The Penn State Board of Trustees removed any ambiguity or uncertainty last Monday. They spoke clearly, unmistakably and did not stutter: Joe Paterno was fired last November due to a “lack of leadership.” The Board of Trustees indicated that Paterno’s inactivity regarding allegations of child abuse by a former assistant coach “constituted a lack of leadership.” JoePa, the beloved Penn State head football coach for 46 years; the collegiate coach with the most career wins (406), a man synonymous with Nittany Lion football was terminated due to his lack of leadership!
It is abundantly clear: every organization depends upon competent, capable leadership for success. Any organization, whether for profit, non-profit or educational, depends upon effective leadership to provide corporate direction, goal attainment and mission accomplishment. Every organizational issue, every management decision that is made or postponed, is ultimately the product of leadership. Find an organization achieving excellence and you will find leadership effectiveness. Find failure, and most likely you will discover leadership failure as well.
But despite the need for genuine leadership, throughout our society we are suffering from a leadership void. It seems that regardless of the direction we turn, we notice a lack of principled, passionate and ardent leaders. Whether the arena is politics, business, education, religion or sports there all too often exists a leadership vacuum and it appears as if the true leader is more of a dream than a reality. All around us people are searching for leaders as we instinctively seek them out and recognize the necessity for quality leadership in all areas of life. The leadership landscape appears desolate and barren and even a casual observer wonders, “Where have all the leaders gone?”
Warren G. Bennis sounded the alarm several years ago when he declared that we suffer from “…a deepening leadership crisis in most of our institutions…. Unlike a plague or nuclear holocaust, the leadership crisis will probably not become the basis for a best-seller or a blockbuster movie, but in many ways it is the most urgent and dangerous of the threats we face today, if only because it is insufficiently recognized and little understood.” Bennis went on: “It is the paradox of our times that precisely when the trust and credibility of leaders are at their lowest, when the beleaguered survivors in leadership positions feel unable to summon up the vestiges of power left to them, we most need people who can lead.”
Those in the arena of business and industry readily recognize the leadership void. James F. Bolt, chairman and founder of Executive Development Associates, a leading consulting firm, has observed: “At a time when leadership is more crucial than ever to our very survival, there is a shortage of qualified people to lead corporations into the next century.” And one writer vividly described the situation in this manner: “The dearth of leadership is apparent throughout society. No matter where we turn, we see a severe lack of faith in the leadership of our schools, religious organizations and governments. To paraphrase a Business Week article, if Martians descended someplace in the United States and demanded that we take them to our leaders, we would have to think twice about where to take them.” With such a rich heritage of leadership, where are the Lincolns, the Washingtons or the Churchills of the 21st century?
Being culturally programmed to be pragmatic, we tend to think that leadership is what you do, when in reality it is more of who you are. Retired General Norman Schwarzkopf summed it up well when he stated; “The main ingredient of good leadership is good character. This is because leadership involves conduct and conduct is determined by values.” Leadership can never be divorced from the individual and as a leader, you cannot impart what you do not possess.
I am convinced that leadership is one of the most critical issues confronting us as we navigate the perilous waters of the third millennium. Yet as we embrace the responsibility and privilege that is ours, we must do so in a fresh manner. We need to revitalize organizations and institutions as we cast renewed visions and purge pet programs. New goals need to be set, priorities rearranged and traditions reevaluated as we encourage those around us to accomplish what is needed in an ever changing world. Yet I also believe that we can meet the challenges presented today, if leaders are dedicated and equipped to meet those challenges by embracing unchanging leadership principles in a fresh, unselfish manner.
Leadership is always difficult and complicated. Yet few generations need to observe principled leadership more than ours. Our current need for honorable, ethical and effective servant leadership is the most critical issue confronting the United States. Only through modeling authentic servant leadership will contemporary leaders effectively and strategically shape the future. Servant leaders may voluntarily surrender a palace lifestyle complete with all its privileges and perks to serve and lead others. The ramifications of this kind of leadership (or lack of it) will impact our present generation and countless generations to come.
Stay the Course,
Dr. Greg Morris