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Leader: What YOU can do about sexual harassment…

Too often we look for a global solution when the greatest impact can be made on an individual basis.

Sure, we can pass laws, draft policy and create regulations for society and our organizations that provide a response to sexual harassment. But if an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure––then it is much more effective to prevent harassment through our individual, often unnoticed acts.

First, let’s clearly define the terms to assure we’re dealing with each situation in the proper scale.

Flirting: It will be a sad world if we completely sterilize our social interactions. Sexual attraction and the act of courtship is a normal and healthy human activity. None of us would exist without it.

Incivility: Sometimes hard to define and it depends on the culture. But most of us know it when we see it or hear it. If someone’s words or actions make someone feel uncomfortable, then it’s most probably crossing a line. If someone is telling you that another person’s words or actions are making them uncomfortable, you as a leader must pay attention.

Harassment: And you can add its close cousin, bullying. Harassment is legally defined, usually on a state level. At this point, it’s gone too far. Better that you had paid attention when is was still in the incivility phase, but now you are absolutely obligated to respond.

Follow this link for a detailed legal definition and discussion of harassment at

Assault: Again from “any unlawful attempt or offer with force or violence to do bodily harm to another, whether from ill will or extreme carelessness…”

Nearly all cases of sexual assault start with incidents of simple incivility…

  • Approaches have been rebuffed yet persist.

  • Inappropriate jokes and comments.

  • Uncomfortable hugging or touching––usually opportunistic.

Look at nearly every high-profile case we’ve learned about recently from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer. From Louis CK to Kevin Spacey. From Bill Clinton to Donald Trump. I chose these cases because in each there are accusations of extreme sexual harassment. In some, there are even accusation of assault.