Leaders and organizations with glowing ethical reputations may be especially vulnerable to a precipitous fall in media image during scandal, according to an Academy of Management Discoveries article.

“The core attribute upon which a prominent image is built can become its greatest vulnerability,” according to the article. “If organizations and their senior managers cultivate a positive image, they also need to understand the processes by which others can quickly undo those images.” A less flattering image—an easily overlooked “recessive” narrative that lurks beneath the dominant image—can play a crucial role.

Researchers analyzed how the decades-long media image of former Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno flipped from a successful leader known for integrity to that of a disgraced pedophile protector in only five days. Media coverage of child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky, a retired assistant coach who had worked for Paterno, was key to the rapid tarnishing of Paterno’s image.

Read more at AOM Insights