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You’re either the boss … or not

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Leadership guru Warren Bennis has strong words for top executives who fail to accept responsibility but who excel at placing blame elsewhere.

When Lehman Brothers’ CEO Richard Fuld Jr. testified before a congressional panel about the bank’s downfall, he claimed to take “full responsibility” for his actions—but then he passed the buck. He blamed the news media, the short-sellers, the government and “an extraordinary run on the bank.” He told the panel he believed all his decisions were “prudent and appropriate.”

“They need to man up and take responsibility,” says Bennis, founder of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.

Another testifying exec, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, who ran American International Group Inc. (AIG) for 38 years until 2005, blamed successors for getting rid of controls he put in place. The two men who followed Greenberg at AIG faulted an accounting rule.

 “Being a leader is about being responsible and not passing the blame. True leaders step up,” says Rick Wartzman, director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. “To say you’re acting on the best information available is a failure of leadership that reflects a failure of the system.”

— Adapted from “Lehman, AIG Chiefs Should ‘Man Up,’ Stop ‘Kissing the Mirror,’” Michael Janofsky, Bloomberg; “Lehman Managers Portrayed as Irresponsible,” Bernie Becker and Ben White, The New York Times.

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