Ethical Compromises in Organizations

Organizations have their own set of ethical issues. On July 12th, former FBI Director Louis Freeh requested a blistering report about the cover up associated with the Jerry Sandusky case. Freeh’s report found coach Jerry Paterno (now deceased), former president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, and vice president Gary Schultz had ‘repeatedly concealed critical facts about Sandusky’s child abuses.” 

The reviewers found handwritten notes and emails in a decision to hide information from child welfare and police authorities. Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted on 45 criminal counts of abusing 10 boys. 

Freeh noted, “The most saddening findings by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.” 

Reports showed Paterno and administrators knew about Sandusky’s child abuse activities as far back as 1998.  However, they attempted to conceal this information for the school’s reputation and perhaps—Coach Paterno’s legacy as a dynamic coach. The blanket cover up went beyond the school. 


The local district attorney when provided with evidence of Sandusky’s child abuse did not prosecute.  Many people in the community were in denial because Coach Paterno was a national icon and local legend.  

For many organizations, it is the proverbial “doing as I say and not as I do” for some managers.  Most managers can get away with this philosophy. As businesses continue to falter and competition begins to bear down on the economy, workers are looking for leadership.  

However, it is virtually impossible to lead an organization if you’re unethical. Why is this true? Well, followers will not respect leaders without integrity. A leader can’t trick them with promotions or bribe them with money. In the long run, character does count in an effective organization.  We will discuss the dangers of empowering unethical leaders.  

Ethics plays a critical role in good leadership. Charles Hill, author of International Business, defined as ‘accepted principles of right or wrong that govern the conduct of a person, the members of a profession, or the actions of an organization.  It is one situation when an individual makes an unethical decision.  However, it is a very complex matter when an institution or a group of leaders representing an institution acts in an unethical manner.

Richard Daft, an organization management expert, explains that leaders at the highest management levels develop internal moral standards that can often allow them to break laws if necessary. However, managers should be personally connected with their organizations’ values. Sadly, some managers feel they are bigger than their organizations. 

In fact, ‘they are the organization!’ In this scenario, leaders become the problem, not the solution. They become trapped by the “Seven Deadly Sins,” which consist of pride, avarice (greed), envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and slothfulness.

These attributes are not good leadership qualities. Evidently, these unethical leaders bring about their own demise, shaming their organizations. Penn State was no exception. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad leader to destroy the core values of an organization.  

How does Penn State recovery from this leadership void?

 © 2012 by Daryl D. Green