“The Buck Stops Here”

By: Steve Little, Principal, The Disruption Lab


“The bad thing about a good year is you have to follow it; the good thing about a bad year is you get to follow it.” (Lee Synnott, a former mentor)

Sometimes, external factors create bad years (remember 2008 and 2009). But more often, bad years are the result of poor leadership. Can’t blame it on poor management…leaders put the management in place. Can’t blame it on a host of other factors, which at the end of the day, are a result of leadership. “The buck [really does] stop here.”

Why is there a dearth of good leaders? In part, because leaders focus too much time on what got them there…good management. Management is not leadership! Is management important? To be sure, it is critically important…that’s why we hire managers. But management without leadership begets an increasingly efficient organization that is becoming increasingly irrelevant. READ: “Bad years ahead.”

I suggest the following cornerstones of good leadership:

  1. Vision – leaders are responsible for creating, communicating, and inculcating a powerful, motivating, palpable, insightful, clear vision. Those who are passionate about the vision will want to join and stay with the organization…these are the people you want. Those who can’t buy into the vision will leave…these are the people who need to leave.
  2. Data – good leaders are data evangelists. They value the capture, analysis, understanding, and application of data. The best way to remain relevant in a dynamic future is to master data.
  3. Innovation – good leaders support, participate in, and expect continual progress across all key types of innovation… efficiency, sustaining, and disruptive (or core, adjacent, and transformative). If meaningful investments are not being made in ALL three areas, long-term viability is at risk.
  4. Relationship – Good leaders create and maintain good relationships…with all stakeholders. Relationship requires an investment of time and genuine interest. It requires emotional intelligence. It requires treating others with dignity and respect…applying the Golden Rule. It requires a measure of humility and vulnerability. It requires listening and learning through others. No leader can build good relationships perched in the ivory tower. Additionally, good leaders empower their employees to act autonomously in support of the vision rather than as automatons following orders. Self-governing work groups will accomplish far more than command and control autocracy could ever motivate.

There are other characteristics of good leaders, some of which may be more important than the four I’ve listed above. However, for today’s leaders, absence of any one of the above is nothing short of dereliction.


Steve is a Principal of The Disruption Lab. Prior to joining The Disruption Lab, Steve served as the Principal Consultant for the Strategic Solutions Group at InfoWorks, a regional business and technology consulting firm based in Nashville, TN. While his consulting engagements at InfoWorks spanned several industries, the majority of his work was in healthcare.​

Much of Steve’s career has been in executive leadership roles at Ingram Content Group (formerly Ingram Book Group). Over his 15 years with Ingram, Steve was part of a high performance executive team that drove significant growth in revenue and profits through innovative customer partnerships and services. Steve’s leadership was characterized by adeptly leveraging technology and building responsive organizations through organizational design and development. Steve’s business experience ranges from technical responsibilities such as operations research, business analysis, and systems development to senior management responsibilities as CEO, Chairman, and board director.​​

You can connect with or ask Steve a question through The Disruption Lab community at https://thedisruptionlab.community/.

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