Aug 03

How One Bad Decision Can Destroy A Legacy

Last week NCAA officials handed down a punishment on the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State that has many people talking and weighing in on the decision.  Here was the official ruling:

  • Four year ban from post-season bowl games.
  • $60 Million dollar fine.
  • All wins between 1998-2011 (111 wins) vacated.
  • Scholarship reductions.
  • Five year probation.

Many have called the ruling everything from unprecedented, appropriate, unfair, to not enough.  One commentator described the decision as a “dismantling of a football dynasty”.  As I have been thinking about it over the last week, I see a much bigger consequence than monetary fines, loss of games, and bowl-game bans, I see reputations and legacies destroyed:

  • A Coach loses the achievement of the most-winning game record of a college football coach.
  • A University essentially loses their football achievement status for the better part of 20 years.
  • People who were once known as “great” and “honorable” will now go down in history as people who were shamed and dishonorable.
  • Everyone who was connected to this story will be known forever as someone who covered up a sexual abuse scandal.

All because of one decision.  One decision to protect reputation over integrity.  One decision to not making the right decision instead of covering up a serious problem.  One decision of protecting an institution over protecting the safety and well-being of innocent victims.  One decision to choose talent over character.

I’m not trying to be the moral-police, or claim that I’m more pious than others.  I’m not beating up those that did wrong, or minimizing those who were victims.  I will be the first to admit that I have made bad decisions in my life.  But there is a huge leadership lesson in this very sad story, one that I’m aware of in my life and in some ways fear every day: we all stand one decision away from destroying our legacy:

  • A moral failure that destroys a marriage, family or ministry that took many faithful years to build.
  • A ethical decision that destroys a career, company or institution that was established by years hard work, sacrifice, and wisdom.
  • A character flaw that ruins a lifelong friendship because trust was broken.
  • Poor judgement that has results in us losing everything.

One decision that took a split of a second to make can unravel years of work, and our legacy.  We may not see the results immediately, but in the end, the decision is always revealed, and it will humble us.

How do we avoid making a bad decision that could destroy our legacy?  Does it just happen?  Will we know that the decision will have such a bad outcome?  I have learned that these decisions don’t just happen; they are the result of three factors that are very subtle, but dangerous to our legacy:

Shortcuts:  When we take shortcuts in life, meaning when we care more about our reputation (what others will think) rather than our character (who God has created us to be), our foundation is weakened to make difficult decisions when the time comes.

Pride:  When we think it is all about us, that we are above everyone else, that we couldn’t possibly get caught or found out, we have been deceived far beyond reality.

Lifeless gods:  When power, fame, success, fortune and achievement is our drive, and above our hope and faith in God, we are slaves to an idol.

These factors are often so subtle, so quiet in our life that we don’t even realize they are affecting us.  What typically happens is we get so swept away in them that when opportunities, problems or decisions arise, we are so entangled that we say “I have to have it, whatever it costs”, or “we can let this problem derail us, make it go away”, “no one will ever find out”, or “I’ve worked my whole life to turn back now”.   We must be diligent in self evaluation and reflection to ensure that these three factors do not secretly occupy residence in our life.

Here are some timeless truths from God’s word in which to build our legacy on:

Psalm 111:10- The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding… In other words, God must be our final authority when we make decisions.  When we realize there is more to life than just pleasing ourselves, and choose to please God in our decisions as well, our decisions will build a legacy.  We need to ask “will God be honored in this decision?”, “will he be pleased?”, “is it in line with how God instructs us to live?”.

Proverbs 3:5- Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight…  In other words, trust God not your gut and what simply feels right.  Make sure your decisions align with God’s will for your life, which is 1 Thessalonians 4:2-4.

1 John 1:9- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness…  The good news, the hope we have is that while one bad decision can destroy our legacy, one decision to turn to Jesus will give us new life.  No matter what bad decision we have made, God will give us a second chance.  We can rewrite our legacy.  It may not solve all our of problems or the mess we got ourselves into right away, but God promises to be there with us through those problems.  Don’t let your legacy be determined by what you have done, let your legacy be determined by what Jesus did.


Question: What are you doing to keep from making a decision that could destroy your legacy?