11/06/2013 01:33 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Be Accountable

For whatever reason, in whatever capacity, we seem as a nation to accept the principle of passing the buck. We should not.

The statement, most often attributed to Harry Truman, that the "buck stops here" should be emblazoned in any president's mind. All-too-often, it is not.

In most societies, when a president makes an egregious mistake, the president resigns (or worse, as seen in China and Japan, where executives are killed or kill themselves). Here, we seem to prefer using golden parachutes to deal with poor management. Make enough mistakes, and the president will be gently "let go," albeit with an often obscene financial package.

I have never understood our national unwillingness to accept responsibility; I always willingly held myself accountable and sought to do so with those with whom I worked. At the same time, I drew a clear line between an error or bad decision and an immoral or illegal act on someone's part. In the former case, I believed in second chances; in the latter case, I did not.

Early on in one of my presidencies, my chief financial officer discovered a discrepancy she could not explain. Before confronting the individual, we doubled-checked our information internally and hired a retired FBI official to confirm our suspicions of embezzlement. Then we fired the person, turned the matter over to the district attorney, and pressed for reimbursement.

The matter led to some interesting conversations with key trustees who felt the college would be best served by simply "letting the person go" and not subjecting the college to adverse publicity. I felt differently. How could I run the college if I told people working with me we had rules and regulations and, if they violated them and committed acts as egregious as embezzlement, they would simply have to leave?

Accountability matters. You should hold those working with you accountable for their actions, and, of course, you should be held accountable for your actions.