The Cowardly Lion Syndrome

     Not long ago our nation witnessed firsthand what happens when we quit fighting for our personal sense of truth. We experienced a phenomenon I’ve dubbed the Cowardly Lion Syndrome.

     The situation occurred at a prominent American university. An institution that for generations has been seen as a pillar of integrity and accountability suddenly found itself at the heart of a national controversy that shook it to its foundation.

     It happened without warning or mercy.

     The controversy arose due to allegations that a former school assistant football coach engaged in inappropriate acts with a child on school grounds, and various coaching staff members were aware of it but apparently failed to report the incident to the police.

Of course, it’s impossible to understand all that really transpired. But one cannot help but wonder what those involved were thinking, and why they didn’t do something to curtail what is by any measure, a heinous, criminal act? Perhaps it was fear of damage to the school’s reputation if the story went public? Or maybe concern over a lawsuit? Regardless of the logic that contributed to their poor decision, what’s clear today is that one or more of the school’s leaders failed to exercise the moral courage to act justly in the face of injustice. No one stepped up in defense of a young boy who was effectively defenseless. And although the world may never know the full details of what happened at that venerable institution during that troubling time, we can all learn a valuable lesson from this unfortunate event. Namely that there will certainly be times in life where we will face challenging choices—choices which could lead to our potentially losing something important to us, be it time, position, a relationship, or even prestige. But we must not forget that the true measure of our courage is judged not only by what we do, but equally by what we fail to do when others need our help the most.

John E. Michel is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. An accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster, he has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts and his award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible and is married to the most patient person on the planet. Together, they are blessed with two amazing sons. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website,