment in which you grow up is when you take complete responsibility for your life.”

Complete responsibility.

I’ve been chewing on this lately and having to eat crow as a side dish.  I’ve done my share of buck-passing, blame-shifting and the like.  What I have found, however, is that as I have embraced full responsibility for my life—where things went bad, where I fell short of some objective, where life ended up being the pits—I feel strangely liberated.  Like a young man who moves out on his own for the first time and assumes the responsibility that had been his parents’.

As a leader, you will grow rapidly as you wrestle with this challenge and not permit yourself to be seduced by the siren song of the culture.  No more will you say “I can’t” about a thing when you know inside that you can.  It will just cost more.  Longer work.  More exercise.  Loss of a friendship because you tell the truth in love.

  • I am responsible for being out of shape.  I chose to eat poorly and not exercise.  Now I’m trying to eat better and am exercising and weight training regularly.
  • I am responsible for my career advancement or lack of.  I chose to stay in an unfulfilling job when the time came to go.  I chose not to pound the pavement and send out resumés.  I chose not to further my education in one way or another.  Now, I’m getting my mojo back, furthering my learning, polishing my skills and gifts.  On my own time.  Without monetary pay.  There’s more than one form of remuneration, after all.
  • I am responsible for inferior relationships.  I chose not to cultivate friendships or to repair those that have taken a beating in the rough and tumble of life.  Now, I’m spending more time with people—meeting new friends, mentoring others and staying in touch with old friends.

Challenge:  Take a long and honest look at your life and see if there’s a time you ducked responsibility.  Evaluate it.  And own it.  Then craft a plan to do things differently the next time you are thus challenged. You will feel empowered immediately.

Image Credit


6 thoughts on “Buck-Passing or Buck-Stop?

  1. In a way, I feel that I learned similar lessons and had similar feelings when I left my jobs and went traveling in a van a few years after college. It was incredibly liberating to feel that I no longer needed to maintain all of the things I so mindlessly maintained before, like a cell phone and an apartment with rent and the electric bill. Now, I am back to working, paying rent, and an electric bill..but seeing the other side of it for some years stretched the elastic of my notion of “responsibility” into oblivion so that I could fit much more inside of it than before; and I could pick and choose what ended up there. Now, things like “my emotions” and “my level of joy” and “the quality of my relationships” are so much more obviously things that I am responsible for- while many of my friends that never questioned whether “responsibility” meant they should have bills or a house or x y and z seem to still expect someone else to take care of their emotions, because they pay the mortgage. Strange world!

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