Another leader—no, an entire cadre of leaders—has been found to be a moral failure. Legal authorities have charged Jerry Sandusky, who retired as the defensive coordinator for the Penn State football team in 1999, with the sexual abuse of children who he targeted through his involvement in the charitable organization The Second Mile. Additionally, a number of other administrators and leaders at Penn State University—the university’s president Graham Spanier, vice-president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley and long-time football coach Joe Paterno—face charges or have been fired from the university because of their failure to take action when Sandusky’s crimes were brought to their attention. Time, research, and investigation will inform fully our judgment of who is guilty and who is innocent, but the indictment states many at the university were aware of Sandusky’s crimes but did not intervene as required by law and by moral standards.

Sandusky and the others join a long line of leaders who failed, in many cases miserably, to act in morally appropriate ways. University presidents find themselves in the news when someone discovers that they plagiarized their academic work. Executives’ decisions seem to reflect expediencies of a situation rather than the application of principles of justice and ethics. Politicians do what they must to win, even if it means using dirty tricks and spreading innuendo and falsehoods. James MacGregor Burns (1980) argues that a leader’s most essential quality is his or her commitment to moral values, but it is an understatement to say that in many cases those in positions of authority do not act in ways that inspire ethical confidence.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2011 Society of Personality and Social Psychology. This article first appeared on Society of Personality and Social Psychology Connections (2011).

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.