There are plenty of reasons for weeping and gnashing of teeth over the scandal unfolding at Penn State University this week. The firing of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier does not merit any lamentation.
What Jerry Sandusky did was evil, and he will pay for it.
But good men also do bad things sometimes, and when they do, they too must be held accountable for their poor decisions and actions. Paterno, Spanier, and others at Penn State were intoxicated with power and hubris and contributed to a culture where silence and compliance were valued above justice and courage.
The truth is this is just as much a failure of followership as it is a failure of leadership. I predict we are going to learn that plenty of people knew enough to warrant sounding a louder alarm about Sandusky but failed to do so.
If you have knowledge of abuse in your organization (e.g. sexual harassment) you have a responsibility to report it. If you are a leader and someone has the courage to report abuse to you, you better look into it, especially if the person accused of abusing or harassing others is also in a position of leadership or basic supervision.
It’s your responsibility to protect those you’ve been given the privilege to lead. If you fail at that responsibility, you forfeit the moral authority to lead. You earned your punishment.
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