November 12, 2011
Why INTEGRITY trumps everything
Joe Paterno was obviously a well-loved and respected coach by the Penn State community as well as throughout athletic circles. Yet Joe Paterno is out. History has become irrelevant; an integrity issue has reared its ugly head.
Good leadership requires many things: technical skills, communicative and persuasive capabilities, commitment, motivation, interpersonal awareness, vision and strategic agility. It requires the ability to be flexible and adaptable to change and innovation. But all these competencies, though important, are trumped by a lapse in ethical judgment. The full story is not yet out, but it appears Paterno's mistakes were largely those of "omission" i.e. failure to act appropriately with knowledge of the sexual abuse of children. Though he was not responsible for the abuse himself, his name will be forever associated with the repugnant and destructive behavior of a pedophile.
How often are leaders in organizations faced with ethical decisions? Maybe it involves hiring and firing issues, or making the numbers balance; it might involve speaking up when a senior manager is acting inappropriately, or even whistle-blowing when clearly unethical behavior is occurring.
When you select employees to join your organization, or consider retention and promotion, remember this: integrity trumps everything. No matter how talented, a person willing to compromise on important ethical issues is a liability for any organization, pure and simple.