Fallston Group

Penn State a Lesson in Leadership, Not Communications

Most leaders do an excellent job of leading the organizations for which they’re responsible. However, while they’re focused on developing vision, motivating people and driving results, there are many issues which routinely threaten their people, assets and brands. And, a disruption in business continuity can result in a loss of brand integrity, a diminished personal reputation, an undermining of stakeholder confidence, a reduction in profitability and in the most serious of cases, loss of life. The recent release of the Freeh Report highlights the abysmal failure of the most senior Penn State officials as they apparently did nothing to protect the children who were tragically victimized by systemic abuse.  These circumstances represent the most egregious violations of trust; the implicit trust children have in those expected to care for and protect them.

The Penn State crisis continues to cause instability, confusion and intense outrage among many stakeholders. Chief executives must understand that the strengths and shortcomings of leaders are perhaps never more magnified than during times of adversity. That is, making the proper ethical decision, no matter how painful, at the right time for the right reasons. It appears the institution of Penn State football was more powerful than that of a child’s safety and well-being. Yes, personal and institutional brands became more influential than the intimidated victims.

Sadly, there are many honest, hard-working people who are aligned with Penn State, people who would’ve handled the Sandusky situation much differently. Unfortunately, those people were not in the proper leadership roles.  Many continue to talk about the Penn State situation in terms of failed crisis communications. To me, the Penn State derailing is not a matter of failed communication, but a monumental failure in integrity-based, decisive leadership.

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