Joe Paterno: The sins of a leader

Posted July 24, 2012 in Latest News & Insights

I have a very strong memory of being about 13 years old and sitting in church with my parents and 3 younger brothers when the minister asked us all to repeat a line of scripture.  The line was this: be sure your sins will find you out.  He got the entire congregation to chant the line about 10 times (throughout which my mother took great relish in saying it louder than most while eye-balling her four kids).  One has to wonder if Joe Paterno is looking down from somewhere up there nodding in agreement.

In case you missed it, Joe Paterno was one of US college football’s most celebrated and decorated coaches.  He led Penn State to a mountain of victories during his long tenure at the school.  He also, along with a number of other school officials, turned a blind eye to the ongoing sexual abuse of young boys at the hands of his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.

In response, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) handed down a hefty set of fines and penalties to Penn State including wiping out 14 years of Paterno’s victories.  All of this is likely small consolation to the lives that Sandusky destroyed, but in a world where abuse against children is generally ignored… as least the NCAA “manned-up” and did something.

What’s shocking though are all the people who are outraged about Joe Paterno’s name being defamed as a result of this hearing.  I understand the family being defensive, but how can anyone respect a leader… no matter how “winning”… who allowed this type of abuse to not only happen in the first place but to be perpetuated over many years?

Why is it that we will tolerate horrendous behaviour if a leader is delivering results?  This isn’t leadership.  This is abuse of power.

In stripping Joe Paterno of 14 years of victories, I think that the NCAA is at least trying to send a message that says “winning at any cost will not be tolerated”.  Good for them.

Sadly, too many of these leaders exist in our organizations.  It takes courage to fire a high performer who lacks integrity, ethics and morals when the pressure is on to deliver “wins”.  It shouldn’t take courage… it should be a standard action.

There’s a quote about leadership that goes like this: management is about doing things right; leadership is about doing the right things.

Are you ignoring a problem behaviour that you need to confront or taking shortcuts to get to the win?  How do you want people to remember your leadership impact?  Will you be the guy who did things right or the one that turned a blind eye to get the short-term win?

Be sure your sins will find you out.  Right Joe?

Happy leading!


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