By Sharon Glickman, USDR Contributor
Your image is a very important tool to use in your quest to live a successful life. Others will judge you on your image, and if you fail to make the right impression, you and your ideas will be dismissed. Without the proper presence image, it’s likely you won’t even get picked to play the game let alone win it. Because your image is so critical to your life success, it’s important to protect it. But, not at all costs. Your integrity trumps your image every time.
What we’ve seen on TV and read about Penn State University (PSU) these past two weeks is a prime example of the ‘integrity trumps image’ principle. While we only have the grand jury report to go by in terms of the facts, the child sex abuse story of Jerry Sandusky, football coach Joe “JoePa” Paterno, and the top tier of Penn State’s administration is the worst-case result of protecting an image instead of acting with integrity. The multi-million dollar PSU Nittany Lions and all the associated goodwill heaped on the University were allegedly deemed more important than the physical and emotional safe-keeping of eight young boys. It seems from reports that PSU leaders were more concerned with protecting its fundraising than protecting the most vulnerable.
It’s true that Joe Paterno cast a wide umbrella of integrity, loyalty, hard work, and honesty over the past nearly six decades of heading PSU’s football program (and maybe even the University itself). He always seemed to stand for doing the right thing with the promise of excellence resulting. He and his football program were above reproach, and they enjoyed an A+ ranking in the annals of collegiate sports – both figuratively and literally. Unfortunately that’s true no longer. Moody’s Investors Service said it has put the University’s Aa1 bond rating under review for a possible downgrade due to the scandal. Not to mention the sponsors such as cars.com who have already pulled out of advertising during Penn State sports events.
The public’s outrage is not only about the heinous criminal activities but also the decade-old cover up. If JoePa and the Penn State gang had just come clean in 1998 when the first allegations were levied against assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, not only would many young boys not have suffered abuse but also the legendary coach would have further demonstrated the importance of integrity that he has always worn as his mantle. Instead of quietly retiring Mr. Sandusky and going along business as usual, Penn State and Coach Paterno had the opportunity to sacrifice their image temporarily to save young boys. It’s something the Catholic Church had the opportunity to do also and failed to take for similar reasons. Neither organization could face the prospect of a disastrous public backlash and the resulting negative economic impact. They couldn’t just accept the fact that bad things do happen in this world. They hoped that by hiding and ignoring the image-busting events that they would go away unnoticed. That didn’t happen. Now they have a huge image crisis and they subjected young people to horrible abuses. If they had just sacrificed their image from the start, we can only believe the abuses would have ceased.
Now I ask, isn’t it far better that we allow our image to take a hit when we are simultaneously doing the right thing? Acting with integrity instead of merely preserving our image for what’s mostly just financial gain? I think the answers are obvious but in case you want some assurance. As a very experienced presence image coach, businesswoman, and mother, I will tell you without question or hesitation that your integrity trumps your image every single time.