Monday, November 16, 2009

The Buck Stops Here

I was just thinking about Harry Truman's immortal words as I was conducting a seminar for civilian managers at a military installation recently. Like all employees, they are held accountable for their results and like all supervisors, they are held accountable for the results of their teams. The definition of management is getting results through others.

The first rule of accountability is NO WHINING...or as my British daughter would say, NO WHINGING!

Because I fly so often, I'm especially affected by stories relating to air travel and several incidents over the last year bring home 'give-'em-hell' Harry's message.

Think about that plane load of people stranded for 9 hours on a plane on the tarmac and unable to go inside the terminal. Officials scrambled to tell us why they couldn't do anything about it -- it's not my fault; don't blame me -- was the sub-text of every statement.

Or what about the pilots who flew past Minneapolis -- each new whinge was more outrageous than the one before.

Or take a more tragic example, the crash outside Buffalo where the pilots failed to get enough rest and follow procedure and the airline executives refused any responsibility for underpaying pilots and skimping on training. It was a recipe for disaster but everyone looked for someone else to blame.

You can add your own favorite examples. The message is still the same. When I was interviewing executives for Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers, one of the things I wanted to know is how they handled mistakes. Every one of them had a similar response.

  • Acknowledge the mistake as soon as possible

  • Take responsibility -- even if you don't think it's your fault

  • Move quickly to fix the situation

  • Figure out what went wrong and act to prevent it in the future.

It's a simple formula. Yet it seems impossible for many people to follow. If you don't follow it, you cannot claim to be much of a manager or leader, no matter what your title. Back to Harry for what to do if you can't follow the formula:

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen...and stop whinging!

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, Advantage Leadership, Inc.