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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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

5 Responses to A Warning from (Un)Happy Valley

  1. Steve G says:

    Well stated Steve…too many times, as leaders, we look the other way for various reasons: Don’t want to be bothered, don’t have the courage to confront, don’t know how to confront, and the thought that the “violation” was bigger enough to cause a stir (I am not implying any or all of these are the case in PSU)

    Part of leadership is standing up against those around you who are wrong – no matter how close they are to you or their contribution to the organization. As you pointed out, if not addressed right away (I call it – RIP THE BAND OFF…) it will only get worse.

    Thanks Steve


  2. Steve G says:

    Steve – right on and well stated…

    When you don’t take quick and decisive action against a wrong doing, it definitely sends out the wrong message, and can permeate the organization. By not standing up to wrong behavior, are you not condoning the wrong actions.

    I have found there are various reasons why leaders look the other way: don’t want to be bothered, (if leave it alone, it will take care of itself), it’s not that big an issue (the poor understanding the effects of unethical behavior on the entire organization) it’s only an isolated issue (one time offense – I will let it go this time) no courage to confront (some leaders just don’t like to put others on the spot) Whatever the reason, I believe it is best to RIP THE BAND OFF, and address it from the beginning…it will only get worse if left untreated.

    Thanks Steve for your insight and post


  3. I’m a member of a Church that took the cover-up and lie about it route not just once, but for decades. The damage is incalculable on multiple levels. On a brighter note, I’ve also provided consultation to church “senior management” who wanted to do the right thing in a swift, surgical way. No surprise, those congregations/communities fared better in the clean-up and healing process.

  4. Don Hornsby says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. Well stated…

  5. Pingback: Out with Klout. In with Cannoli! « Connection Agent

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