“The Buck Stops Here”

Dan Reynolds has been a high school English teacher in Baton Rouge and Dean of Discipline in Austin. He is now working on a PhD in Education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Leadership often seems attractive because of the perks that accompany it. A leader often makes a lot more money and is a lot more famous than ordinary workers. A leader can change things that he/she finds ineffective. A leader has the freedom to make decisions. Why wouldn’t everyone choose to be a leader, if it meant money, fame, power and freedom?

I quickly learned that there’s much more to it than that. The old maxim, “With great power comes great responsibility” seems sort of vague, but it became very real to me. In the spring of 2010, I became Dean of Discipline at San Juan Diego Catholic High School in Austin. While the position is not quite as glamorous as a Fortune 500 CEO, I did appreciate the opportunity to shape school culture, but I had to bear some of the responsibility.

I had the responsibility to deal with the most unruly students in the school. In fact, I spent most of my time dealing with the students whose behavioral problems frustrated their everyday teachers. When those teachers could not find a solution, it became my responsibility to work with the student, his or her parents, and the teacher to create a solution. Doing the job well took a lot of time.

I had the responsibility of helping teachers at our school carry out their jobs. Students and parents are quickly frustrated when a teacher struggles, and it became my responsibility as an administrator to do something about it. This meant extra time meeting with teachers, observing classes, and offering constructive feedback to a teacher.

I had the responsibility of meeting with frustrated parents. While the great majority of them were patient and understanding, at times, a parent would express frustration with something at our school. Even in the cases where the parents were misinformed, it was my responsibility to show them patience and humility while we worked out the problem.

Being a leader means being responsible to all the stakeholders in your organization – especially the most truculent students, struggling teachers, and insistent parents. This is probably true in other industries; leaders have to be responsible to all the customers and for all the employees. President Truman kept his famous “The buck stops here” sign on his desk to remind himself of that every day, and it’s something a leader should never forget.

Today’s post is the sixth of the SOS Leadership Men Who Lead Blog Series. The purpose of this blog series is to share the stories and insights of men who are answering the call to leadership in their lives. Come back each Friday to read more!

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