Leadership, Resistance, and the Penn State Scandal

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

I believe it was Ernest Jones who wrote, “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.” I think about that quote as I read the unfolding details about the conditions that allowed the Penn State scandal to continue for so many years. And I fear that the university’s board is making a mistake that many organizations make. Spokesperson for the board said something like, “We fired these people so we can put all of this behind us.” They assume that by getting rid of a few individuals, the problem will never occur again.  To paraphrase Philip Zimbardo when he spoke about Abu Ghraib, it’s not the few bad apples, it’s the barrel that’s bad. I believe the well-meaning board should look wide and deep at the conditions that encourage cover-ups like this. They could look at the athletic department, the importance of the football program to the university’s reputation and bottom line – expectations from the board, the alumni, fans, students, and others. How are people rewarded? Punished? What are the unwritten cultural rules? What are the risks to individuals if they speak up?

I welcome your comments.

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