Look Out Because the Buck Might Stop With You

The buck just might stop with you.  So, don’t pass it!!!

A faulty ignition switch on a number of General Motors vehicles led to the deaths of at least 13 people.  The buck now sits with GM’s new CEO Mary Barra.  (The celebratory cakes honoring Ms. Barra, GM’s first female CEO were hardly sliced before she was overwhelmed by this crisis).  Last week she fired 15 people at GM over their tragic failures to take responsibility.

Over at the VA, the buck stopped with General Eric Shinseki who recently resigned after widespread reports of long delays, fudged records, and preventable deaths.

Shinseki bore the brunt of the blame for widespread systemic failures. And Barra (in place of Rick Waggoner, CEO at the time of GM’s errors) stands in, in embarrassment for the company she loves.  And on some level it is absolutely right that the buck stops at the top!  There is no doubt that in the case of GM and the VA there are major values/systems/structures issues for which the chief must account. Accurate information was not flowing “up,” and so serious issues were not managed. In GM’s case, at least tens of people knew of the design problem.  CEO Barra is going to have to figure out how her “silos” of design engineers, test engineers, dealer service departments, communications people, and legal – to quickly name a few – must communicate better in the interest of customers and the company’s long term welfare.  Organizational leaders must demand honesty and customer focus, and create systems that enable these to thrive. GM and the VA failed at both.

Yet I wonder, “Where were the everyday leaders at GM and the VA?” This blog is entitled “Look out,” because so many of us could be where those 15 people at GM were, i.e., thinking they had only a little responsibility for something and perhaps thinking, “somebody else is taking care of this,” or “I can’t believe those idiots aren’t dealing with this.”

These 15 people getting fired at GM did know.  Whistleblowers at the Phoenix VA thankfully did act. But often we think someone else is taking care of a problem and absolve ourselves of responsibility.  Examples are so easy to come up with:  where firms overbill….where companies fudge numbers….where higher-ups skirt the tax laws…where government officials campaign on the public dime…where unsafe practices seem too complicated to fix…where teachers aren’t teaching….or students are systematically cheating. Where are you as an everyday leaders failing to lead – tolerating or looking the other way?  Tolerating something that if the boss knew, or if you were “the” leader, you would take care of. But you’re not “the” leader, are you?

What buck will stop with you this week, as you

Lead with your best self!


  • >