My Shame and Penn State’s Shame

I’m in Spain doing some work for one of my multinational corporate clients this week.

But I write this blog post with a heavy heart.  If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I am a Penn State alum.  Recently some nasty allegations about a former football assistant coach there, Jerry Sandusky, have popped up.  Mr. Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing very young boys.  He has been retired since 1999, but is still closely aligned with the Penn State program.

The Penn State Athletic Director, Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz have been indicted on charges of perjury for allegedly lying to a Grand Jury about their knowledge of the situation.  Mr. Curley is on an administrative leave of absence.  Mr. Schultz has resigned.  Penn State president Graham Spanier has lost his job.

Joe Paterno, the Head Football Coach is not facing criminal charges –also lost his job.  He wanted to finish the season, but the Penn State Board of Trustees has severed all ties with him.  He won’t be the Penn State coach for the final three games of the season.  I’m sure this isn’t the way he expected to end his career.

This is disturbing to me on a number of fronts.  First, young boys were victimized by a Penn State football coach.  Second,  my university’s reputation has been sullied.  Third, I have always admired Joe Paterno.  Joe has always been known for running a clean program.

Here’s what I can tell from watching the news coverage of this situation.  Several years ago, a graduate assistant told Joe that he (the graduate assistant) observed Mr. Sandusky engaged in anal sex with a young boy in the shower at the Penn State football complex.  Joe reported this to the AD.  He was asked to testify before a Grand Jury about what he was told.  He testified that he reported the incident to the AD, so he is not implicated in a criminal case like Mr. Curley.

But was that enough?  In my opinion, if Joe knew about this egregious conduct by Mr. Sandusky, he should have taken more action – not just report it to the AD and hope that it goes away.  Joe did nothing to follow up on the situation.  I can sort of understand that, as he didn’t want to hurt the reputation of his football program.  But in so doing, he lost his integrity.

It appears that Joe Paterno — the Mr. Clean of the college football world, the coach with more wins than any other Division I coach — tacitly participated in cover up of not only a crime, but of something terrible involving innocent children.  I’m sad about that.  I’m a little angry too.

Consider one of the stanzas of the Penn State alma mater…

May no act of ours bring shame,
To one’s heart that loves thy name.
May our lives but swell thy fame,
Dear old State, Dear old State.

Jerry Sandusky — by his horrible actions, and Joe Paterno  —  by his inaction, have brought a lot of shame to my heart, and the hearts of Penn Staters worldwide.

That’s my rant.  I bring up this whole sordid mess here only because of the career advice that can be gleaned from it.  Joe Paterno’s brand was Mr. Clean.  He ran a successful football program that never was in trouble with the NCAA for recruiting violations.  Tweet 62 in my career success book Success Tweets says, “Your personal brand should be uniquely you, but built on integrity.  Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”

In this case, Joe did the right thing – sort of.  He reported the incident to the AD, and he testified truthfully at the Grand Jury hearing.  But he did little else to get to the bottom of it and bring someone who most likely is a pedophile to justice.  That’s over 46 years of brand building down the drain.  And that’s too bad, for Joe Paterno, the children who were molested, the Penn State Football program, the entire university community, and for the thousands of people like me who held Joe in high esteem.  I have even written favorable blog posts about him.

This story has career success implications for every one of us.  It’s simple.  While your brand should reflect you and your uniqueness, it has to be built on integrity.  Right now, Joe Paterno’s integrity is in question.

According to Wikipedia, “Integrity is consistency of actions, values, methods, measures and principles.”  Integrity and consistency are intertwined.  People who are consistent in their actions are seen as people with a high degree of integrity.

Oprah says, “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”  This is true.  If you practice situational ethics – doing the right thing only when you’re in the public eye — you aren’t really a person of high integrity, you’re just pretending to be one.

Besides, it’s hard to act one way in public, and another in private.  So to be safe, resolve to act like Oprah.  Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do – not because you’ll get credit, or avoid getting into trouble.

John Maxwell is a well-known business author.  One of his books sends the same message.  It’s called, There’s No Such Thing As Business Ethics: There’s Only One Rule for Making Decisions.  According to John, that rule is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In other words, do the right thing.

There’s a practical side to this too.  Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”  In other words, if you’re always a person of high integrity, it’s easy to be a person of high integrity; there are no complicating factors – like remembering what you did or said in a given situation.

Polonius gave similar advice to Hamlet.  “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the day the night, thou canst be false to no man.”  Roy Blackman, my father in law, passed away a few years ago.  This quote was his epitaph.  It was on the program handed out at his funeral.  Roy embodied it in how he lived his life.  It was the only piece of advice he gave his grandson, Matt, as he went off to college.  I now wonder how true Joe Paterno has stayed to himself.

Oprah, John Maxwell, Mark Twain and Shakespeare are all in agreement on one common sense piece of career advice.  If you want to become known as a person of high integrity – and I believe integrity is the cornerstone of any personal brand – act as a person of high integrity all the time – not just when it suits you, or when someone might notice.

Joe Paterno is a great football coach, and a good man who, in my opinion got caught up in a tough situation that he handled poorly.  Sadly for him, his integrity is now in question.  This is a sad way to end his career.  His legacy will that of someone who protected a child molester.

The common sense career success coach point here is simple.  Creating positive personal impact is an important career success competency.  You create positive personal impact by developing and nurturing your unique personal brand, being impeccable in your presentation of self, and knowing and following the basic rules of etiquette. As I suggest in Tweet 62 in Success Tweets, “Your personal brand should be uniquely you, but it should be built on integrity.  Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”  As the whole mess at Penn State demonstrates, a lack of integrity can lead to serious consequences for a carefully crafted brand.  Now, lots of people are looking at Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program, and most people don’t like what they’re seeing.  So take a lesson from here.  Build your personal brand on integrity.

That’s the career advice I have that is prompted by the terrible situation at Penn State.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


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