How a Penn State Debacle Could Happen at Your Company

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How a Penn State debacle could happen at your company July 16, 2012: 11:44 AM ET The meltdown at Penn State could happen anywhere, under the right conditions. By Jill Geisler ( -- The Freeh Report is a chilling indictment of the leadership at Penn State. People at the top build, sustain, or change organizational culture, and clearly, Penn State needed a radical change. It took a tragedy to make people believe it. Rather than looking upon it like head-shaking witnesses to a horrific train wreck, let's focus on how situations like these evolve, because, in truth, a leadership failure of this sort could happen to any of us. Smart, successful people, even those who see themselves as particularly ethical and moral, cultivate a collection of blind spots. In Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It, authors and business ethicists Max Bazerman and Ann Tenbrunsel argue that we overestimate our ability to act ethically. They say we succumb to "bounded ethicality," which they describe as "systematic constraints on our morality that favor our own self-interest at the expense of the interest of others." That means we may say we're all about doing the right thing -- and even believe it. But when doing the right thing has too many negative consequences for us, we may reframe the situation to favor our own interests. We find a way to justify our self-serving decisions. Sounds like Penn State's leaders, doesn't it? It's why this statement from the Freeh Report is so haunting: "Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky's victims." It's why a former dean of student affairs at Penn State -- who was responsible for administering the school's code of student conduct -- ran afoul of coach Joe Paterno and left the university, discouraged. When athletes

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