President Harry S. Truman popularized the phrase “the buck stops here.” It’s a very simplistic notion that at the end of the day the responsibility for problems and failures lies on that someone’s shoulders. In my mind, it’s the bare essence of what being a leader is — taking responsibility for screwups and failures.
The world, however, doesn’t seem to see things that way. Politicians, instead of stepping up to bat on issues ranging from policy failure to corruption, are much more likely to “pass the buck” to the media, to “the vast [right/left]-wing conspiracy”, to members of the other party. Rarely, do they admit wrong-doing and then immediately outline steps to remedy any problems that they might have caused. Many corporate executives when accused of incompetence or when tried in court for perjury and fraud fail to own up to their mistakes and play ignorant, and yet are perfectly willing to take the credit when broad market forces outside of their control are responsible for their “good leadership.”
That’s why it’s somewhat refreshing to see that when rumors of sexual abuse at her school arose, Oprah quickly made it an issue of her being responsible. This occurred, despite the fact that the mere existence of the school is a testament to her generosity (and arguably, her ego), despite that Oprah probably had very little to do with the hiring, screening, and the actual wrong-doing involved — she took the extra step to quickly place the administration on leave, issue an official apology, and even going so far as to hire her own investigative team on top of whatever local official investigation was being conducted and to — and this is rare coming from a celebrity — giving the students access to her personal phone number and email address.
Oprah deserves credit for doing this — when faced with bad news on her watch, she (a) quickly apologized, (b) promised immediate action, (c) took an extra step to perform an extra investigation into the matter, and (d) went out of the way to be accessible to the victims.
Tell me one good reason why the CEOs of Citibank, Merill Lynch, and the numerous financial companies who have contributed to the subprime crisis shouldn’t act in exactly the same way?