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"The Buck Stops Here": A Simple Case Study in Accountability and Ownership

This little article was actually written by my dad, John Malito. He spent 23 years working for the phone company before he became a pastor. This is his account of some important leadership principles that he learned from his time there.

During my 26 years at the local telephone company, I experienced what seemed to me to be every type of leader imaginable. During those many years, I worked for more than 20 different managers. Some I believe were managers placed on the earth to help me grow in my own leadership. At the same time, there were others who I felt were sent to torment me!

One manager who helped me to grow was Jane—a woman with had a heart as big as Texas but a desk that resembled an Oklahoma tornado. Our job was to develop an annual report that would be distributed to all telephone company shareholders and employees. We both knew that a report of this magnitude needed to be absolutely perfect—every word needed to be completely understandable no errors of any kind!

The first management lesson I learned from Jane was the importance of taking the extra time to be precise with the tasks assigned to me. It meant working with a mindset of perfection while eliminating distractions that would prove to be less than helpful. As a single and carefree 25-year-old male, what I learned about precision and perfection would prove to be invaluable as I moved up the telephone company’s career ladder.

Yet, despite the countless times Jane and I had proofed and re-proofed the annual report, an officer of the company discovered a simple subtraction error that completely threw off the profit and loss statements. The discovery left Jane and I devastated and with thousands of annual reports that would need to be destroyed. As I remember, the cost to re-print the reports were astronomical.

The second management lesson I learned from Jane was the importance of taking complete responsibility and ownership for an error without making an excuse for it. I remember how scared I was and how I envisioned being fired for the error and even having to pay for the cost to reprint the annual reports. And while Jane could have easily placed the blame for the error on me, she quickly pointed out to me and others that she signed off on the document before sending it to the printer for publication. I learned from Jane the valuable manager philosophy of “The Buck Stops Here.”

Jane and I were dutifully raked over the coals by Jane’s boss Jim—the public relations director of the company who was raked over the coals by Mr. Timothy, the President and Chief Operating Officer of the telephone company. After Jane and I were duly belittled and completely humiliated, Jim shared that he too made a Contributions Annual Report error several years ago and was belittled and humiliated just like us. I recalled him telling us, “in life, we must always own the blame for our error. But never ever let the blame own us.”


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