What the Penn State scandal teaches us about accountable leadership

While details of the sexual molestation scandal at Penn State continue to come out, people are polarized on the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno.

While there will be no criminal charges brought against Paterno because he reported one of the incidents that came to his attention to his superiors, many believe he should have done more. No doubt many within the Penn State football program knew that assistant coach Sandusky was a sexual predator of young boys. There were too many recurring incidents throughout the years. Yet, no one called the authorities for years. In fact, it took a brave young victim alerting authorities for the story to unfold publicly.

This makes me think about accountable leadership. The pervasive culture around Penn State football was the responsibility of the program leaders. The fact that people thought the protection of the reputation of the lucrative football program was more important than protecting children against continued molestation is an indictment of the people in power. Joe Paterno and other adult leaders are indeed accountable.

Those of us who are in positions of power are responsible for the work cultures we create. Be careful about how we message and how we lead. It is an extra burden that we bear as leaders. Make sure proper accountability is assigned throughout your organization all the way up to yourselves.  That means
creating an environment where people feel safe enough to raise issues that are against the principles of the culture at all times.