We’ve all been guilty of it from time to time; shirking responsibility when things go wrong. It’s a defense mechanism learned early in life, as a way to prevent “getting in trouble” for bad decisions, bad actions or the bad results of our actions. Of course, it’s also extremely immature, and responsible adults – and effective leaders – abandon the practice of passing the buck early on.

After all, if you refuse to accept responsibility for poor outcomes, how can you justify receiving praise for good ones?

Instead of passing the buck, be the place where the buck stops.

How do we come to learn that WE are the problem? Too often we convince ourselves that poor performance is the result of a lack of time, the demands of the wife and kids, or interference by the board or investors… it’s never ME. This is the very definition of passing the buck, the idea that we’re not directly to blame for the poor results, for reasons beyond our control.

Yet, we often operate in closed systems, and we are a key part of the system. We did the hiring. We gave the direction. We dole out the rewards and punishments. We control or check out of situations, and everyone else reacts. Then, somehow, we get surprised at the bad outcome, seeing the problem as the “other people” in the loop, and the vicious cycle repeats itself.

A great example is the leader who keeps crying out for his people to be “more accountable” or “more responsible” or “more proactive”. But wait! He hired the people who lack these qualities. He keeps them around and, perhaps, behaves in ways that actually enables the very behavior he deplores – blind-spot city!

Effective leaders accept responsibility for everything their team does, good, bad, or indifferent. Doing so builds credibility and trust, from every level of the organization. Doing so proves to the team that their leader is fully engaged, that he or she “has their back”, and will never let them down. It is the proof of loyalty to the team and respect for its members, and can only lead to greater respect and loyalty from them. Instead of passing the buck, effective leaders accept that, “The buck stops here.”