Read the original posting at The Washington Business Journal.
Most of us who are sports fans were shocked by the recent events at Penn State University
. Besides the alleged crimes (which I will not
discuss in this post) there were some other allegations in the press
that seemed to indicate that a number of leaders at Penn State –
including former head football coach Joe Paterno
— might not have taken all the actions they should have taken.
Regardless of the merits of those allegations, it’s worth us stepping
back and taking a moment to think about one of the most important
requirements for a leader: integrity
When your integrity is tested, by definition the situation is not
pleasant (otherwise there would be no test, right?). You can do too
little, which may have happened in the Penn State case. Even if the
incident was reported promptly, the years of delay would suggest that
there was inadequate follow up.
At the other extreme, you can overreact. My junior year at the Naval
Academy, two of my fellow offensive linemen, both seniors and starters,
watched the final Army-Navy Football game of their careers from the
sidelines with tears in their eyes. They were on the sidelines because
someone reported that they had violated the Naval Academy’s Honor Concept,
charges that wound up being incorrect.
Leadership erred on the side of
assuming guilt in this case – a wrong decision that took something from
my friends that can never be returned.
So, how can the rest of us possibly keep our integrity intact when
even our greatest leaders fail? Some of the wisdom that has been handed
down to me over the years is:
Remember that loyalty is earned. If someone tests
your loyalty by testing your integrity, your integrity MUST win. NO
EXCEPTIONS, EVER. A person (or a university) that expects you to violate
your integrity for his (or its) protection does not deserve your
If it’s in your power to stop bad things from happening, you must take action to stop them.
For whatever reason, it took nine years after the alleged 2002 incident
was reported before Sandusky was indicted. Whatever actions were taken
were probably not strong enough. At Enron
, there were opportunities to prevent CFO Andrew Fastow from filing false financial information, but no one took action until it was too late.
A person is innocent until proven guilty. In the
Naval Academy incident I mentioned above, the decision to discipline was
made before all the facts were in. Take action to keep bad things from
happening, but don’t apply the discipline until you have all the
information that is available. The cost of convicting an innocent person
can be greater than the cost of letting a guilty person go free.
Be accountable to someone. Leaders need someone to
whom they can be accountable, ideally a person who isn’t a “stakeholder”
in their lives (e.g. family member, boss, investor, etc.). This can be a
friend, a mentor, a coach, a peer group, etc. An accountability partner
of some sort can help you get clarity about situations where your
judgment is clouded.
Don’t ever betray someone’s trust, and don’t lie, cheat, or steal. This rule is obvious, but our jails and divorce courts are full of people who felt that this rule didn’t apply to them.
What are your thoughts or suggestions regarding maintaining your integrity as a leader?