The holiday season is a good time for reflection. For me reflections this year are colored by the ongoing fallout from the child sex abuse allegations at my university, which is reverberating at institutions throughout our country.
I have worked in all the major sectors of our economy: for-profit, not-for-profit, and government. For most of my career, I’ve been in universities. Not-for-profit institutions are exempted from paying taxes because federal and state governments deem we are doing public good. Still, I have seen so many leaders and organizations in this arena act as if Vince Lombardi or Niccolo Machiavelli were their patron saints. It comes down to “winning,” outperforming the “other guy,” such as a “competing” institution, which is often charged with performing the same public good—like charity, health care, or education.
Of course, most decisions we make on a day-to-day basis are pragmatic and mundane. Few rise to ethical or moral issues. But I have seen many executives, leaders, and governing bodies, even when faced with moral dilemmas, calculate solely based on pragmatic projections—relying exclusively on legal, financial, and public-relations advice—forgetting the mission, moral, or ethical dimensions of important matters.
Sometimes those of us with administrative or governing authority must stand up, remember why we’re here, return to core values, and do the right thing. Is that a risk? Perhaps. But there are risks worth taking.