Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
It’s an uncomfortable conversation.
How do you stop people from pushing themselves on others sexually in your company?
Everything that’s currently being said about ending harassment in the workplace won’t stop men and women from crossing that line in your workplace. That’s because everything that’s being said is about stopping the behavior and not the desire driving the behavior.
We can put policies in place to end harassment’s variety of behaviors. We can even create an up swell of public shame so fierce that it drives these behaviors out of sight.
When we’ve become effective in this policing and shaming, we may think we’ve been victorious. We may trick ourselves into believing that what we can no longer see in our workplaces must no longer exist.
But the desire some people have to dominate others will still exist. And when this desire is thwarted, it will come out in ways that are even more insidious.
It’s time for us all to engage in a frank discussion about the real reason why sexual harassment happens. It will not be a comfortable conversation for anyone. Because the truth is, we all bear responsibility for healing harassment’s root cause.
Our national culture is still an active cultivator of the harassment mindset.
People are talking about how much worse workplace harassment used to be. It’s true that we’ve come a long way since the time when women were openly addressed as “doll” and “sweetheart” at work. But just because the more obvious harassing behaviors have disappeared doesn’t mean our culture isn’t still driving the harassment mindset.
In any given day, consider how often you are exposed to the following implicit messages:
You deserve this reward.
You’ve earned this reward.
You don’t need to wait to claim your reward.
Go after what you want. It’s yours for the taking!
Put yourself first. Indulge yourself. If you don’t, no one else will.
I hear and see these implied messages all the time. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to not be exposed to the “me first, now” mindset from the minute I look at my phone in the morning.
By definition, putting yourself first means putting everyone else last. The “me first, now” mindset triggers and cultivates all kinds of self-reinforcing, dominance-seeking behaviors — including those that are sexual in nature.
What can we do about it?
Our workplace cultures take their cue from our national culture…unless we intervene.
We can intervene. We can set a different course for our companies through building cultures of servant leadership.
When people feel the need to exert dominance — any form of dominance — over another person, it’s always because they’re trying to fill an unmet need. That “unmet need” is self-worth.
You know and I know that there is no quick or easy way to help people feel their inherent worth as human beings. You and I also know that the only way to gain that level of soul-deep self-worth is through serving others. No promotion, no fame, no other trapping of success can give you the enduring self-confidence of selflessly putting others’ needs before your own.
But, here’s the truth. People who are struggling to feel their worth can only learn to serve by first being served themselves. There is no shortcut. There is no magic bullet. There is no value or benefit in pointing fingers at harassers and positioning ourselves as better than them.
“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
Am I saying that you should condone harassment in your workplace? Absolutely not! In fact, when you adopt a culture of genuine servant leadership, there will be no place for any form of dominance-seeking behavior anywhere in your organization. Period.
What I am saying – what I am offering – is that harassment will continue to be a threat to our workplaces until we’re ready to acknowledge what’s driving it and how we can unintentionally stop contributing to it through embracing “me first, now” mindsets.
If you’re reading this blog, you’ve likely seen the positive impacts of servant leadership first hand. If you haven’t ever been exposed to a servant leadership culture, here is what I can tell you from my own experiences:
I’ve seen alcoholics stop drinking.
I’ve seen abusers stop abusing.
I’ve seen men become better husbands and women become better wives.
I’ve seen parents learn to embrace parenthood at the deepest levels.
I’ve seen leaders consistently place more importance on the well-being of their team members than profitability.
This fundamental change in how people relate to one another is not only possible through servant leadership, it is probable. When people are finally supported to recognize their own self-worth, everything changes for them. It can’t not change.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts, experiences, and commitment to solving this critical leadership issue. Please – add your voice to this conversation by leaving a comment on this post.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Romans 6:1-2
Great Article Mark!! Thanks for writing it!
Thanks Lenny! Tough subject, but one we can definitely improve by spreading a culture of servant leadership throughout our organizations. Blessings on your day!
Your comment about the unmet need of self-worth is really the paradox , if we love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves the end result is our self-esteem goes up.
Right on Scott!! Thanks so much for your heart for servant leadership, and the incredible positive impact you are having in this world. Blessings.
“….until we’re ready to acknowledge what’s driving it….”. I love this, Mark! This statement can be applied to ALL issues in our culture and workplaces. Thanks for addressing this tough subject!
Thanks Orlando, glad you found the article helpful! Hope all is well with you and your wonderful family up in the North Country! Blessings.
This is my personal thought on this…
The national news today is about workplace harassment, but there is a social harassment such as verbal remarks or obscene gestures that continue in society without consequences like they would have in the workplace. When people don’t value of human life or they don’t have self-worth then forms of harassment happen.
When we remove the authority of God or acknowledge the authority of God it shapes our values, our goals, and laws and the Bible tells us we reap what we sow. The good news is that the solution for mankind remains the same – allowing God to change the human heart through the good news of Christ and His love for each of us.
As servant leaders we follow a higher law, a royal law of love with Jesus as our example. And we are to live above reproach following the model of Jesus to love God and love others. Self is no longer in charge but God is in charge as we let Christ rules our hearts and lives.
Blessings in Christ! -Tim Molter
Very well said Tim! Thanks so much for weighing in with your extremely additive comments. I really appreciate it. Thanks also for the great work you are doing in expanding God’s Kingdom! Blessings.
Speaking as a victim of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, I think that it’s really important to add to this conversation the need to raise those people up who have been systematically shut down. The truth is, while harassment can happen to anyone, it mostly happens to particular groups of people, and when we don’t center them in this conversation, we can’t take concrete steps to solve the problem.
I 100% agree that this stems from a sense of dominance, but some of my male coworkers and customers have felt they have a right to my body and my attention because my womanhood makes me less of a whole person, while other male coworkers and customers are full people by default; not so much a “me first” as an “I deserve you.”
(This is the moment where I need to say, this is not all guys. In fact, it’s not even most guys. But, it’s enough guys that it is something I deal with constantly and have done since I was a teenager.)
Most of these guys feel plenty of self-worth, they just don’t recognize that I, too, have worth. In fact, it is their self-worth that tells them that, because they are worthy, they deserve access to me, regardless of my feelings on the matter. I really don’t see a holistic cultural change happening until we bring up more women and other marginalized people (those of use who, historically, have held less worth in the world) into positions of leadership.
Lastly, I want to make a note about behaviors. While this post is clear in it’s stance that these behaviors should have consequences, I’d like to share my personal story about what it means to see abhorrent behavior policed. In an old retail job, I was helping a customer who was making lewd comments to me, staring at places he shouldn’t have been staring, and generally being creepy. I was extremely uncomfortable and spent the rest of my shift completely distracted, trying to think of all the ways I could defend myself and get to my car safely in case he had hung around. At another shift on another day, I watched as my manager caught a different customer behaving similarly to one of my colleagues. My manager removed the customer from the store. I was able to go through the rest of my shift completely focused on my work because my boss had my back. Seeing public figures experience face public consequences for their behavior gives me hope to keep going because it means that someday, I may not feel like I have to sacrifice my safety or my dignity to do the work I’m called to do. A zero-tolerance policy with this behavior will bring out the best in your employees and help you recruit great ones too.
Liz, thank you so very much for weighing in on this topic that is so close to you. My heart breaks for what you have been through. No one should have to endure that type of behavior! I appreciate your courage to share your story as it, like all the others we are now seeing will help bring awareness to this situation, and bring urgency to leaders to build an environment to eradicate it from the workplace!
I could not agree more with your comment on the importance of a zero-tolerance policy with this behavior and leaders who model the way be serving their team by acting immediately on these situations. Everyone deserves the right to work without fear so they can comfortably and fully carry out their calling that God has placed on their lives.
I pray for that to be the case in your current workplace situation, as well as in all workplaces!
Blessings on the great work you are doing!
Speaking for my current place of employment, I really do need to give a shout out to my current team. These guys work hard to make women feel included in an industry that has had little female representation since the early 1900s and some have even very bravely confronted others who have been inappropriate towards their female colleagues.
Liz, that is fantastic news! I am so pleased that your current workplace is a model for what the environment should be like! Thanks again for your insights into this important topic!
Hi Mark. I loved the article and I loved reading comments regarding your article as well. It is nice to have a forum where people treat other people with mutual respect. If we truly show Christ’s love in the workplace, the problem would be solved, hence your ministry , driving Christlike principles to leaders in their workplace. Great article.
Thanks so much Ken. You are SO right. A commitment to showing Christ’s love in the workplace would solve the problem! Blessings on your day!
Mark, As president Reagan once said, “In the end, it all comes down to leadership.” If we want to stop any abhorrent behavior in an organization, then it is a leadership responsibility to do so. We can’t change human nature. So some people will always be lured into abhorrent behavior. But we can influence human behavior. That’s the job of leadership. So, how can leaders root out abhorrent organizational behavior? 1. Hire and promote for the heart qualities of integrity, character, and servant leadership. 2. Define the inspiring organizational purpose, shared values, and common vision you aspire to achieve. 3. Use the steel of your leadership authority to terminate anyone who engages in abhorrent behavior every time, and let people know the termination was done for breaking the shared values. 4. Give everyone an irrevocable license to lead by the shared values to create a culture where the abhorrent behavior is not tolerated by anyone, and where everyone has the leadership license to challenge abhorrent behavior. All these practices are defined in our award-winning book, “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations.” Great work in fostering servant leadership.
Bob, thank you so very much for your extremely additive comments to this subject. I could not agree with you more on every point. It does all come down to leadership, and staying locked down on the purpose, vision, and values of the organization. I really appreciate your heart for servant leadership, and the amazing work you are doing to help people “build excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations.” You are an incredible blessing to all those you serve, and are making a significant positive impact on this world!! Thank you!
Thank you, Mark. The work you are doing is incredibly important. Ultimately, in this age of more transparency and ubiquitous social media, a new wave of leadership will emerge: more ethical, serving people rather than self-centered, and building community. All of us have a role to play in making that new wave a reality.
Agreed Bob! My daily prayer is for the movement of servant leadership and leading Jesus’ way to continue to accelerate.