A Warning from (Un)Happy Valley

“Steve, we have found cancer in your body. It’s bad, it has the potential to spread, but the good news is that we caught it early. We want to operate right away, cut out the tumor, and follow-up with chemo and radiation to try to eradicate the disease and prevent it from spreading.”

“Doc, that sounds painful. How about we just wait and let it metastasize?”

You’d think I was nuts to give an answer like that. Fortunately, the fictional conversation above hasn’t happened. I would hope I’d have the sanity to choose early intervention instead of certain disaster.

Apparently, that didn’t happen at Penn State. Now Joe Paterno, one of the most respected coaches ever in college football, is out the door with a dark cloud over his head, as is the president of the university.

Many words will be written about this unfolding scandal in the coming days, but let us immediately take one crucial leadership lesson from this.

Get rid of the cancer. Early and thoroughly.

If you have a results-producing employee who is dishonest, don’t hesitate to fire him or her. If you have an executive who is unethical, escort them to the exit door. A coach named Sandusky was a tumor in the Penn State system. He should have been removed immediately.

Now it’s metastatic, affecting children, careers, an entire university. Look at the shame that has accrued to church organizations when similar evils have been unreported – even covered up. The evil doesn’t go away. It spreads. It goes from Stage 1 to Stage 4.

Enron. Lehman Brothers. Watergate. John Edwards. From high-flyers to Hall of Shame.

(and hellooooo, pharma executives)

We need more of what Dan Rockwell calls courageous candor. If you are a leader in an organization, and you’ve been hesitating to remove the tumor you know is there, consider the consequences downstream. Let the mess at Penn State be a warning.

A good leader, at times, has to be a good surgeon. Cut now.

(Feel free to join us every Tuesday night for LeadershipChat on Twitter, where we have no-holds-barred discussions on the practice of leadership in today’s world)

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (Business Identity Therapy)

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