The Buck Stops Here


The saying "the buck stops here" derives from the slang expression "pass the buck" which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. President Harry Truman used this term on a number of occasions in making the point that he as the President of the United States could not pass the buck onto someone else when it came to critical decision making in front of him.  Click here to read more on that.

When I took over the role of Chief Executive Officer of the Johnson Health Center back in 2014, I knew that I would be in the position to make the final call on certain things. Now, this is not to compare in any way the position of an executive leader of a health center or any other entity for that matter to the President of the United States of America. But it is to say that once you land a role where, in most cases, you have the ultimate decision making authority, it is not as easy as it sounds.

I was speaking to a new, but very capable, CEO this past week and he commented to me that his excitement was mixed with a certain degree of uncertainty because he was drinking from the proverbial firehose with no instruction manual. I remember that being me just a few years ago which is why I am penning a short read on how to thrive as a new executive – a manifesto if you will. Stay tuned for this one!

As our conversation went on, I calmly told him that most of his decisions would be people based. No matter how great your team is or if you have been recognized as an employer of choice or great place to work, decisions around people will sometimes challenge you. The key to success here is to understand you must apply situational leadership to all of it.

In early 2002, I participated in situational leadership training and it was some of the best leadership training I ever received. The Situational Leadership Model, is a model created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard and promotes that the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the performance readiness (ability and willingness) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence.

In other words, those who can adapt to different personalities and styles will be the most effective. Not everyone understands this and that is where the challenges typically occur.

When it comes to how you treat people, make no mistake about it, this is how you will be measured when it comes to making an impact, owning your destiny and leaving a legacy. Respect and care must be foundational and consistent to create a positive workplace culture. However, this does not mean you have to treat everyone the same. You simply cannot apply a broad brush to every single occupation and person at your organization. It depends on the situation and this is how you apply the theories of situational leadership. Many managers and some leaders I have worked with over time have focused on treating everyone the same regardless and I have watched them struggle, some throughout their entire careers, never moving any further than where they started.

As the CEO or any leadership role where ultimate decision making lands, this is where the buck stops. This is the position that looks across the organizational spectrum and takes it all in because any decision at this level is going to impact other areas. In the case of people or a group of people, you have to look at the big picture and situation. The more you have invested in them, the more you will need to flex your situational muscle.

My advice for my new CEO colleague was to remember that one size does not fit all and he will have to defend his decision making from time-to-time. You must always ask, “does the decision I am about to make serve the best interest of the organization?” You can apply this to anything, personal, professional or otherwise. If yes, then proceed on and map out the process. If you are not sure or the answer is no, move on quickly.

There are too many examples for me to list here but as the ultimate decision maker, you own things like the culture, reputation, credibility, financial health, relationships, and recruitment and retention of talent - yes especially at this level (in the healthcare space, this means providers, nurses and other skilled areas where shortages are the norm). How you apply your situational decision making skills will determine how successful and “Impactful” you and the organization will ultimately be and it’s not always as easy as it sounds so just make sure you are prepared. Also know that you will not please everyone, including members of your leadership team. I always say that healthy conflict is good as long as you can articulate your position as an advantage to the organization.

After all, you want the buck to stop with you otherwise you wouldn’t have taken on this nice challenge or be thinking about it for the future if not there yet. Be impactful and go forward in confidence!

To your Impact,

Gary Campbell