Harassment Mistake #3: Afraid to Take a Stand

The third of the seven most common managers’ harassment-related mistakes is a manager’s reluctance to take a clear anti-harassment stance when such a position is needed. Recently a very senior person at an organization where I did some harassment-related work confided in me: “sometimes the guys talk amongst themselves and they use such rough language that even I cringe”.

So what is the problem here? Simply put, this leader made the mistake of being afraid to act. While experiencing a physical reaction to the behaviours in question, he did not take a stance (in public or in private) that would clarify for all involved that this type of language was unacceptable in this place of work. As a result, these phenomena persist, exposing the organization to the risk of its brand perception being damaged if the behaviours are observed by customers as well as to potential harassment complaints.

It is very common, especially in mid-management circles, for managers to feel reluctant to take a stance. Various fears and problematic internal voices seem to readily kick in and paralyze the leader. Some of these fears include: fear of being perceived as overly politically correct, of taking a situation too seriously or lacking a sense of humour, concerns about trying to change a culture that is too deeply embedded or a primal anxiety about not being liked.

Yes, these fears are human. They are understandable. Still, people who choose to be in leadership are inherently charged with rising above their fear in order to create and sustain a harassment-free environment. To be afraid to act is a mistake; in fact it may verge on abdicating your management responsibility. To overcome this fear is to grow. It is to become a mature leader.

Here’s the full list of mistakes:

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