As someone who has dedicated most of my adult life to providing positive developmental experiences to kids, I was angered and saddened by the abuse carried out by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Fortunately most camps have multiple safeguards in place to prevent the horrible things that happened at Penn State from happening at camp.
There are, however, important lessons we can learn from the events at Penn State. Besides Jerry Sandusky's horrific actions, what happened at Penn State is also about a colossal failure of leadership. Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno failed as a leader. The Penn State athletic director failed as a leader. The Penn State president failed as a leader. From top to bottom, leaders at Penn State failed to lead.
What happened to these skilled, experienced, highly respected leaders?
1. An all consuming focus on an organizational goal. At Penn State having a winning football program was the most important goal. Using this goal as a filter through which to make decisions warped leaders' perspectives. Anything that hindered pursuit of the goal became an obstacle to be overcome.
2. Allowing relationships to cloud judgement. Coach Joe Paterno's long relationship with Jerry Sandusky made it difficult for him to accept the truth. He didn't want to believe what the evidence suggested. His friendship led to inaction which enabled Sandusky to continue his abuse.
3. Caring more about public reputations rather than doing what's right, but embarrassing. Penn State had a reputation as a winning football program that played by the rules. Joe Paterno was college football's winningest coach who was considered one of the greatest coaches of all time. Penn State chose to protect the reputation of its program and coach rather than dealing with the realities of what was happening.
4. Trying to manage a crisis through dishonesty. Once the Sandusky situation became known, Penn State's leaders dealt with the crisis through denial and deception. Like Richard Nixon and Watergate or baseball players and steroids, dishonesty eventually caught up with Penn State's leaders.
As leaders we need to be mindful of the failures at Penn State. We need to be wary of the problems that brought down one of football's greatest coaches and programs. Most importantly, we need to commit to leading with honesty, integrity and a focus on doing what's right.
Welcome to the Summer Camp Leadership blog. For those of us who lead summer camps, making a positive difference in the lives of young people is our passion. Turning that passion into a reality, however, takes more than the ability to lead songs, teach archery or plan craft projects. Creating camp experiences that truly transform lives takes leadership. Leadership that creates a vision for the future, leadership that inspires and engages others, leadership that remains focused and stays the course. My hope is through this blog you'll find ideas, inspiration and tools to help you be a great summer camp leader.