Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

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