Choice 1: In the Beginning

When The Boss stopped by to see who had consumed the off-limits apple, Adam pointed at Eve, then Eve pointed at the serpent, freely sending the blame down the line.

Choice 2: In the 1940’s

Harry Truman, having to make one of the most devastatingly difficult decisions that anyone could ever have to make, said “The buck stops here!” referring only and completely to himself.

Your Choice?

Which environment is more likely to lead to creativity, appropriate risk-taking, and engaged and loyal team members? The real difficulty is that the Garden of Eden environment still exists out there, and Harry Truman desk plaques are often just empty words. Neither contributes well to the “Apollo 13” type of success, where failure was not an option, but absolute ingenuity and dedication was required in hyper-speed.

Let’s do it differently where we have the influence! (And I will state here that everyone in an organization is a leader with influence – not just the named management.)

If I’m not fostering an environment where people can make the occasional mistake, then I’m not allowing them to try hard enough to be excellent and to do their teammates justice.

Your team deserves every team member’s all-out effort, and to ensure that, they deserve a safe environment in which to make mistakes – mistakes that at best lead to amazing success, and at worst provide hands-on learning.

The leader’s habit should be to visibly send praise down the line and absorb blame. If the stakeholders are going to be happy – publicly credit the team! If the stakeholders are going to be disappointed because of a mistake, publicly take the blame and then coach the team member. That is what creates a space in which each person can play to the very best of their ability. This is how it becomes safe for your teammates to swing for the fences and still absorb the inevitable strike outs, with confidence that they’ll get back up to the plate again with the team cheering them on.

Send the Message

The best way to send the right message? Own your own mistakes publicly, and share publicly what you learn from them. They are as important to your team’s culture as your victories – maybe more so.

So, if you trust the serpent, and he persuades you to do something you know is wrong, own it as your responsibility. Tell the boss that you made a bad choice.

If you as a leader have to make the hardest of decisions, decisions that affect people’s lives, whether that decision turns out to be right or wrong stand up and say,

“The buck stops here!”

Author, Virtual CFO, and Finance Coach

Your First CFO: The Accounting Cure for Small Business
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