Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Paterno's Failure

And so now we know that Penn State coach Joe Paterno, after getting a credible report of horrific behavior from one of his assistants, simply kicked it up the management food chain and then stopped thinking about it.  He never acted like someone who thought, really thought, about what would happen if the allegations were true, or if his legal superiors (but who were not the keepers of his legacy) treated this report the way he did.

I still don't get it.  You can't be the head coach of a program that prides itself on above board, upright operation, and turn something like this over to bureaucrats without a second thought.  By the time this event happened, Penn State football was a brand, and so was Paterno.  He abandoned both.

This is a lesson that needs to be reinforced to senior management everywhere--just being legal isn't enough sometimes.  Sometimes you have to take responsibility for the organization's character and well being.  Amazingly, no one thought about what the revelation that a potential pedophile operated within the halls of the Penn State athletic department would mean, to the kids affected, to the organization, or to various individuals on the periphery.  This was a monumental failure of judgement, character, ethics, fortitude, and just about every other quality we believe is essential to running an effective business.  A failure at all levels, too.

UPDATE:  And so the whole miserable house of cards that was the Paterno empire comes crashing down.  Again, what is evident is that the money, prestige, and political influence of big time college athletics simply overwhelmed the values and judgment of the people running the school.  This affair is another lesson that power corrupts, and allowing one individual to amass so much influence is a recipe for disaster.  On occasion I deal with clients that have the misfortune to have created people like Paterno in his last few years.  Invariably, I counsel them to jettison the employee at first opportunity.  Otherwise, the entire organization becomes infected with the moral decay emanating from the power center.
I'll hope this lesson is taken seriously in organizations across the country, but I doubt it will be more than a year or two before we read of some similar ethical failure.

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