Leadership - Taking Responsibility

Responsibility as a Quality of Leadership

A quality of leadership is the assumption and acceptance of responsibility for the organization and all decisions taken within the organization.

The leader is also responsible for making strategic decisions within the leader's responsibility rather than avoiding or abrogating this responsibility.

A culture of taking responsibility cannot exist in a culture of blame and recrimination. A leader in a culture of responsibility, takes responsibility and shares the credit.

Phrases such as the "The buck stops here" and "If you can't stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen" were popularized by US President Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 - December 26, 1972), the thirty-third President of the United States (1945-1953). As vice-president, Truman succeeded the popular Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died less than three months into his fourth term.

Upon assuming the presidency, Truman asked all the members of Roosevelt's cabinet to continue in office. He told his cabinet that while he was open to their advice, he would make policy decisions around the cabinet table. Once he had listened to everyone's advice and made a decision, he expected that every cabinet member would support his decision. Truman authorized the use of atomic weapons against Japan.

In more than one speech President Truman referred to his desk sign "The buck stops here." In an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952 Mr. Truman said, "You know, it's easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you - and on my desk I have a motto which says 'the buck stops here' - the decision has to be made."

The Buck Stops Here

Truman's Desk Top Sign
Truman's Desk Top Sign

A colleague of President Truman, Fred M. Canfil, a United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, saw a sign with the inscription 'The buck stops here' while visiting the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma. Canfil asked the Warden if another sign like it could be made for President Truman. The sign was made and sent by mail to the President on October 2, 1945.

'The buck stops here' derives from the expression 'passing the buck' meaning passing the responsibility on to someone else. 'Passing the buck' is in turn comes from frontier poker games where the players used a knife with a buckhorn handle as the dealer's marker. A player who did not wish to deal could pass on the responsibility to the next player, thereby by passing the buck - as the marker came to be called.