Penn States recent events present a cautionary tale for any leader. Knowing about a situation and not doing anything about it can be as bad as committing the act itself. Having a mission statement, core values or talking about values based leadership is all good, but as leaders it is up to us to uphold these values.
Our employees and teams turn to us and look to us for direction and guidance, but also to see are we living our values and leading our organizations by its values?
In the case of the Penn State matter, leaders either knew and did little or did nothing. Regardless of the reason, the result was the firing of the university president, the ouster of a legendary coach and adverse action from the NCAA. None of these leaders were directly involved with the incidents. But they were aware that something might be wrong. This reminds us that as leaders we can be held accountable not only for doing wrong but also for doing nothing to right a wrong. How many large businesses have lost litigation because an executive had knowledge about retribution against a whistle blower or knowledge of a hostile working environment?
As leaders we must ensure that we have mechanisms in place to help uphold our core values:
Do the right thing
Encourage others to do the right thing
Ensure there are channels for feedback
Make sue to fully understand the feedback and its implications.
The sad part of this is that some people forgot that they were not just a football program; they were an institution of higher learning. They prepare the leaders of tomorrow, which was part of their mission. It would appear that the university's leaders wanted to protect the money and fame they received from the football program instead of protecting the institution or the victims. Core values were never designed to protect wealth or fame; they were designed to protect institutions from the negative effects of wealth or fame.