Back when the US had presidents you could admire, Harry S Truman had a sign on his desk that said “the buck stops here”. But when trying to handle a crisis, does the buck stop with the person in charge? The answer is usually, but not always. Let me give a few current examples.
Cricket Australia: Ever since Cameron Bancroft was spotted stuffing sandpaper down his trousers (not something I’d advise in any context), the body in charge of the Australian test team has been in crisis. When the Prime Minister of your country wades in, the top banana has to take charge. And that’s what Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland did.
He jumped on a plane to South Africa, quizzed all the key players, held a press conference where he clarified disgraced cricket captain Steve Smith’s vague comments about the “leadership group” to exonerate coach Darren Lehmann, and handed out punishments to the three cricketers involved which seem harsh enough to put a lid on the scandal. I’d expect Ball Tampering to move from front page to footnote pretty quickly.
Labour Party: The row about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has been rumbling for years, and leader Jeremy Corbyn has failed to properly deal with it. The 2016 report by Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of human rights campaign group Liberty, was derided as a whitewash and the pressure built until it exploded after Corbyn criticised the removal of a mural in East London featuring characters that looked like stereotypical depictions of Jews.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council sent Corbyn a letter saying “enough is enough”. The head of the Holocaust Memorial Trust attacked his position. A protest was held outside parliament calling for Corbyn to take decisive action. And what did he do? He said he was “committed to eliminating anti-Semitism” and that the Labour Party could do more.
However, Corbyn has given no interviews on the matter, fielding Andy McDonald, shadow transport secretary (who? why?). By failing to front up on his response, Corbyn looks like he either has something to hide or he doesn’t care. With Sadiq Kahn, after Corbyn the most prominent Labour politician in the UK and probably the most respected, now openly criticising his response, the Labour leadership now faces an existential crisis.
Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to testify before the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the use of customer data to aid the Trump and Brexit campaigns could be seen as arrogance. By saying he will send someone more junior he is implying that Facebook is more important than the British parliament.
If you asked a sample of people they’d probably say it was. However, Facebook needs to send a “responsible adult”, someone senior enough to go back to Menlo Park and have influence over policy and not just a spokesman. If Zuckerberg is cute enough to do this, he might just get away with it.
As a rule of thumb, if you want to douse a fire you need a firefighter, not a spokesperson for the firefighting. It doesn’t always have to be the CEO, indeed as Talk Talk found when it put up the boss, Dido Harding, to try and deal with it’s hacking scandal in 2015, if the CEO isn’t putting a lid on matters you have nowhere else to go.
As Harry Truman might have said: “If the buck doesn’t stop, it keeps on running.”